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! 

One Reply to “Toastmasters District 109 Conference”

  1. Thanks, Vanessa and Alice for a very comprehensive writeup of this year’s conference.
    Kevin and Samira – sadly you were not on the group picture, having already departed for the airport.
    For info, behind the scenes we’ve already started working on next year’s conference in Malta…

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