I love a good conference.
The inspiration, the networking and all the other aspects that come with conferences.
Since I’ve been a District 91 member, I’ve always looked forward to the Spring Conference.
I was someone that joined Toastmasters in 2017, but only really became aware of the conference in 2019 as a club member. My first proper district conference was actually in the midst of lockdown in 2020. I always thought it was amazing that the then District Leadership team had managed to organise such a big event in the throes of a pandemic. I was then lucky enough to take part in the conference in 2021, delivering some poetry in an entertainment slot – which you can see below. Oh, the days of dressing up in one’s tuxedo at home! 😉
Last year I only caught snatches but I was unable to attend the whole thing.
As a District Leader this year it has been in my diary for months and I even postponed a holiday to attend. I did not realise that this year was not the first conference we have had face-to-face. Indeed, Past District Director Arnaud Sartre DTM said we had not done so for many years.
Anyway, the Spring Conference was by all accounts a great success. Attendance both online and in person, as the Districts first hybrid conference, produced positive feedback.
Every delegate at a conference has their own experience, this is my personal write up, but I thought it would be best done in what I would call a photo essay. That way, you the reader get more of a sense of the atmosphere, and you also have to read fewer words as well! Just to note, these are not the views necessarily on the DLT, these views are mine alone.
DAY 1 – Friday 12th May 2023
The first thing to say was all the great venues the Conference Team managed to find ahead of the conference. The Barbican and the University of Law were both great places. We started off on the Friday evening at the University of Law. The opening ceremony was a way of setting the scene for what we were doing there at the venue. We were reminded of what a precious opportunity it is / was to get together to network in the same room, of the contests and of the District 91 goal of 5000 unique members. I had some small role in this – writing the words of the opening ceremony which were then worded by the administration manager of the conference Alistair Barton. He was also a key part of the AV/Tech team the weekend of the conference.
Aayushi Jain DTM, who was the Social Media Manager for the conference then took to the stage and got us excited for what was to come. There were even some warm up activities. During April’s LinkedIn Live in the run up to the conference, Aayushi said that she had been picking out her outfit and looking forward to it to weeks and she didn’t disappoint!
Obviously, then there were the contests.
The first one was the Evaluation contest. I have to admit, and I know I shouldn’t have favourites, but this is the one I am most personally interested as evaluations are probably my favourite thing at Toastmasters and the closest I have come to getting into District final as Division B runner up in the 2021-2022 contest season.
I see the contests as a fantastic way to whet your appetite for improving your speaking, by sampling the skills of the best that the District has to offer.
The Contest Chair was a person who exudes great confidence on stage and has been a guest on the LinkedIn Live’s this year, Seema Menon DTM.
The evaluation contest was extremely hard fought. I loved the test speech by Jacqui Rosser about the perils of being short. It was both witty with a strong message of self-acceptance, and of course, had the audience in stitches too. The evaluators all making furious notes for 5 mins before having their notes removed. There were great evaluations and the contest consisted of the following participants:
Romy Biscoe of Reading Speakers Club, Sarah Beckwith of 104 London Debaters, Ga Lok Chung KPMG Kommunicators, Amanda Bouch, Ascot & Bracknell Speakers, Sylvia Lobo, Toasted Sandwich, Paula Coutts, North Oxford Speakers, Chris Young, Moody’s Europe Toastmasters, Monika Swiderska, Data Science Speakers.
It was great to hear all the evaluators evaluations and how they each heard different things in the speech. This is the joy of evaluations: having a speech dissected in such forensic detail.
While we were waiting for the results to be decided, we had a great storytelling workshop with Andrzej Manka How To Use Storytelling To Grow Your Business: 3 Super-Effective Big Ideas
He shared about his favourite stories and we can integrate them into our speeches, but also our business. My story about going on holiday with my ex-girlfriend seem to strike a chord and getting emotional recovery through a Buddhist monk seem to strike a chord! He says: “My favorite type of story is any “hero’s journey” structure, when the protagonist needs to go through life challenges and face their monsters and win. I believe winning is our destination!” Very inspiring for Toastmasters. If I recall, Andrezj’s favourite story was indeed The Iliad by Homer. Great choice. I’m re-reading it as we speak.
