My Journey to the Final by Chris Murphy

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.  

Are you bored?

“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

It runs from 4-6pm the Theme is “Obstacles | Opportunity | Optimism” Please register here:

Kirti Daryanani

104 London Debaters club

For more #befriendurmind @kirti168 

Discovering Toastmasters beyond your own club

I’ve been a member of Toastmasters for eleven years and over that period I’ve become a big advocate of visiting other clubs. When asked why, I usually say that, all Toastmasters clubs follow the same basic meeting recipe yet each has its own unique and distinctive ‘flavour’.

I love meeting new Toastmasters, hearing their stories and learning about – well everything.

Visiting Toastmasters Clubs around the globe

It has always been possible for Toastmasters to visit other clubs abroad, but it’s suddenly become a whole lot easier (and cheaper). The rapid switch to online clubs has opened up the whole of the global Toastmasters community in a way that we could never have envisaged just a few weeks ago. I know because I’ve been club surfing while in home isolation.

Here’s where I’ve been

Since 23 March, I’ve been to 22 clubs on all 5 continents plus 4 Division Conferences and a D79 (Saudi Arabia) Leadership presentation.

The first was Paris Toastmasters, where I know fellow Toastmaster Carol Bausor. Vive la France!

Dnipro Toastmasters in Ukraine held a themed meeting “Cats & Dogs” introducing members’ pets on a slide show and carrying the theme through speeches and Table Topics. I was delighted when my impromptu story about our rescue dog won Best Table Topics award. I liked this quote:

“Don’t you feel like we are all trapped on the huge cruise ship called Earth
and there is nowhere to escape?”

The same day, I discovered Storytellers Sunday, an initiative by the Eastern Europe District Director which attracted 110 visitors in as many cities. We heard six stories on “The Meaning of Life” then an Open Mic session gave us three more tales. I have been twice more on “Lies, Lies, Lies” and “Oops, I did it Again”. You can find the group on Facebook.

Dun Laoghaire outside Dublin were charming with lilting Irish accents. I loved the fact that they start and end their meetings with an aphorism:

“What lies in the well of your heart comes up in the bucket of your speech.”

I also came across a new role, that of Poetmaster, who shared a poem about lock-down.

In one day, I visited three clubs. At lunchtime, I sat in on TK Maxx’s corporate club in London; the very polite and respectful Emerald Toastmasters in Nigeria; before finishing off the day at London Victorians to hear three mini-debates on Monarchy, legalizing drugs, and pros and cons of Artificial Intelligence. Wow, what a day!

As I speak fluent Dutch, I chose to visit Toastmasters Antwerpen in Belgium, a club I had visited many times in person when I lived there. Their theme was one of my favourites: “Personal Development books”.

Another day of three meetings: the energy-filled Bangkok Toastmasters in Thailand where I was Table Topics Evaluator and learned that they do not need to hoard toilet rolls as at home, they use bidet sprayer; Pinnacle Advanced Toastmasters in Sri Lanka where 50% of members are DTMs and finally, Experience French in London where I was Table Topics Master.

I met President “Tom in the Hat” at Eloquent Entrepreneurs in Denver, Colorado, a club for members with the entrepreneurial mindset. Three Toastmasters also visited from Taiwan. The next day, I attended one of my old Belgian clubs, Fonske Leuven, where I took on the General Evaluator role. I was a charter member of the club in 2009 and it was wonderful to be reunited with some of the other founding members including one, whose first-ever speech I heard and now he’s a DTM!

On Friday, I visited Singapore Online Speakers, where I had the privilege of hearing the 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking, Darren Le Croix, deliver a presentation on creating “Unforgettable Presentations.” You can hear this at the D91 Conference. The next day, I visited Gemstones in Nigeria along with visitors from several countries.

