On the first week end of May, we held our annual conference and what an event! We brought to you the most successful District conference ever to be organised in District 91, with over 800 participants over the week end. I hope you had a fantastic time and learnt a lot over the 2 days. Missed out on the action, you may still access all sessions.
On 2nd May, you once again put the District trust in my hands as District Director elect. This is a humbling moment and an exciting time to take the helm of District 91. At the time of writing this note, we have already started planning for the 2020/21 programme year and look forward to sharing some details with you soon.
In the meantime, I am looking for Digital professionals to join our Digital team (data scientists, web designers, cloud solution specialists), interested? Let me know …
Last week, I attended one of my Clubs, The Toasted Sandwich, where President Fatma Salahioglu delivered the Pathways Project Reaching Consensus.
The topic for the 20 min project was “To go virtual or to remain physical” with a purpose to better understand and lay the foundation for what post-Covid-19 meetings should look like for the Club. It was fascinating to witness the discussions and how a complete agreement was reached to retain an element of online meetings.
Even more interesting were the reasons brought forward: greater flexibility and greater retention were two I picked up with great interest.
I will encourage all Clubs to engage in such an exercise and start looking at what the post-Covid-19 experience should look like for our members.
Together, we are shaping our District, and refreshing how and what we do within the Toastmasters framework, this is an exciting time!
One of my favourite quotes is “They didn’t know it was impossible, so they did it!” and this quote summarises a lot of what we’ve achieved together in District 91. Back in March, a lot of major businesses and well known-brands stopped their operations. Just think about it but something as simple as buying a cup of Costa coffee became impossible!
We, however, carried on meeting online and moved our operations over in just a fortnight! Since then we’ve collectively recruited almost 300 new members across our District and achieved close to 500 educational awards. What’s more, over 800 people attended our District Conference online at the start of the month. The quality of the event from the speakers, to the organisation to the delivery itself was superb. I know that some members sat down and watched the event from their TVs and why not as it felt like watching a TV show! Who would have known that in the midst of the challenges affecting us all, we would together organise and run the most attended conference in the history of our District!
Together in District 91, we achieved the impossible in the last few weeks. Why? Because we can! Because you can!
Amazingly 99% of the clubs in District 91 are now meeting online and many clubs are even organising extra meetings and events to support their members online. When buying a cup of Costa coffee became impossible, visiting Toastmasters clubs all over the world became possible and so did countless other opportunities. Soon, I will give a short keynote speech in Texas, evaluate a speech in Moscow and deliver a workshop in Budapest. Why? Because I can and so can you!
Go back to your members who haven’t renewed their membership and tell them the story of a group of people that said “yes we can”. Tell them … your story!
I remember 2 years ago in 2018 sitting in a hotel in Bracknell watching the District 91 UK National (South) Speech Evaluation contest final. All the evaluations had been a high standard. Then Chinkata Okpara came on last and knocked the competition out of the water. My jaw was on the floor. As he was awarded the winner’s trophy I thought, if I could ever give an evaluation like that…
Fast forward 2 years. As they announced the results of the 2020 District 91 National (South) Speech evaluation contest final – I was the winner. I was ecstatic. I danced, I hugged my wife. Then after a single question from my wife, I shed a tear because I realised one important thing which I had never experienced before……
Before I tell you what that is let me fill you in on the gap between those two events and how one led to the other…
When I joined Toastmasters in June 2017, I just wanted to give speech after speech. However, one thing that struck me was your improvement is only as good as the feedback you receive. Feedback and specifically speech evaluations are a key but in my opinion an underrated part of the Toastmasters journey. The skill of delivering feedback in a way that helps the person develop both in terms of what they do well and what they can improve on is invaluable, no, it is vital.
I realised that giving effective evaluations was a skill, a skill you can hone. So, I worked on this. I evaluated every speech at our club. I read about evaluations. I went on workshops with notable figures in this world such as Freddie Daniells. Gradually I improved, I saw what I hadn’t seen before, the depth of my evaluations improved and as that grew so my passion and enthusiasm did too. It wasn’t an overnight transformation but steadily speech by speech my language changed, my evaluations changed and people’s reactions to my evaluations, yes they changed too, People wanted my input and so my foundations grew even stronger.
This is easy to summarise in a sentence. It was hours and hours of work. So then fast forward to the Speech Evaluation contest 2020. I won the club level, then the Area and the Division. The only hurdle remaining to achieve what I had dreamed of was a 2-3 min speech evaluation at the District finals. Most Toastmasters members do 3-5 speech evaluations a year. In the week before the contest I did 30, on the morning of the contest, I did a further 12, a number of these with the President of our club. Each time was easier and easier, I saw more and more to comment on.
The contest, that was a blur, I was so in the zone. A conversation with someone else that week had given me the sage advice of being in FLOW… Forget Losing or Winning. Just do the very best speech evaluation you can. So I did, and I won.
