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! 

𝐅𝐢𝐫𝐬𝐭-𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞𝐫, 𝐝𝐨𝐮𝐛𝐥𝐞 𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐞𝐧𝐠𝐞 🌞🌞, 𝐝𝐨𝐮𝐛𝐥𝐞 𝐚𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐝𝐬 🥇🥇 – Area Contest report by Christina Yap

Thanks to Christina Yap for allowing us to re-post her report from her double awards at the E4 Area Contest.

I am deeply honoured and thrilled to have received two No. 1 awards at Toastmasters. In this post, I share the recipe for success. 

For those of you out there who are up for your next challenge, may it inspire you to embrace challenges with a #growthmindset. Everyone else has a role to play too! Read on..

🚀 𝐄𝐦𝐛𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐓𝐨𝐚𝐬𝐭𝐦𝐚𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐌𝐢𝐧𝐝𝐬𝐞𝐭 🚀
“𝘛𝘢𝘬𝘦 𝘢 𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘦, 𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘯, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘨𝘳𝘰𝘸.”

Nine months into my Toastmasters journey, I was selected to represent my local Toastmasters club at the annual area speech contest. Last Friday, as I stood next to seasoned competitors, I could have succumbed to nerves.

However, I chose to embrace the opportunity. My passion for continuous learning, #personaldevelopment and the thrill of embracing new challenges kept me focused on the mission. As we navigate the AI revolution, I believe that cultivating a growth mindset and readiness to approach challenges with collectedness becomes more essential than ever before. This contest was a great opportunity for me to walk the talk.. 😉

All I had to do was be myself, try my best, apply all my transferable skills, knowledge, experience. And see what happens with a healthy dose of spontaneous #creativity

The result?
🌞 𝑯𝒐𝒏𝒐𝒖𝒓𝒆𝒅: I received “𝑭𝒊𝒓𝒔𝒕 𝑷𝒍𝒂𝒄𝒆” awards in the
 🥇 ‘𝘴𝘱𝘦𝘦𝘤𝘩 𝘦𝘷𝘢𝘭𝘶𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯’ and
  🥇 ‘𝘵𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘦 𝘵𝘰𝘱𝘪𝘤𝘴’ 
categories. I am truly humbled by the next opportunity to compete at the Divisional level…

𝐌𝐲 𝐭𝐚𝐤𝐞𝐚𝐰𝐚𝐲𝐬?

🎙️ 𝑰𝒏𝒔𝒑𝒊𝒓𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝑨𝒃𝒐𝒖𝒏𝒅𝒔: The spellbinding techniques and motivational speeches delivered by my esteemed competitors truly inspired me. I learned much from observing everyone in action and by what they shared. 

🌟 𝑬𝒏𝒓𝒊𝒄𝒉𝒆𝒅 𝑬𝒙𝒑𝒆𝒓𝒊𝒆𝒏𝒄𝒆: Everyone played a role in supporting the event in a hybrid context. A heartfelt thank you to our host, UBS, for providing the venue and every individual who collaborated to make it a success.

🙏🙏 𝑫𝒆𝒆𝒑 𝒈𝒓𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒕𝒖𝒅𝒆: A big thank you to all the judges, my distinguished Zuriberg Toastmasters Club, committee and members for their much valued feedback, support and vote of confidence. Immense gratitude to my mentor, Roland Straub, for believing in me, Dr. Vanessa Stournari for her support, Alice Nuslova, PMP® for her guidance and to Ben Nordemann for introducing me to this fun path!

𝐌𝐨𝐫𝐚𝐥 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐲? 
There’s a first time for everything! We just need passion, readiness to embrace new challenges and a supportive network!

𝐂𝐞𝐥𝐞𝐛𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐓𝐨𝐚𝐬𝐭𝐦𝐚𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐈𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐧𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐚𝐥: where everyone has the opportunity to learn, grow and hone their #leadership skills.
Where Leaders Are Made✨

Area E4 Toastmasters Contest Triumph: A Night of Achievements

Dear fellow Zuriberg Toastmasters, 

On the vibrant evening of February 23rd, the E4 Area, comprised of Credit Suisse, Zuriberg, Walk the Talk, and St. Gallen Clubs, witnessed an exhilarating contest that left a mark of pride and accomplishment for our club. Christina emerged as the shining star, securing victories in not just one, but two categories – Evaluation and Table Topics Speech Contests! 

A hearty congratulations to Christina, who will now carry the torch to the next level: the Division E contest on March 23rd.

In the International Speech contest, both myself and Elias claimed honors, securing the 2nd and 3rd places, respectively. Our speeches, though familiar to our club, were refined and elevated through feedback, a testament to the transformative power of continuous improvement.

“There are two kinds of people” and as per Thomas, the good ones, and the bad ones! He masterfully conveyed the message of personal transformation, how one transit from being the “bad guy” to becoming the “good guy”, emphasizing the power of personal choices.