In the last ten days, I have visited clubs in Brussels (Anglo/Spanish), Marbella (Spain), Antwerp (again), Bangkok (different club), Baghdad (young professionals), Pinnacle Advanced in Johannesburg as Grammarian and this morning, Foveaux in New Zealand. Tonight, I’m going back to my first club, Toastmasters Hasselt in Belgium to give a speech and be Table Topics Master.

A great way to make more of your membership

As well as these international clubs, I attended Division H Conference where I picked up valuable online presenting tips from the Target Speaker in the Evaluation Contest, who gave a talk entitled “How to be a Zoom Director.” Division K had not one but three past World Champions as Keynote speakers. I gave my ACG Leadership presentation in the Division A Conference and was honoured to be invited to be the Target Speaker for Division J. I would not normally have travelled to these events and paid the entrance fee but now could benefit all for free!

In four weeks, I have visited all these clubs and events, met hundreds of Toastmasters, made new friends and made dozens of pages of notes, all for the price of my Toastmasters membership. International visiting online is a great way to make the most of your membership. Lock-down will not last for much longer so I recommend making the most of the opportunity.

Want to have a go?

By now, you should have some appreciation of the enormous range of Toastmasters experiences.

So how do you get started?

There are many different ways to find online Toastmasters clubs. Here’s how I do it:

  1. By Location
    Go to Select “Find a Club” and type in a location. Contact the club and ask for details of their online meetings.
  2. Via easySpeak
    If you want to find clubs in the UK, log into easySpeak, click on Organization (left-hand column) then select D91, then Meetings. Now select Calendar (top left) and “All online meetings” in the drop-down menu (bottom left). You will see clubs listed on every date. Choose one, click on the meeting manager and send an email.
  3. Via Facebook
  4. Some unofficial lists that members are compiling:

Remember to check the time zone of the meeting against UK BST time. You can do this here:

No need to pack your suitcase. Enjoy your travelling.

Antonia Harrison
President, Shilling Speakers
Immediate Past Area A1 Director

What I learnt from my last 6 month lock-down

Hi everyone, I’m Mel Cunningham. I’m VPM for both Oxford Orators and Didcot Speakers clubs, and I’m in the process of completing level 5 of the Dynamic Leadership pathway. I’m a headshot, event and scientific conference photographer and like all of us, my working and personal life has recently been jackknifed into lockdown.

This weekend, I was delighted to deliver a keynote speech at District Joy’s International Speech contest via zoom. It was the story about how I survived a medically induced six month lock down several years ago.

I was forced to let go of the hectic life I had, and make some seriously drastic changes to my attitude, outlook and priorities. I had to battle with months and months of being unwell, fear I would never recover and many unhelpful suggestions.

I’d like to share what I learnt then, to help you persevere through our current lockdown to prevent the spread of COV-19. I have also written the full story for you to fully understand my journey or you can watch the video of the speech.

Lesson number 1: Accept that this is the now. Now is all there is. There is no fighting or changing it. It’s a realisation that will come to you in an instant or gradually. 

Reading or rereading Eckhardt Tolle ‘The Power of Now’ is my best suggestion.

Lesson number 2. Establish whether you are a moving or a still meditation person. And practice that every day. Doesn’t have to be crack of dawn nonsense, just when you need it. Now, I am a crack of dawn person, but that’s my superpower. 

Try a few tai chi or qigong videos and discover if you need gentle movement to still your mind and breath into a meditative state.  

Lesson number 3: Celebrate and appreciate the simple in your surroundings. Find something joyful, peaceful or uplifting every day to celebrate. 

I’ve started a private instagram account to select one image of peace that I share with my lock down buddy, Mackenzie, my dog. I would encourage you to do something similar, like 100 days of happiness or the daily moments of calm instagram projects. 

Lesson number 4: A bucket list. Though I liken it to something that sounds very similar.

When this is over, I’m spending as much time as possible walking and protecting the elephants. That was how I celebrated the end of my last lock down and I intend, if possible, to do the same, this time. Figure out what is truly important for you to do, change or prioritise.

Lesson number 5. Always ask your best friends and family for help. Or strangers. Inbetween doesn’t seem to work when you are struggling.

