Keep on running!

Thanks to the hard work and efforts of members, Club Officers, and DEC members as a District we are close to becoming a distinguished district. Why is this important and what does it have to do with me you might ask? Running a Distinguished club clearly demonstrates to the rest of the Toastmasters Community that we have quality clubs who are meeting members needs and so it is with districts. For this reason, I am going to ask you to “keep on running”!

Keep on running!

Many sports coaches and athletes talk about running or competing beyond the finish line. If they are running 100 meters, they will talk about running 101 meters. This is because they want to finish a race as strongly as possible not only for an advantageous position this race, but also to set them up for good start for next race.

They want to ensure they achieve the best result they can and not be overtaken in the last few years. So, it is with District 91, we are in touching distance of becoming a Distinguished district for the first time since 2020. Some of you may ask why does this matter? It matters because becoming a Distinguished District shows the rest of the Toastmasters world how hard you, as DEC, Club leaders and members have worked to have a successful year yar.

As I mentioned during the Hall of Fame, we have over 1,100 pathways level awards this year and many more to follow in the last six weeks of the year. Where we most need your help is with clubs seven or fewer members to return them to good standing and help to convert some pre charter clubs into chartered clubs. If you can help, please contact either Mo our Club Growth Director or myself.

Hall of Fame

Many congratulations to this year’s Hall of Fame recipients. It was a great to see Debbie Williams and Amy Jones both acknowledged for achieving their DTMs, with Amy receiving her medallion on Saturday. Winchmore Hill Speakers won PR Club of the Year for their great website and social media activity which helped them launch a Gavel Club during the past year.

Diane Richardson, District Director 2023/24 with Gala Dinner and Hall of Fame MCs Serena Salvatore and PDG Hilary Briggs, DTM

Our Youth Leadership Co-ordinator (and District Admin Manager) presented the Youth Leadership Facilitator award to Gillian Myers of Hamwic Speakers. The first Phoenix Award of the Year for clubs who start the year with less than 12 members and then have 20 or more by the end of the year, went to FTI Consulting who started the year with only three members and now have 25.

Club Sponsor of the Year was Kavita Dukai for her work chartering Sustainable Speakers and Olga Galaiko won Club Mentor of the Year for her work supporting L&C Toastmasters Club and sponsoring a second London Stock exchange club.

City of London Toastmasters won the Club Growth Award for recruiting thirty-seven new members and growing the club to seventy-three members. Celia Edwards won Club Coach of the Year for her work with Battle Speakers who thanks to her hard work and that of the club committee in growing the club to its largest size since 2019/20.

The Corporate Club of the Year is Moody’s Europe Toastmasters, they were the first corporate club this year to become Presidents Distinguished with a perfect 10 DCP points after being a select distinguished Club last year and distinguished in 2021/22.

Hamwic Speakers, are this year’s Club of the Year. This club has a long record of having over 40 members and of becoming a conformed Presidents’ Distinguished club in early April for the past several years. To meet demand the club, hold weekly meeting to ensure that there are sufficient speaking slots available for members to progress through Pathways.

Helyn Ashford (J10) is this year’s Area Director of the Year. Last year Helyn stepped up and became an Area Director midway through the year. This year she is helping to Charter a new online club in her area, has helped all five of her clubs be the best they can be with two already distinguished and two more very close to becoming distinguished and her enthusiasm has helped raise the energy level in any room which she enters.

The Division Director of the Year is Division H Director, Guler Cortis, for her work in starting a new club at her workplace and the support she has given to clubs and Area Directors in her Division this year.

The Toastmaster of the Year is Juli Chapman, for her work as a Pathways Champion and Club Coach. The District Directors award went for the second time to Janet Alkema. Janet first helped me when she was Division D Director in 20/21. She went on to became Youth Leadership Co-ordinator the following year and continues to hold this role. In 2022/23 she stepped in to become Division D Director mid-year and this year she stepped in as Administration Manager when her predecessor stepped away in October.

Conference Team

This month’s newsletter has been put together by the conference team. If you did not attend, you missed a magnificent event as I am sure you will read and see below. Many thanks to Amy Jones, DTM and her team who put on a fantastic conference in Bristol.

If you want to develop your event management skills then Steve is looking for next year’s conference director, please contact him.

Saving Kings

Embarking on my Toastmasters journey has been nothing short of a riveting adventure, a saga filled with challenges, growth, and triumphs that have shaped my narrative in unexpected ways.

Picture this: my first encounter with Toastmasters at university, navigating the intricacies of public speaking while wrestling with my own stammer. The journey began in the Holborn Speakers Club, where even uttering my name proved to be a Herculean task. But amidst the initial struggles, the supportive camaraderie of fellow club members fuelled my determination.

As fate would have it, the path led me to the Kings Speakers Toastmasters—a haven tailored for those, like me, grappling with stammers and social anxiety. I flourished in embracing this unique community, earning competent communication and leadership accolades. The club burgeoned to almost 50 members, necessitating a quest for a new meeting space and launching a dazzling website.

Yet, life’s twists took me to Cambridge, where attempts to replicate the Kings Speakers magic fell short. Three transformative years unfolded, enriched by the McGuire Programme’s wisdom, but a return to London brought unforeseen challenges. Mainstream Toastmasters struggled to comprehend techniques crucial to individuals like me, leading to psychological setbacks.