In a different stage today, the online combined E1-E2-E3 & E4 German speech competition, Roland competed with a beautiful personal story in excellent high German! In his Interview, he motivated us all to make mistakes, it is the best way to learn! He proudly brings another first place award for our club!

Beyond the contestants, our club demonstrated unwavering support, with Anna as the Timer and Hugo as the Hybrid Zoom Master of Technology, ensuring the seamless execution of a high-quality hybrid contest. Toastmasters thrive on the altruistic engagement of members, and Anna and Hugo’s dedication is truly commendable.

While judges remain anonymous, a special thanks to our club members who performed their duties behind the scenes, contributing to the success of the contest incognito.

Let’s raise our glasses in a collective toast to all participants, contest officials, and, of course, Christina and Roland, who brilliantly illuminated our club in the Area E4 Toastmasters Contest. Here’s to the spirit of growth, camaraderie, and continued success!

Warmest regards,

Vanessa Stournari

President Toastmasters ClubVanessa Stournari

A Night at the Opera: Insights from our VP Membership, Kevin

Dear Zuriberg Toastmasters, 

During our summer party, serendipity favored our VP Membership, Kevin, as he was the lucky recipient of the grand raffle prize.As someone deeply inspired by the world of Opera, Kevin is eager to share his impressions from the enchanting “Night at the Opera” experience last October!

On behalf of Kevin: 

A Night at the Opera

Don Giovanni stood before us, a silhouette amidst the flames, his years of greed and misdeeds sealing his fate in eternal damnation. Justice prevailed, and the audience, enchanted by Mozart’s timeless opera “Don Giovanni,” rose in an excited standing ovation. I had the chance to be among them, thanks to our very own Club – the Zuriberg Toastmasters Club – which organized a lottery prize at our closing meeting in June. A big thank you to the Committee for having selected such an inspiring prize and given the winner – me in this case – the opportunity to broaden my horizons. 

During that evening, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between being an opera singer and a speaker, realizing how much there is to learn from each other.

Firstly, both share the purpose of communicating a message to an audience. Though seemingly trivial, we often overlook this when on stage and rather worry about details: the volume of our voice, checking if we display anxiety, or having seemingly uncontrolled movements. The real question should be: does the audience understand the message?

Secondly, both leverage vocal variety and body language to engage their audience. Imagine how you’d feel if an opera singer had only one note or used the same gesture repeatedly. Most likely, you’d leave within the first 10 minutes. Similarly, speakers, when comfortable with a specific tone or gesture, may use it over and over again while wondering why the audience’s engagement is low. As in life, variety is key. Like an opera singer, a speaker’s voice and gestures must align with the message and adapt to emotions and situations to keep the audience engaged throughout the entire journey.

Even more importantly, opera singers spend years working on their craft and thoroughly prepare for their performance. Of course, nobody is expected to perform as an opera singer without practice. Strangely, this is what we expect when we speak in public. We believe that all it takes is to take a deep breath and start speaking. But this does not produce much results. Without preparation, we will probably not have content interesting enough to be communicated, or we won’t be able to communicate it effectively. Therefore, both the expert opera singer and the smart speaker will dedicate most of their time getting ready for game day. 

Art is something magical!

Out of ordinary things such as words or paint comes out something extraordinary – the communication of emotions. Countless individuals express themselves, yet not all achieve the finesse of mastery. True mastery is reserved for those who consistently work on their craft and prepare for the moments they need to perform at their best. Toastmasters provides a weekly chance to hone these skills. Through dedication, practice, and training, the day is approaching when, much like opera singers, you will be able to captivate your audience every time you step on the stage.

Kind Regards

Kevin von Niederhäusern 

Please click here for details of our next club meeting

Vanessa Stournari

Workshop “Mastering disastering” with Kyle P Bullus

This workshop will help you to avoid presentation disasters such as ‘prop flops’ and ‘vanishing visuals’ as well as giving you confidence to handle the unexpected. You might even learn to have fun with failure. Bring your stories and we’ll work out solutions.

Kyle’s Leadership Experience

Kyle has led workshops in his native country England as well as in Germany, Switzerland and India. He has been independent since 1994 and also freelances for commercial and institutional clients. He serves clients who need communication and presentation coaching.

Continue reading “Workshop “Mastering disastering” with Kyle P Bullus”

Debating workshop at the District 59 Conference in Bonn

We congratulate our club member Nicholas Allan for having his workshop on debating included in the program for the District 59 Fall Conference in Bonn. As we know from trying the format in our club meetings, it is not only educational, but also a lot of fun for the participants and the audience.

Nicholas Allan will lead the debating workshop at the District 59 Fall Conference in Bonn

Continue reading “Debating workshop at the District 59 Conference in Bonn”

No Meeting August 21st, CONTESTS October 2nd!

The club will meet on August 7th, and then take a break to enjoy the last weeks of summer. We will meet again on September 4th, according to our regular schedule.

