Club News in District 91: New Clubs, Twin Meetings, Going to Prison

New Club: Open Text Speakers

District 91 welcomes Open Text in Newbury to the family of Clubs and more details will be shared in future newsletters. Their Club President and Co-Founder Miriam Hernandez shared with me a photo from the Charter celebration on 5th August where our District Director Rupa Datta was also in attendance. Welcome to the District, Open Text!

Reading and Dusseldorf Speakers – From the Banks of the Rhine to the Banks of the Thames

On Monday 5th September as PR Manager I received a special invitation to visit Reading Speakers. This was a very special joint meeting alongside a Club in Europe, Dusseldorf Germany to be precise. And Dusseldorf Speakers happens to be the biggest Club in Europe with 107 Members. It was a lovely inter-cultural experience to see these two Clubs merge their traditions and showcase the best of Toastmasters. I spoke with Reading President Claire Jerrold who sent this report on their arrangement with Dusseldorf.

From 2nd to 5th September 2022, Reading Speakers were excited to play a key part in welcoming the Düsseldorfer Speakers for a weekend of social events including pub visits, a river cruise down the Thames, and a BBQ, which culminated in a fantastic joint Toastmasters meeting on Monday evening. The connection between the two clubs has its foundations in Reading and Düsseldorf being twinned towns, the oldest link between a British and German city, dating back to 1947.  Mark Clements a long standing Club Member shares his role in how the relationship came about:

“The Reading and Düsseldorf twinning has led to many joint activities over the past 75 years including education, the arts, sports and business. In 2018 Mark Clements, a member of Reading Speakers Club, became a member of the Reading Düsseldorf Association having partaken in many choral visits with the Reading Festival Chorus and Johanneskantorei of Düsseldorf. Why could Reading Speakers not become a part of the twinning activities?

Thereafter it was an ambition to achieve a joint meeting. The process started when Mark contacted the Düsseldorfersin April 2019. Christine Sommerfeldt was advised as their main contact and an ongoing correspondence Between Christine and Mark started immediately.

Covid proved to be the major hindrance to our initial meeting. It delayed the meeting by a year but, most propitiously, our Toastmasters’ clubs first meeting has occurred in the 75th anniversary year of the twinning.

It was such a special opportunity to not only see how one of the biggest clubs in Europe operates and learn from them, but to find connection in how different yet similar the Brits and Germans are.”

Claire continues: The meeting on Monday evening was hosted in the Council Chamber in the council building, a specially chosen location perfect for practising public speaking. Although the meeting followed a usual Toastmasters format of Table Topics and Prepared Speeches, it was anything but ordinary.

Speeches ranged from learning the ingredients of what makes Reading Speakers a special club, the stereotypes of Germans and the British, and what animal your Toastmasters club is (and of course what the best German beers are). All the roles were shared between both clubs, with impeccable organisation from VPEs and the wider club committees. There was even a father-daughter duo as Timekeepers who got to use the famous Reading Speakers ‘over time’ turkey!

Reading Speakers Club President, Claire Jerrold, said:

‘Looking round me on the pub on Monday night, all I could see were enormous smiles. Everyone commented on how much they had enjoyed such an interesting and engaging meeting. Bringing together the best of Düsseldorf, and the best of Reading, this meeting was exceptional.’

With the Mayor, the Area 46 Director, and the District 91 PR Manager all in attendance, it was an occasion not to be missed. But it wasn’t the grandeur of the occasion that made it. It was the connection made between people who otherwise might never have been brought together if it weren’t for being members of Toastmasters. Laughing, smiling, and learning all weekend.

Here’s to a Reading Speakers visit to Düsseldorf soon!

Beckenham Communicators: Toastmasters Goes to Prison

Alan Chapman, VPM for Beckenham Communicators contacted me in August to say that 4 members from Beckenham Communicators visited an open prison to promote a form of Toastmasters to the ‘residents’ and have planned another visit hopefully with a local club. Alan and his daughter Karen wrote the following report:

During April 2022, six Toastmasters including four from Beckenham Communicators visited Springhill Open Prison to deliver a Communications Workshop. All the residents of the prison are male and the 16 that participated on the day were Category D whom had earnt certain privilages. The aim of the event was to build the confidence and communication skills of the residents in the space of the afternoon, and to equip them with the tools to continue to develop these skills after the event. The workshop was focused on public speaking to help with any verbal communications to prepare for daily conversations, interviews etc., and also enhance other skills such as listening. The day flowed nicely and the engagement from participants was high.

The workshop was based on a previous Toastmasters event for Princes Trust and was made up of an introduction of the day and its aims, along with an introduction of the event organisers and their previous challenges with communications and how they overcame these; a warm up; tips for effective public speaking; and then group sessions where they would prepare and practice a small speech to give at the end of the event. The participants, although nervous at the beginning, started to open up in the group sessions which acted as support groups, and through practicing their speeches, the Toastmasters were honoured to hear stories of the participant’s personal challenges and their hopes for the future which included helping others such as starting up charities.

Many of the participants seemed to get pleasure in using their voices and getting messages across about their own life battles, and the more each person shared, the more it encouraged others to open up. In these group sessions, lots of advice was given to help with their speeches and the participants were encouraged to give their feedback on each other’s speeches in the hope of honing their listening skills as well.  At the start of the event, participants were reluctant to speak but by the end, they were fighting for the spotlight and the opportunity to share their story to the audience. The atmosphere was, by then, high energy and there seemed to be an air of comradery between the participants. All participants received a certificate which the Toastmasters witnessed being showed off like a badge of honour to the prison officers. After the event, the particpants were sharing with the Toastmasters how much they enjoyed the afternoon, how they benefited from it and how they wanted more!

In addition to the participants, the Toasmasters gained an awful lot from the event; they learnt about the lives of the residents, they developed their leadership skills, and thoroughly enjoyed sharing their skills and giving back to the community. As a result of this hugely positive feedback, the Toastmasters are planning to run another session at the end of September; this time with a couple of local Toastmasters in the hope that they can build a long-term relationship with the prision. The same tried-and-tested structure will be used to manage the event but with a few tweeks including a slighly advanced level for the participants that will be returning for a second time.

Going on from this, this group of Toastmasters are also hoping to reach out further to disadvanted groups such as those that are homeless to give them the skills and confidence to find their feet. It is with the hope that those reading this article are inspired by the huge mutual benefit of running workshops like this, and we would encourage any Toastmaster to share what they have learnt from Toastmasters with those that may not be able to attend our regular sessions due to life’s challenges.