Then the Chief Judge came back, Ken Essien DTM.
The results were announced and they were as follows: 3rd Place, Sarah Beckwith, 2nd Place, Ga Lok Chung, 1st Place, Sylvia Lobo. You can read all about Sylvia’s reaction to winning here:
What I loved most, was hanging out with Ga Lok and Sarah afterwards who came second, and third at the pub, round the corner talking about the technical aspects of the evaluations.
This is the sort of the ‘off the ball’ interaction you don’t get outside of conference.
DAY 2 – Saturday 13th May 2023
On Saturday we moved to the Barbican. This brutalist architectural icon can also be a total maze to navigate, but with decent directions I arrived on time for a tea before the main proceedings.
This enabled a bit of socialising and catching up with Toastmasters I might not have met including people I have hosted on the LinkedIn live but never met like Haritosh Srivastav or who I have corresponded with or knew of, but had never properly met like incoming Finance Manager, Val Slavina – these are the unique benefits of face to face!
The Saturday morning brought an amazing keynote speech from our Second Vice President Aletta Rochat DTM. The title was: “3 Proven Ways to Grow Exponentially as a Leader”.
I was lucky enough to have interviewed Aletta ahead of the Conference. She had given a few clues in that interview on what was to come and it was clear she had oodles of experience to share. This is a very inspiring speech with a lot to like in it. I loved the quoting of Dr. Seuss which made it both warm and relatable. What I liked most about it was the idea of a ‘venting mentor’. This was such an honest speech, and I think in Leadership positions we all need that when the going gets rough. I needed it as President and at times, I know it is hard to believe, my tender reader, even in the D91 PR position!
The District Council meeting was to be the most important meeting of the year. Personally for me it’s always a pleasure to sit next to district leaders like Eddy Quah and Diane Richardson. I didn’t have too much to do at this meeting. Just give a short two minute report (which I had already written and submitted) and then to vote on our future leaders really… here is a picture with me, Eddy and Helena.
If you look closely, you can just about see a banana poking out the pocket of my Barbour jacket. 😉 Keeping oneself refreshed is important at Spring Conference!
We had the test votes run by the Credentials team Arnaud Sartre DTM and Olga Galaiko and then the proper one. We had pitches, some procedures, a gavel or two and then suddenly the deed was done. We had three new District Leaders sworn in to take the helm from next year, District Director Elect, Diana Richardson, Program Quality Director elect, Steve Vear and Club Growth Director elect, Mo Dawodu.
The thing I was most chagrined about though was the results of the test vote.
That salty popcorn, did not win by a big margin over sweet popcorn. I mean sweet popcorn!? Seriously!?! I mean what kind of madness is this, District Council of D91!?! I have much less skin in the game when it comes to cappuccino versus espresso as I’m a tea and not a coffee drinker!
Back at the University of Law, the Conference Team pulled off a side stream event with three inspiring speakers during the District Council Meeting. An opportunity to stretch the legs was taken up by many of the Conference Delegates. The speakers included Ruban Pillai, Diane Robertson and Teresa Dukes DTM. As I was busy with District business, I eagerly await the recording of the side stream which is due to be released in early July however one delegate told me
“My experience of the side stream at the conference was truly inspiring. Ruban is the kind of speaker that touches your heart – a real, raw journey to find his voice which he has shared beyond our Toastmasters world at TedX events and in the wider community. Diana was a bundle of energy who reminded me why Toastmasters is so much more than public speaking – communication skills are powerful and important tools for everyone. Finally, Teresa for me was a reminder of the opportunities beyond our District within Toastmasters – speaking on International stages and the Leadership roles that exist within this organisation offer a different challenge for members who are hungry to go beyond!”