In the face of adversity, the prospect of rejuvenating the Kings Speakers club emerged. Undeterred by tales of closure, I seized the reins and assumed the mantle of its president. The vision? To rebrand as the Stammer and Social Anxiety (SASA) Toastmasters Club—a beacon for those seeking understanding and community. London’s pervasive loneliness spurred a mission: to forge connections, transforming strangers into Shrek or Ice Age-like families.

Join me on this exhilarating quest as SASA Toastmasters Club ascends to greatness. Let us redefine the Toastmasters experience, fostering a supportive environment where triumph over speech impediments is not just a personal victory but a shared celebration. Together, we shall conquer the challenges, rewriting the narrative of stammerers and those battling social anxiety in the vibrant tapestry of London life.

Vibesan Illampooranan
Kings Speakers

The Ancient Athenians

It was an immense pleasure to kick off our 30th anniversary celebrations in January at the Hop Poles, where we meet as London Athenians. This year, our club turns 30 and it is a big occasion! On the 1st October 1994, our club officially launched, so to celebrate, we will be putting on a celebratory event every month throughout this year until October. January marked the first of these, where past presidents and members were specially invited to walk down memory lane (enjoy our spoof video) and reminisce about their time in our club. Our club even had the privilege of hearing from a founding member, Keith Gautier, who gave a special address.
A special occasion with special guests to celebrate our very special club!
Priscilla Leigh
President, London Athenians 2023-2024

Oh my Dog

What do you call a world without dogs? A Cat- astrophe! Ha! Ha! I love this joke and laugh every time. Until I think about it and then it’s not so funny. Imagine a world full of cat owners? They can be so … catty! Double Ha! Ha!

Fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, yes, it’s a VALENTINE TRIBUTE TO OUR POOCHES! So, if you’re a cat lover you might want to stop reading and go work on your self-esteem, because as sure as heck your kitty ain’t gonna give it to you. It’s a well-known fact a cat’s main mission in life is to erode your self-worth with floods of rejection.

It’s no joke. Last year a study found that dogs’ eyes evolved to appeal to humans. Another study (mine) revealed cats’ eyes evolved to … judge you. And always find you wanting. Now I’ve been rejected by many people, the last thing I need is to be shunned by an animal.

That’s why I love dogs! Dogs are life’s answer to my lack of self-esteem. Forget stupid advice about ‘having a positive attitude’ or ‘focusing on your achievements’. Sounds like a lot of work for one futile, pointless lifetime.

In contrast, a dog will INSTANTLY make you feel like you are the SUPER-SPECIAL-MOST-IMPORTANT-HUMAN-BEING-IN-THE-UNIVERSE. No ifs, no buts and I don’t even have to ‘embrace my inner love’ or any of that idiotic malarkey. Just dangle the keys in front of your pooch and it turns into American Cheerleader:




Cats on the other hand (no offence to my Gallic cousins), cats are French.  Show them the keys and they look at you as if to say, ‘I’ll show myself out. It’s called a cat flap you imbecile’.

Now I come from a long line of dog lovers. Ever heard of ‘White Privilege’? Well, that’s dog poo compared to my family’s practice of ‘Dog Privilege’. For example, last Christmas my Dad’s Labrador got a silver-plated collar. Me? I got a shower gel. 

It doesn’t stop there. As Catholics we pray to St. Rocco, the Patron Saint of Dogs, ‘Bless our dogs and deliver us from temptation of ever having a cat’. Ever heard of a patron saint for cats? No. Because cats aren’t Catholic. They have all these lives? We suspect they might be Buddhists.  

Before you judge me as a ‘catist’, someone who believes a particular animal species (dogs) is superior to another (cats), let me tell you about my dog Maki.

Maki is a wise and wonderful ‘Water Dog’, a breed affectionately known as ‘The King of Dreadlocks’. Water Dogs became popular in the Obama administration, as the official ‘White House Dog’. It made history as the first democratically elected Rastafari!

Dog-whistle politics aside, Water dogs need a lot of space. The White House Lawn is perfect, my tiny flat in London is not. My Mum comes over from Spain, looks at the space, looks at the dog, raises her eyebrows as only Madrid mothers can, and says (OK, shouts), ‘That dog is suffering! It belongs in the ‘caserio’ (a big farmhouse). I’m taking the dog back!’ I protest, ‘You can’t do that! It’s MY dog, MY life, MY decision!’

Never disagree with a Spanish mother. It’s like when I tried to argue with the Toastmasters judges about not placing in the contest. Their look of contempt was a direct order to: ‘DROP IT’. 

So, the dog’s back in Spain. But he’s happy! Herding, hunting and enjoying life. Because dogs need to work. Hence the phrase ‘working dog’. Ever heard of a WORKING CAT? No. They’re French. They are permanently on strike.

Finally, almost 8 years into the Brexit-dog-poo-process… I might be barking up the wrong tree but don’t you think the results would have been different if the referendum had included dogs?

Imagine if they said, ‘German shepherds, French Poodles, Spanish Mastiffs – they all have to go back to where they came from!’

Even the most die-hard Brexiteer would have changed their mind and voted for the more compassionate doggy command: ‘STAY’.

Cat people still reading this?  Time to get a dog.  


Sonia Aste is a Harvard MBA, Engineer, Meng, and a Toastmaster at Riverside Communicators Club.  More from her on websiteTwitterFacebookInstagram.