My life during my first lockdown wouldn’t have been anything without my two best friends who lived with or next door to me, and my two best friends in foreign countries, staying in touch virtually. You’ll be amazed at the support, advice and love you receive, if you ask. 

Lesson number 6. When it ends, there is SO MUCH JOY, it’s almost hard to contain. But there is also one final trap we all need to prepare for upon release. There will be alot of anger, resentment and frustration at having to rebuild your/our lives again. 

This is my personal lesson, because in the end, I needed alot of counselling, therapy and support to recreate my life again.  We will all going need to invest in this to recover and rebuild.

Lesson 7. Nurture and maintain virtual relationships, to be as strong as in person ones. They aren’t the same, but they are currently the best we have. It’s an opportunity to embrace technology to support and supplement our relationships.

Total plug here: With my professional photographer’s eye and some surprising hacks for tricking the crappy computer camera, there’s so many ways to ensure that your virtual connection continues to be strong. 

It’s all in the quality of the image you share, because we rely on someone’s visual cues to connect emotionally. If you can’t be seen clearly or see someone else clearly, it might cost you some of that connection, the relationship or your business or job. 

If you are struggling and would like a ‘light me up in the zoom’ session, please do get in touch. It’s already proving to be incredibly effective for doctors working online, academics sharing their research and simply keeping families connected. 

Lesson number 8. Go back to Lesson 1. Repeat, especially when we are not in lockdown.

My experience was personal, but not unique. There are many people who have been through a similar experience for various reasons, and many who are still suffering, with no possibility of their situation changing. I was fortunate to have escaped, and have had a chance to reflect and now another chance to put what I learnt back into practice. I believe this current global situation has many personal and universal lessons for us all, if we are prepared to embrace them. I hope one or all of my personal lessons will help you now.

Mel Cunningham –

Opening Doors

With great power comes great responsibility.  If you’ve ever experienced an over-zealous new team leader or manager, you might have this phrase ringing in your ears.  It’s common practise for companies to promote members of staff into leadership roles and then develop them once there, instead of giving them the tools to do the job and them promoting them into the role once equipped.

The thing about a Toastmasters International public speaking club is that it provides an excellent opportunity for anyone seeking this toolset and mindset to try it out in a safe place, supported and encouraged instead of looking over their shoulder in fear of making a “career limiting” mistake or worse ruining someone else’s career through poor line management.  It’s not just about making toasts or speeches, it’s so much more.

I’m going to share my story with you as I hope to inspire you to consider that there is another way….

Having worked in the corporate world for over 20 years I have experienced and witnessed many shocking and unprofessional incidents borne out of a lack of experience and understanding.  The crucial factor to becoming a new leader of any kind is self-awareness; to understand your impact on others and to learn to listen first. Most people are never taught how to be a follower never mind a leader!  At school we were told to sit down, shut up and do as we were told!  It just felt like all the doors were firmly shut.

My own capability before I discovered Toastmasters was limited – I see that now – but I was unconsciously incompetent then.  I would copy other team leaders hoping they were good role models to emulate but that only served to perpetuate bad practise, inconsistency and stressful conversations with disgruntled staff.  Nothing seemed to change for the better, and there seemed to be limited formal training, you were supposed to just figure it out.  The coping mechanisms and expected behaviours were never explained and I was struggling to be effective and influential.

After joining Toastmasters I was given the opportunity to start learning the skills of leadership by undertaking the role of Mentor.  It’s such a simple role, between two people meeting up monthly and one helping the other to achieve specific goals using the benefit of their knowledge and experience.  But it taught me how to be a good listener.  It taught me to remove myself from the equation – it’s not about me – it’s all about them.  It also honed my problem solving skills as I helped them navigate the challenges they faced.