Here I am with two of my favourite people: Admin Manager Amy Jones and my Club mate, Emmet Naughton who was an MC at the Side Stream event, he’s come back to the Barbican to witness the International Speech contest.
After the District Council meeting it was a big International Speech Contest.
There are always some incredible speeches in here and I really enjoyed listening to them. This contest is the Blue Riband event in the sense of always having the extra frisson of the audience knowing that it goes all the way to the Worlds, that there could be a Simon Bucknall or Dan Magill lurking in the pack who will win and break out of the semi-finals and go all the way to the Bahamas. But regardless of that, I am always so touched by this contest as I know even from my Club experience that it is the most personal that Toastmasters get on stage you really get to know the person behind the speaker through their words. We had tales of overcoming homophobia, overcoming cancer and bereavement as well as many other fascinating topics. Contest Chair was the very debonair and funny Chris Boden.
One of the best Contest Chair performances I have seen.
The participants in the contest were Anthony Garvey of Shilling Speakers (online), Jawad Anjum, Legacy Speakers Brixton, Matthew Roberston, Bloomsbury Speakers, Errol Williamson, Riverside Communicators, Anthea Armar, Meridian Speakers Club, George Anderson, Thame Speakers, Dean Wolfers, Romford Speakers, Desire Binam, Data Science Speakers Club.
Myself and my Club Member friend (and MC at the Side Stream) Emmet Naughton played the game of who could predict the winners. We got two of the top three, and the winner.
Then we had a conversation with the Rotary Club: an interview with Robert Morris, Rotary International, Toastmasters and Rotary Club Alliance: What’s in it for you? Led by Janet Alkema, DTM.
I didn’t realise how much overlap there was between the two organisations. There are a lot of opportunities for Toastmasters to help out at Rotary Clubs and benefit from the Rotary Club experience too.
Also the logos seem to go quite well together. Before we knew it, after a short break, the Chief Judge came back. Christopher Walker.
The results were announced and they were as follows: 3rd Place, Jawad Anjun, 2nd Place, Desire Binam, 1stPlace, Anthony Garvey.
Anthony Garvey of Shilling Speakers was on Zoom and was a most deserving (and quite surprised!) winner. You can see Anthony’s reaction to winning here:
The meeting was adjourned and the evening was spent at the Fable restaurant where it was an opportunity for us to wine and dine and celebrate and have a Hall of Fame. The District Leadership Team had our own table where we were joined by special guest Aletta. Again, this was a great chance to socialise, mix and mingle. It was great to hang out with people I’d met over the course of the year.
We also saw three awards given out at this Hall of Fame.
The Division Director of the Year awarded to Division C Director and the Area Director of the year award awarded this year to Alistair Driscoll. The last two could not make the event. One was performing on stage in the theatre, the other on the motorway back to Wales. Watch these 2 videos to see who was who.
The third award was the District Director’s Award, awarded to Amy Jones. I have worked closely with Amy this year and it was a very emotional moment seeing her being recognised by our District Director, Rupa.
One of the longest and most heartfelt hugs I have seen.
Dinner was great and a few libations were had. And I know there was a hardcore group that made its way to the local pub and Slack messages were posted at 4am. District 91 party hard!
DAY 3 – Sunday 14th May 2023
The Sunday was back at the University of Law.
The Keynote was by Steve Judge entitled Good to Gold, I have heard was amazing. I didn’t manage to catch it because I was packing to go on holiday. He writes:
“Going from wheelchair to world champion and beyond, my personal experiences have taught me what it takes to achieve GOLD. The most extraordinary life is waiting for you. – Take it, it’s yours.” Steve Judge
He seems to have garnered a lot of fans…
Debbie Williams, Club Growth Director, who met him after his speech and had him as a guest on her podcast wrote: “I engaged in a powerful conversation with Steve Judge right after his awe-inspiring keynote speech at the conference. His profound humility, captivating personal journey, and invigorating message to strive for greatness without any room for excuses left an indelible mark on me. Thank you Steve for taking the time to attend the D91 Conference.”