On reflection, why do I think I won? It wasn’t only because of the practice, it was also because a speech evaluation is a speech, you need to live the material, as the speaker does. You need to connect with the speaker and have them in mind 100% of the time. Most of all, you have to want to genuinely want to help the speaker and just do your absolute best for them.
As I celebrated the win, my wife asked me what a felt. That is when I sat down, thought and cried that tear. I said I felt relieved, happy and peaceful. Relieved it was over, happy that I’d won and peaceful because for the first time in my life, the very first time I realised I was good at something. I was really good at something and others thought so too and then it washed over me and I cried.
As I think about the future, I believe am at the start of my evaluating journey, there is so much still to learn, I can be a lot better at this. If the words I have typed here only do one thing, I hope they will inspire you to get even better at speech evaluations. With them, you have the chance to help others improve but more so, much more so than that, you will improve your ability to both speak and write speeches.
We have a lot to celebrate and be thankful for in District 91 during these challenging times. First of all, thanks to all of your efforts, almost all of our clubs moved their meetings online and we even have guests and new members joining our clubs in the virtual world. The standard of most of our online events has been superb and I expect our upcoming District 91 Conference with its amazing line-up of speakers to be one of the best Toastmasters online conference in the world!
Would you like to end your year on a high note? Why don’t you become a Triple Crown and complete a third educational award this year?
So far nearly 100 members have won this award over the course of the Toastmasters year. Could you be next? Find out how Mel of Didcot Speakers won her Triple Crown in the video below.
Don’t forget about the Pathfinders Award too that you can win for completing a path of Pathways. Many of these awards were given at the recent Division Hall of Fame and you still have two months to finish a path and become a Pathfinder too!
I am also keen to hear more stories of success and achievement from you. During our District Conference Hall of Fame, we will be rewarding a number of clubs and individuals. I am looking for nominations for the Toastmaster of the Year and the Club of the Year.
The Toastmaster of the year will be an individual whose actions were of the highest standard in supporting our members and clubs. Perhaps he or she inspired you and did something amazing. If you would like to nominate someone, please use this link.
The Club of the year will be a club who achieved excellence throughout the year. While excellence metrics are important, we are also looking for stories and how a club and its leaders supported its members. Can you think of a club that laid out amazing events? Is your club perhaps the best club if the world? If so, use this link to tell us more.
“My first recommendation is to look at the camera. I would like to have more eye contact as if you are engaged with me.”
I’m not sure about you, but in the past few weeks these words have become a cliché in giving an evaluation to any speech. The repertoire of the same evaluation would leave me wondering if this suggestion adds much value to the speaker and audience? I kept wondering what if I couldn’t afford all those high-end technology, what if I had to rely on low bandwidth? what if I lived in a small space and couldn’t make do? What then?
One of the reasons I joined Toastmasters is because it is a safe place to practice. For me, that meant my external conditions may not be perfect but I had a place to still practice and not feel ashamed that I couldn’t afford the best technology. I also wondered, what qualities do I need in this moment to empower myself to get the job interview or be asked to facilitate a workshop? Is it the best technology or a fertile mindset?
I didn’t want the fear of not having things perfect to stand in my way, instead I saw this moment as an opportunity to build my muscle of resilience and shift my perspective. I realized if in my professional life:
1. If I was faced in crises management, can I tune my mindset to observe with what tools is available right now instead of thinking what “I should be having” or I don’t have the right tools yet. As a facilitator in emotional management , I could strengthen my resilient mindset by saying yes to giving more online general evaluations to overcome my itch if perfectionism.
2. If video was not accessible to others? My past ten years of teaching online shared with me, don’t let the participant feel insecure when they can’t be seen. I adopted a dj voice or imagined myself having a conversation with a long lost friend on the phone as a way to interact with the audience. As you may have guessed, I used tonal variety as my to-go-to rescue tool and create a safe environment for participants to express themselves.
3. If I had to give a speech to an audience that was visually impaired and realized that I could not rely on their sight or my facial expression or hand gestures, how could I amplify my speech? I started to re-examine my approach to the kinds of words I used and structured content appropriately.
In the chaos of Covid 19 , I was reminded:
1. Always work with what you have and relax the grip from perfectionism.
2. As General Evaluator Junkie, I’m given the opportunity to share with clubs how to upscale what they think are imperfections and turn it into an advantage. Let go of the idea you need the best equipment to deliver a good speech.
3. Last but not least, Covid 19 revalidated the value of emotional intelligence, especially in our social competence. I want to communicate and interact successfully with an audience and it’s vital for me to build a trusting relationship. As an evaluator, I must practice the awareness that I don’t know what circumstances the speaker is facing privately, picking on his or her technology may not be the most sensitive or wisest recommendation.
I want to invite you , the next time you take on a role as an evaluator, notice your delivery and content. Practice empathy in the way you will deliver the commendations and recommendations. If want to take it one step further, join us on The D91 24 hour toastmaster event, where I will briefly share some tips on evaluating with video . You will find the link below. If you have any question, you can reach out on social media @kirti168
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