Don’t forget that the Humorous Speech and Table Topics contests are just around the corner on October 2nd. If you didn’t make it to the Olympics, this is your chance to cheer and rave!

Lakeside Meeting Review

All that we had envisioned for our summer gathering was realized on Tuesday.

Through Angela Saxby’s beneficence and the exceptionally good mood of the Zurich weather gods, Mosquito Hill and Zuriberg Toastmasters ascended the stairs of the Zurich Rowing Club to arrive at a spectacular, sweeping view of white sailboats adrift on glittering cerulean waves, rare inspiration for a relaxed, vibrant and buoyant Toastmaster evening!

We had hoped to enjoy a fantastic event on the lake, to give every member the opportunity of becoming part of a larger circle of aspirants on this challenging rhetorical journey, and to expand and deepen our understanding of how we can accomplish our goals as leaders and orators.

With speakers, evaluators, and Table Topics Masters from both clubs, we witnessed a variety of topics, performance styles, and analytical approaches which must have given all of us fresh ideas to bring to our regular meetings. Congratulations again to Christian Langenegger as Best Speaker, Merin Chacko as Best Table Topics Speaker, and Angela Saxby, Florian Hehlen, and Piotr Skoczylas, who tied as Best Evaluators.

Add to the educational program copious contributions of wine, dinner, and laughter, and we accomplished a rewarding synergy of mood and meaning which none of us will ever forget. We trust that this event only marks the beginning of a tradition of successful collaboration between the three English-speaking Zurich Toastmasters clubs.

Thanks again to everyone for a great time!

The Speech Marathon

Our first speech marathon, a mini-marathon really, on June 26th was a fun and fitting conclusion to the 2011-2012 Toastmasters term!

As always, the meeting was a team effort from start to finish, with almost every member performing at least one role, some more than one.

Special thanks to Christian Funke, who spent two weeks working behind the scenes to advertise, find the perfect gift for our prize winner, and investigate the special beamer logistics in the big hall. He also arrived early Tuesday, saving the day by sprinting out to print more evaluation forms at the last minute—since I had forgotten we would need 7 per person!

Lesley Stephenson, our club’s founder, not only offered expert tips in her evaluation to Lip-Hong, but jumped in on two-hours notice to deliver a professional, innovative, and inspiring Pecha Kucha presentation on her High Performance Leadership project, which has evolved into a permanent foundation: Ethiopian Enterprises. Thank you, Lesley! Look for more from Lesley in autumn, when she returns from Ethiopia and extensive professional speaking engagements.

It might have seemed as though every time you blinked, there was Nick Allan, crouching under tables and chairs, perched at the edge of the stage, emitting a subtle, steady stream of clicks as he materialized first in one spot, then another! That’s because Nick, a much-in-demand photographer, was on an action photo shoot—check out the results in the gallery!

Ilka Gehlhar exhorted us all to make Toastmasters our babies, because we get more when we invest more—sing it, sister!—and Nicola Von Lutterotti delivered a much-needed kick in our derrieres with her speech, “Let’s Move!” I described how Toastmasters helps us satisfy the universal human need to be understood, Christian Funke delivered an incisive and amusing critique of the Schengen visa system, and David Ermen had us laughing and gripping our chairs during his anecdotal dramedy, “The Taxi Ride to Chill”.

Piotr Skoczylas was a witty and upbeat TME, and William Horan payed a warm tribute to the club as he expounded on the joys of his experience this year as VPE. Lip-Hong Teo delivered his final CC manual speech, also a farewell address to mark the end of his four-year Toastmaster journey—we wish you well, and you are always welcome back, Lip-Hong! Christina Ehlers and Martin Hahn regaled us with joke interludes, one of which, in conformance with statistical probability, involved a mother-in-law. Evaluators, timer, Vice SAAs, everybody contributed, thank you all for making it a wonderful evening!

Congratulations to Nick Allan on the Best Evaluation. Congratulations to Lesley and me, Best Speakers. Finally, grunts of respect to Nick Ahmann, winner of the “Bring the Most Guests” prize, who sprang up to the stage like Rocky to collect his Logitech PC remote control.

A warm welcome to our two newest members: Alice and Stefano. Look out for their Icebreaker speeches!

Save the Date: Zuriberg & Mosquito Hill Toastmasters Lakeside Event


Many thanks to Angela, of the Mosquito Hill club, who has made it possible for our two clubs to convene for one sparkling summer evening on lake at the Zurich Rowing Club.

Two speakers from each club will be evaluated by members of the other club; one Table Topics Master from each club will lead us in a round of impromptu invention; and the rest of the roles can be performed by any member from either club.

This is also a great opportunity to share your favorite culinary fare or beverage in a buffet, details in Easyspeak.

Looking forward to expanding our perspectives and enjoying the lakeside together on July 24th!