Then we had the contests starting up again with Humorous Speech but first Table Topics.
Table Topics Contest
I was on Zoom for this Table Topics contest but still managed to catch it.
The Contest Chair was Deborah Johnston DTM, whom I know from Berkeley Square Speakers back in the day. Fake it to Make it or Learn it to Earn it? that was the question from our Table Topics master on Sunday morning. The contestants competing that morning were as follows:
Sarina Mann, Hamwic Speakers, Florian Bay, London Victorians, Ga Lok Chung, City of London Toastmasters Club, Amanda Zwarts, Sutton Speakeasy, Anthea Armar, Meridian Speakers Club, Phillip Sheahan, Chiltern Speakers Club, Monie Manugue, Moody’s Europe Toastmasters, Ramesh Halai, TJXpressions.
The results were announced and they were as follows: 3rd Place, Florian Bay, 2nd Place, Anthea Armar, 1stPlace, Sarina Mann – a deserving winner. You can see Sarina reaction to winning the contest:
We then had a workshop from Aletta and this was entitled: How to Leverage Your Toastmasters Membership to Boost Your Career.
We were all challenged to talk about how we have benefited from Toastmasters in our careers and how it has helped us… Being asked to pitch to a prospective employer why they should value our experience as Toastmasters challenged us all. It made me think about the very first LinkedIn Live I did back in August 2022 which was entitled ‘Make Toastmasters work for you’. I need to be able to articulate what went well in my PR Manager’s role and to be able to relate that value to what I might offer as a consultant or Non-Exec director. You only get these sort of workshops at Conference!
Humorous Speech Contest
It is always good to end things with a laugh and that is what the Humorous Speech Contest promised to do…
You have to be a good sport to Chair this contest.
Simon Cooper was the excellent contest chair and there was a lot of humour; some of it intentional. An off stage moment with a clip on mic created one of the moments of the day!
Participants were Clare Crowther, Armada Speakers, Aruna Shanmugarajha, London Business School Public Speaking Club, Lewis Kyriacou, St Pauls Speakers, Sheila Hamilton-Andrews, Ascot & Bracknell, Dan Magill, Croydon Communicators Club, Shakiba Habibula, North Oxford Speakers, Mike Weston, London Public Speakers, Chantal Clairicia, HOD Speakers Club.
We had everything from sports day relating, a food fascist, a man obsessed with facial hair. The Humorous Speech contest is always a highlight. It’s really hard to make people laugh at TM – trust me I’ve competed in three contests and have still failed to win one. But it’s such a great skill to have. And wonderful congratulations to those who placed in this contest.
The Chief Judge came back, Ken Essien DTM.
The results were announced and they were as follows: 3rd Place, Mike Weston, 2nd Place, Shakiba Habibula, 1st Place, Daniel Magill. You can see Dan’s reaction to winning the contest:
After this contest, it was time to wrap up this 3 days of proceedings. Rupa Datta presented the District Leadership Team 2022-2023 for the last time.
There were some heartfelt thank you’s delivered from the Conference Team (seen below) and then we adjourned.
We ended up at the local pub The Masque Haunt on Bunhill Row where a group decamped to chat, socialise and celebrate. I had to rush to get ready for my holidays but I saw photos shared later that showed that it was a convivial end to a great three days Conference.
