Toastmasters District 109 Conference

Istanbul, May 2024

Conference Summary

On May 11th, the annual District 109 welcomed its Toastmasters members spanning over 16 countries at Bosphorus in Istanbul, where the West meets the East. What a better place to celebrate diversity and delve into leadership workshops, motivational keynotes and the Speech contests!

The conference opened with a motivational keynote by Verity Price, the first speaker from Africa and 6th woman in history to win the World Championship of Public Speaking in 2021. In her speech, Verity made us aware of our choice in life: to react to what happens or shape our own reality. “The future is owned by women and men crossing their imaginary bridges to grow out of their comfort zone”. She further observed that the nature of our question determines how we think about something; the way we speak about our dreams will determine if we make them happen. In other words, your word creates your world. Ask inspiring questions and mind your internal world. 

Narrow Combat for the District Trophy 

The key highlight of the conference was the speech contest. Some speakers admitted to having trained for months and waited for years for a District-level victory! The atmosphere of friendly competition was phenomenal, and the performances on stage were nearly indistinguishable from those of World Champions.

This year, the Zurich Toastmasters Club made it into the hall of fame, bringing back not just one but two awards. Mila Myrsep earned a well-deserved 1st place in the International Speech Contest. 

Marika Dubiel made her club, Toastmasters Innsbruck, proud by earning 1st place in the Evaluation Contest.

Our VP Mentoring and future President, Harry, as contest chair, granted the awards to the International Speech Contest District 109 Winners during the Gala 

Giada Sartori placed first in the Table Topics Contest by answering the question: “Do you like your neighbours?” Her experience as an Italian living in Switzerland made her speech flow naturally, from the heart, and shook the audience with laughter. In this specific competition, the learnings on how to perform best during table topics were numerous:

  • Do not rush into your story. You have up to 30 seconds to think through your speech before starting to talk. Use them to generate a broad idea of what you will say
  • Use pauses. Pauses are always important, but they are a magic gun for Table Topics, since they not only add intensity to your sentences, but also give you time to think through the next one!
  • Do not start describing what you see. Table Topics speakers, even experienced ones, might find themselves out of ideas. When this happens, avoid rambling about your environment. Pause, think about the next step in your story, and go on.
  • Use storytelling. An inexperienced Table Topics speaker might explain that its neighbours are loud because they play music all the time. An experienced one would bring us into the action using characters, scenes and the impact they had on them. The best way to engage an audience is to tell them a story.

With all these tips in mind, who wouldn’t want to give it a try? Zuriberg Toastmasters is eagerly awaiting its next District Contest winner, taking a break this year after numerous past successes. Could you be the next one? 

Yet, to be fair, Zuriberg did not stand on the sidelines. In fact, our club supported contestants by volunteering for various roles and literally setting the stage for their success. Our member Harry Loots served as the Contest Chair, letting his poise and natural speaking talent shine every moment he was on stage. Karina Castella served as the Chief Judge in a complex hybrid setup. Additionally, Christina Yap held a workshop where she illuminated the impact of generative AI on society and revealed strategies to become bot-proof.

Having fun and celebrating nice moments was also part of the conference, in a beautifully organised Gala

Workshops: The Diversity of a Caleidoscope 

Workshops covered a broad ground of topics related to communication and leadership. In his Cosmopolitan Communication talk, Ramin Kaweh pointed out that public speaking cannot be mono-dimensional as we live in a globalised world and encounter many cultures during our lifetime. The three key elements to navigating cosmopolitan communication are Recognition: of the self, Respect: appreciation of cultural differences, and Reconciliation: when there are differences. 

Jessica Breitenfeld, from Barcelona Toastmasters, taught the art of saying no assertively. Stronger barriers do not mean being stricter; instead, one can elegantly say no or seek a win-win situation.

District 109 Director Margherita Brodbeck Roth together with artist Hilarie Burke from St Gallen Toastmasters unveiled the world of method acting, a technique where an actor seeks to emotionally identify with a part. Participants ended up eating an imaginary banana or enacting an interaction between a dog and a monkey. The important question was “How did it feel?”, in other words, ‘Did you truly taste the banana?’ The goal of method acting is to deeply connect with the character and its emotions. Only by fully embodying the character can acting appear truly authentic. This applies to a certain extent for public speaking, too. 

There were many more fascinating topics that could make for an entire book, but we prefer if you join us next year and experience the conference with us!

Ramin Kaweh presenting various aspects of the Cosmopolitan Communication Talk 

The Grand Gift Finale 

On Sunday, Verity woke up the weary participants with another fascinating, thought-provoking keynote. How could she not, when she follows the GIFT approach! For Verity, speech is a gift she gives to the audience. She Gets clear on the message, Intentionally crafts her story (this is the purpose), Fills in the gaps so any type of audience understands it (irrespective of culture, profession, etc.), and Ties it all together (no new ideas at the end!). As with any other gift, the speech must be beautifully packaged: with an interesting title as luxurious wrapping paper, and well thought out, with the recipient in mind. Once you have your message, don’t wait until the end to reveal it. Make your message permeate throughout the story in different ways. By the time you say your closing words, it gets accepted by the audience. Voila!

This conference was full of learnings, pleasant encounters, and nourishing talks, wrapped in the oriental ambiance of the mystical city of Istanbul. Next year’s District conference will take us to a different scenery, to the middle of the Mediterranean.

