Thursday, May 23, 2013

My Impressions fom the Toastmasters District 59 2013 Spring Conference in Antwerp

I was one of nearly 400 Toastmasters that converged on Antwerp, Belgium May 10th through 12th for the District 59 2013 Spring Conference. While everything is still fresh in my mind I thought that I'd write about some of my experiences and impressions.

This was my second District 59 Conference. For those of you who don't know District 59 represents Toastmasters of several countries in Continental Europe. I have some really great memories from my first District 59 Conference (held in Bonn, Germany in November 2012), so I was ready to build from those memories and excited to be at my first district conference where some of the winners go on to represent the district at the International Convention (being held this year in Cincinnati). I've attended several contests now and it is quite an experience to see how the level of speeches grows from the club contests, to the area contests, to the division contests, and on to the district competitions, I can only imagine how great it is to experience the speeches at the International Conference! For me there are so many reasons that I was happy to be in this gathering of Toastmasters from all over Europe. The conference began so full of promise for me and I couldn't wait for things to get rolling.

Before the conference I was really looking forward to meeting Ed Tate. He is the 2000 World Champion of Public Speaking, and the first World Champion of Public Speaking that I have been able to meet personally. I attended an extra workshop that he did Friday morning where he showed the attendees how we can create stories for our speeches. I really liked the bully stories that he told us, this really helped set the stage for us to create out own stories. Ed Tate also gave the Keynote speech on Saturday and did a workshop on Sunday. I had the pleasure of interviewing him for the Toastmasters Podcast Europe (I will be posting this in the coming weeks). Ed Tate's website can be found here. I also met and interviewed Olivia Schofield, she was the winner of the District 59 International Speech contest in 2011 and went all the way to the finals in Las Vegas. Her website can be found here.

There were several workshops on a wide variety of topics. Besides the ones put on by Ed Tate, I was able to attend workshops given by Jack Vincent and Robert Cockburn. Jack Vincent's workshop was on networking. Robert Cockburn talked about the unexpected successes he has experienced at a Toastmaster of 29 years. I would have loved to see more of the workshops but I really enjoyed what I was able to attend. I was able to interview Robert Cockburn, so look for this to be part of a future podcast episode. Unfortunately, for those of us in D59, he'll be moving to Australia soon, but this should be quite a benefit for Toastmasters in Australia.

I was given the opportunity to watch Democracy in action at the District Council Meeting. The DCM was interesting because of what happened when a reorganization plan was presented for voting by the DCM and what happened after that as well as the officer elections in this transitional year before D59 becomes two districts. There was a proposal to reorganize some of the clubs within the areas and divisions within the district for the coming Toastmaster year. There was a little bit of controversy as a last minute amendment was proposed that would have changed the areas in Switzerland. Without getting into the details, the disagreement was about if there would be some German only speaking areas in Switzerland. Since German and French are two common languages spoken in Switzerland, you can understand why deciding to put clubs into areas that were organized around a single language could be a problem (especially when you think about who would be able to compete in what contest language and all the ramifications associated with this). The end result was that the amendment failed and Switzerland was to be reorganized as originally proposed. The district also held elections for the next Toastmaster year. As the district is getting ready to be split into two districts in July 2014, so after all of the voting was done there was one set of district officers (minus the District Governor) for the would be Northeast division and one set for the would be Southwest division. Division and Area Governors were also voted on. Since candidates could be nominated from the floor, there were a few people that were nominated from the floor.

The Budapest Conference team had a few people in Antwerp and they did a presentation about the District 59 2013 Fall Conference and had a table to start accepting early bird registration for the conference. The them for the Budapest Conference is Laugh and Learn. There were proposals from Krakow and Paris for the D59 2014 Spring Conference. The Krakow bid won. Hans Peterson led the Budapest team in their efforts, he also was one of the Toastmasters Podcast Europe team that started the podcast with me (I'm hoping that he'll have more time for the podcast after the Budapest Conference is over). I interview Hans and I did a wrap-up interview with the Antwerp team. I plan to put both of these interviews in the next episode. I also would like to say job well done to the Antwerp team!

Budapest is the location for the D59 2013 Fall Conference 

In the past year my home club adopted EasySpeak for use in meeting planning and to host our website, so it was nice to see that Malcolm Warden, the father of EasySpeak was in Antwerp along with Bill Monsour (who I interviewed in Episode 8 in Bonn). I did an interview with Malcolm Warden that will be posted in an upcoming episode. In the interview he told me about the development of EasySpeak as well as some features that are on the horizon.

I was really looking forward to all of the speeches and the evaluations and I wasn't disappointed. I was able to attend one of the Evaluations semi finals in English as well as the finals. This was quite an experience, because I know that most Toastmasters want good feedback and it was a real pleasure to see how the feedback was delivered and to see what I might be able to use in the future when giving my own feedback. I've heard different Toastmasters say that an evaluation is a speech and many of the contestants showed how this can really be the case! Like most of the attendees, I was not disappointed by speeches, there were so many memorable and touching speeches. I was touched and impressed with the speech that Kaylie Peng gave and won with at the Division F contest about the love that she felt for her baby brother. I had the previlage of seeing Raquel Belo give her speech in the semi finals and again in the finals. I will always remember her saying "Get up, Believe, Walk Again". Christine Roos made us feel better about getting older in her speech. I attended the workshop that John Zimmer did in Bonn about writing a contest winning speech, so I was looking forward to seeing John Zimmer do his speech and he didn't disappoint us. I was fortunate enough to interview Kailey Peng, Raquel Belo, and John Zimmer.

District 59 will be splitting into two districts in July 2014. For me this is bittersweet, because I like the idea of Continental Europe in D59 but I realize that give the growth of Toastmasters in Europe, maintaining one district forever would be unruly to manage, so I see the need for the district to become two (and as time goes by there will be more and more districts). This is one of the things that I talked to Robert Cockburn about in our interview. Our current Lieutenant Governor of Education, João de Mendonça, will be our District Governor in this transition year (I talked to him about the transition year and other topics in an interview as well).

Like most everyone else, I was looking forward to see winners of all the contests in the awards ceremony. It was really nice to see that João de Mendonça, Morag Mathieson and her husband all received their DTMs (Distinguished Toastmaster)awards. The contest results are posted here. I'd like to say congratulations to all the winners and participants of the contests. The International Speech Contest and Evaluation Contests were also held in German and French, currently these contests end with the District Conference. It was nice to see the John Zimmer will be representing D59 in Cincinnati in the International Speech Contest. He wrote a nice blog post about his experience. His blog is really good, with all kinds of good public speaking material.

The winners of the International Speech Contest in English

I really enjoyed the conference in Antwerp. I can't recommend attending a district conference enough, especially while District 59 is still Continental Europe! I had the opportunity to interview lots of interesting people, so you can look forward to a few episodes from all the interviews that I did. The Fall contest season should be exciting and there should be another memorable conference in Budapest. I hope to meet you there.

Photo Credits:
The Antwerp Bear comes from the Friday day by day photo album of Roland Pauwels
The Budapest picture is a Tumblr (note it is also used on the D59 2013 Fall Conference website).
The winners of the International Speech Contest in English comes from Susanne Kischnick's photo album


Ps.  If you'd like to see some of the pictures from the conference in Antwerp you might find the following links useful...

Susanne Kischnick's photo album

Roland Pauwels created day by day photo albums for Friday, Saturday, Saturday the Party, and Sunday.

Pictures posted via Twitter are on Sharypic.
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