So there, it is. That’s my impressions. But what about you. How did you experience it? I’ve spoken to a few others who were key to the event so don’t just take my word for it, have a listen to those who were working behind the scenes, most instrumental in making it happen:
Admin Manager for 2023/24 and Conference Social Media Manager, Aayushi Jain DTM said of the conference:
“Attending the London Toastmasters Conference from May 12-14th was an absolute whirlwind of excitement and personal growth. Spanning across two prestigious locations, the Barbican Centre and the University of Law, the conference provided an immersive experience that left me feeling inspired, empowered, and connected to a global community of Toasties. One of the most remarkable aspects of the conference was the opportunity to interact with Toastmasters from all over the UK and various parts of the world. It was an incredible feeling to meet like-minded individuals who share a passion for personal development and public speaking. Through engaging conversations and collaborative activities, I had the chance to forge meaningful connections and make amazing friends who I continue to stay in touch with today. As the social media manager for the conference, I was exposed to invaluable hands-on learning experiences. Being responsible for promoting the event and building its brand allowed me to gain practical knowledge in event promotion and brand development. The lessons I learned during this role have been immensely helpful in shaping my own personal brand on platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn. Since implementing these strategies, I have seen a significant influx of followers and engagement, which has been truly gratifying.
Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of the conference was the opportunity to host the opening of the event on Day 1. This was a moment I had eagerly prepared for, investing time and effort into perfecting my script with the guidance of seasoned mentors. Stepping onto the stage, dressed in a new outfit that exuded confidence, and delivering my speech was an unforgettable experience. The support and encouragement I received from both the mentors and fellow attendees were overwhelming, and it helped me gain a newfound sense of confidence in my public speaking abilities. The compliments and positive feedback I received afterward were a testament to the growth I had achieved and further fuelled my determination to continue honing my skills.
Attending the London Toastmasters Conference has undoubtedly been a transformative experience. Not only did I learn practical skills in social media management, event promotion, and personal branding, but I also gained lifelong friends and a newfound confidence in my public speaking abilities. The connections I made and the lessons I learned continue to inspire me as I embark on my personal and professional endeavors. I am eternally grateful for this remarkable experience and cannot recommend the London Toastmasters Conference enough to anyone seeking personal growth, networking opportunities, and a chance to be part of a truly incredible community.”
Quote from Rose Nakibirango DTM who was Program Director this year:
”For me, helping with the conference is a great way of picking up new ways of doing things, like planning a big event, publicity and balancing the books. The biggest learning for me, however, was working with others in a fast moving, often challenging environment and accepting ideas and decisions that may be different to mine.”
Quote from Admin Manager 2022/23, Amy Jones:
“The conference for me is one of the most valuable experiences a member can have in Toastmasters. All the layers of our organisation truly come together – public speaking, communication and leadership on display at the District Council meeting; throughout the speeches and workshops through to the display of excellence delivered in our District contests. Perhaps most valuable of all is the teamwork and networking opportunities that flourish as a result. It is an experience that I am forever changed for being part of.”
And we collated feedback from across attendees:
“Heartfelt thanks to D91 for creating a space I in which I enjoyed a real vacation, I totally forgot about work.”
“ Being back together in person was absolutely priceless! Thank you to all the members who helped pull off the conference weekend!”
“ My first D91 Conference and I’ll be back for sure! I loved this chance to network with the wider membership and our district leaders!”
“ Huge thanks to the conference team, it seemed to be a flawless operation!”
We need to make sure we give some thank you’s too. For all those who did such a good job: Valerie Slavina, Alistair Barton, Amy Jones, Pavan Kirpalani, Chris Binns, Sabrina Aici, Rose Nakibirango , Janet Alkema, Maud D’Agostoni, Gaby Yanez Fonseca, Grace Nathan, Mel Cunningham, Nick Ronald, Rakhi Jain, Aayushi Jain, Guler Cortis, Sushil Rapatwar, Jill Segal, and various members from D91 (and D71 because they are so neighbourly!) for supporting in the lead up or over the weekend of the conference with various tasks!
Of course, we are grateful to our partners and sponsors including Clarity Media, Congruent Marketing, Aegis Photography and Blaqpix Photography. Here’s to next year. If you are already interested in potentially becoming Conference Director and in joining the line of illustrious individuals who got together as past Conference Directors (Debbie Williams, Guler Cortis, Helena Boden-Brewer, Jill Segal pictured above) or being on the District 91 Conference Team for next year’s 2024 edition then please contact incoming Program Quality Director, Steve Vear, MBE DTM on email@example.com.