Soon after that I wanted more. I became a deputy for one of the Club Committee roles so I could learn the ropes before taking on the role officially.  A few months later I was invited to apply for the full role and was voted in.  I was now accountable for 23 people’s happiness! Then I was hooked; receiving excellent and useable feedback and evaluation with examples of what worked well, and what could be improved upon; so I could assess how I was getting on in the role.  This meant I could make small adjustments to become the best I could be.  I thrived and the club thrived.

When was the last time you gave or received great usable feedback with specific examples?

In the Toastmasters training programme I noticed there were many opportunities there for me to lead on projects outside our club meetings.  At the time I was planning on applying for the position of Project Manager at work (a promotion) so it seemed ideal.  I was excited to get stuck in and thought that doing something that gave back to my Community would be the most rewarding non-work related project. 

I started my first Youth Leadership Program with a set of 15 students in an Academy near where I lived. I led a small team of Toastmasters to deliver the material and that meant delegating whole sections to them and watching without correcting them or interfering!  Over ten weeks we guided the students towards the delivery of a showcase event where they all delivered speeches of more than four minutes each on a variety of subjects chosen by the students themselves.  It was very well received by their parents and the school principal and I was asked back to duplicate our results with a new cohort.  5 years later I am delivering my eighth program.

Whilst all this was going on I was also delivering full training days using the Better Speaker Series and Leadership Excellence Series manuals to members and non-members alike, and I used my High Performance Leadership Project to help me build and coordinate the team I used to deliver the training days. It walked me through from Vision, Mission etc right through to lessons learned after delivery, using delegation so that I didn’t do all the work myself.

Simultaneously I did get the promotion at work and I found the skills I picked up in Toastmasters were essential to my new role of communicating clearly at all levels with many different teams, colleagues, suppliers, stakeholders and customers. It taught me how to give effective feedback and how to delegate.  I learned how to listen and lead. 

Do you know any leaders who are good at listening?

The next opportunities gave me the remaining tools I needed to enable and empower.

I had really thrown myself into this personal development side of life and was enjoying it immensely.  It was not long before I was asked to apply for the role of Area Director which gave me oversight of 5 clubs (and approximately 120 members).  This brought in the new dynamic of trusting people I barely knew to undertake tasks towards a joint goal. Whilst this was tricky at first I soon found my stride and saw the similarities between this and working with remote teams in my job. I found I was able to help new people grow into leadership roles by using those mentoring skills I had learned all those years ago.  I didn’t have to tell them how to do something I could just tell them the outcome I desired. My job was to guide them, check in with them and ensure they felt supported and encouraged.  I made myself available and approachable – some needed more help than others but I soon learned to tap into their working styles quickly.

I also learned the power of persuasion.  It’s amazing how influential you can become when you say quietly to someone “I can see you doing X.  I think you’d be really great at that, why don’t you give it a try?”

The pinnacle of my leadership training to date with Toastmasters was being asked to serve on the District Leadership Team as Administration Manager.  Our small team of seven people led the 5000+ members in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland and England (North of London) through their own leadership and public speaking training journeys to help more and more people walk through open doors. The role came with travel, networking, operating at a senior level and ensuing all milestones were reached on time and within budget. 

Hmmm doesn’t that sound familiar – that was what I was doing as a Project Manager!

The skills I learned have also enabled me to spread my wings further.  I have started my own business as a communications specialist helping Autistic adults at work/ in to work and I deliver keynotes on the Transition from Follower to Leader and also on Autism in the workplace.

I put on the very first TEDxTelford in 2018 with 15 live speakers and 100 people in the audience and am organising a second one.  I was able to lead the organising team, coach the speakers, MC the event and get everything done in good time and inside budget and we sold out a week prior to the event. The second TEDxTelford took place in Sept 2019.

In January 2018 I achieved the highest award for all my work in Toastmasters International and can now call myself a Distinguished Toastmaster. Without doubt Toastmasters has been instrumental in my personal development and has opened many doors for me in terms of work and relationships.  I believe that in becoming self-aware I have become a nicer person to be around and I have a very full and happy life. 

Oh and did I forget to mention – I am Autistic…. J