 Hope to see you all in Malta!

Our Club showed a strong presence at the District Conference – with our banner decorated with the most ribbons, speaking of our accomplishments 
Our District 109 in full power, celebrating the closing of a successful conference and rejoicing at the prospect of meeting next year in Malta!
The iconic Blue Mosque in Istanbul, cultural landmark making Istanbul a great place for engaging into personal growth 

Many kudos of our committee and members contributing to this Blog and especially to our President Vanessa and VPE Alice for beautifully bringing it all together! 

Time to say good-bye

Dear committee, dear members

Today is the last day of the old committee. At the same time it is my last day as a committee member in 10 years. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your precious support.

My special thanks go to those of you who have been accompanying me in the Zuriberg committee for so many years.

Michelle: without you, it would have been impossible to rebuild this club when it was on the verge of failure in 2012! Thank you so much for your invaluable help with everything, your enormous commitment, your personal engagement in our meetings and your contributions to special events like the Christmas parties. You are the heart of this club and I very much hope that you will keep beating as such in the future!

Margherita: I will never forget how much you supported us when things didn’t go so well and how hard you worked to change our club into a Swiss association. In addition, your vast network in the world of Toastmasters was the basis of out contestants’ success during the last contest season. When judges don’t know the contestants personally, the risk of bias is much smaller. Thank you, Margherita, for all that you have done for our club.

Tim: Thanks you for being such a reliable and well organised treasurer and past president of this club. Even though we haven’t seen you as often as we would have liked to, I dearly remember our common projects like the evaluation workshop a few years ago, your contribution as an area director and your availability to give evaluations outside of this club. Thank you Tim for your enormous contributions!

Thanks also to you, Vanessa, for organizing two contests and for accepting to take over the role as VPE. Your reliability and hard work are the pillars on which our club rests. I am really grateful that we have found such a wonderful and mature person as a key officer for our club. You will do a great job and you can always count on my support.

And thanks to you, Riccardo, for always preparing the agenda even when you didn’t have time to join our meeting and for being such a good sport. I very much hope that you will stay faithful to our club – we all very much enjoy your great sense of humour. 

Thank you Svetlana and Farhad for being part of the team even though you didn’t have time to commit as much as you might have liked.

Many thanks to you, Roland, for agreeing to be this years’ president, for regularly contributing with much valued evaluations and presentations, for helping to organize our birthday party – that by the way was enormously successful – and for supporting Vanessa and the other members of the new committee.

I wish you all, Vanessa, Roland, Alice, Harry, Thomas, Richard and Joanna all the very best and hope to see you often in the months to come.

And finally, many thank to all members past and present. It is your enthusiasm and commitment that makes Zuriberg Toastmasters Club strive.

A big hug to all of you,


The new 2022-2023 Board has been elected !

On 10 May 2022 Zuriberg Toastmasters Club elected a new Executive Committee.

A warm welcome to the new officials:
Roland Straub (President), Vanessa Stournari (VP Education), Alice Nuslova (VP Membership), Richard Bruckner (VP Public Relations) and Thomas Mühlegger (Treasurer), and Harry Loots (VP Mentoring). A huge thank you to Santhiago Alves Vieira for chairing the elections and ensuring smooth proceedings.

We are still looking for a Sergeant at Arms, a Secretary and an Auditor. Interested? Please reach out to our President-elect.

Hybrid Is The New Black!

What an evening! Our first hybrid meeting, at Blue Monkey and on Zoom was a sucess. We had fun, we struggled a bit with the technology, we learned a lot and…
We will do it again!

Every last meeting of the month will be hybrid. What does that mean? You show up at the Blue Monkeys as usual, except if for whatever reason you do not feel like being there, you simply sign into a Zoom meeting and will have all the advantages of being in our wonderful room as well as being in your safe place.

“Eloquence Beyond The Stars”

We met at Platzspitz parc in Zurich for an outstanding outdoor meeting! This is the real public speaking experience. Our members were courageous and took the challenge. Thanks to everybody who participated!

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X-mas Party 2019

Let’s celebrate diversity together!

At our last meeting of 2019 we had our Christmas Party. We dedicated this evening to celebrate the diversity that makes our club so rich in inspirations, support and joyful atmosphere.

We also took a moment to reflect about what we can be grateful for before jump on the new year resolutions! Thanks to our committed members! You are making Zuriberg the fantastic club it is!

Finding the right words: The art of Effective Evaluation

Looking for ways to make a positive impact with your feedback?

Join us for a very special speech evaluation workshop

The Theory: Hands-on exercises and discussions

  • Different evaluation methods
  • Give move effective speech evaluations.
  • Learn the art of effective evaluation
  • First 20 registrations receive a free workbook
  • Prepare for the Spring Evaluation Contest.
  • Attendees are requested to buy dinner

The Practice:

  • Two speakers
  • Four evaluations
  • Evaluations of the Evaluators

Learn the techniques – indulge in delicious dinner – put theory into practice


On easySpeak or send an email to


Tim Birch: (preferred) or +41 78 945 67 32


19th November 2019 at 18:45


Zuriberg Toastmasters Club, Blue Monkey Restaurant, Stüssihofstatt 3, CH-8001 Zürich
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