Monthly Archives: June 2010

District 59 Conference: a Learning experience

Two weeks ago I attended the Toastmasters District 59 Conference, “Springtime at the Beach”, in The Hague. This was the first time I attended such a conference, and I was impressed at the level of the speakers and the organization of the conference itself.

Being an Area Governor, for me the event lasted two days and half, starting on Friday June 4th afternoon with an executive committee meeting, following with the start of the conference, later the evaluation contest and a party with divisions showcase. That wasn’t a slow start.

On Saturday we had some workshops, the elections of new officers and the international speech contest. The way the conference, workshops and elections are held reminded me very much of my time at AEGEE and how there the Agorae were held; even some of the topics covered are similar, the way sometimes the focus is put on the procedure and not on listening at length to what the candidates plan to do if elected, etc…

On Sunday we had more workshops and the training for the new district officers (namely Division and Area Governors).

International Speech Contest. This is the main attraction of the event. We could say that we paid the 135€ fee of it to attend this contest. We had 10 speeches, one representing each division. As I wrote above, the level was very high. I couldn’t see a clear winner; a prove of that is that only one of my 3 favourites came among the 3 first ones. The winner, Na Elom Amouh, told us about his journey from Togo to Munich and how we should never give up in the pursuit of our dreams. A motivational speech. In general, most speeches in these competitions tend to call the audience for noble purposes, inspire good behaviours, etc. I must admit that some of those speeches do get to move you.

Evaluation Contest. Here, the participants had to evaluate a very good speech from former District Gov Christopher Magyar. This is not an easy task, as it is always more difficult to find points of improvement. Even though in this contest the level was very high as well, with very analytical and encouraging evaluations, this time my 3 favourites came in the first 3 positions, the winner being Tara Majumdar.

Miscellanea. There are many small details, side happenings, different situations that contribute to enlarge the baggage the one takes from the conference.

  • The landscape surrounding the conference letting members to relax.
  • The music being played in the plenary sessions, especially the banners parade bringing up the spirits of all attendees.
  • The chance to have meals in the terrace.
  • The wonderful garden for the gala party and the party at the beach.
  • The attentive organisers… the continuous availability of stroop waffles, coffees, etc.
  • The counting of votes behind the scenes… when each one is coming up with a different number!
  • The entertaining way in which chairs conducted the contests.
  • The experience of tweeting the event (from @TM_Madrid and @javierirastorza)…

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Learning experience. Overall, the conference is an intense learning experience. You learn how others organise officers’ trainings, set up clubs, give recognition to members, set up workshops, and use different techniques and skills in public speaking… To end this post I wanted to remark two workshops that I attended and especially liked:

  • Pecha Kucha: this is a presentation technique originally from Japan that consists of preparing a presentation that consists of 20 slides, each one lasting 20 seconds and that will run automatically. You, the presenter, can’t stop it so you need to time yourself to precisely convey your different messages when each slide is being shown. It was very dynamic and I think it’s a nice challenge to try it one day. Check out the calendar of Pecha Kucha nights in different cities around the World.

  • Youth Leadership Program: this is Toastmasters program for youngsters. A couple of Toastmasters explained how they have carried it in a school with teenagers. From what I saw, it must be a very rewarding experience, a way to give back something to society and at the same time a way to help young students improve their skills. This is also another challenge I might try one day.

Next District conference… in Barcelona; I’ve already booked my place there!

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Filed under Education, Personal development & HR, Toastmasters, Travelling, Twitter & Media


Last weekend, Luca and I went to Casablanca. We had planned this trip together with two friends who could not come in the last-minute. Indeed the trip had been mainly planned by them, so we found ourselves in the plane  reading some papers trying to discover what was to be seen in Casablanca (“Casa”), where we were staying, how to get there and so on (by the way, now that I mention the flight, the two Easyjet flights were with 1 hour delay each as have been 90% of the flights I have experience with them… by far this is the least reliable airline that I have ever used). I normally tend to thoroughly prepare my trips, so this was an unusual experience.

Casa is not one of the seven wonders but it is a nice city to spend a weekend out, especially if you have never been to Morocco as was our case.

Out of the comfort zone.

The main attraction is the Hasan II mosque, which is huge, located by the sea and surrounded by a wonderful park. It is very nicely illuminated by night as well. When we got there, guided visits were just finished… but the odds where that we were asking about visits to the right person in the right moment… a worker of the mosque who apparently earns some extra cash by opening the doors discretionarily and making “private” tours at will.

There we were, together with some other 4 tourists, visiting the interior, making pictures and wondering how much this would cost. When we were getting out I left a 20 dirham (~2€) note in the guy’s hand,  he saw it and looked at me with smiley face a bit tilted down like saying “Javier, come on, you know this doesn’t make up for it”… well, this was the first experience I can recall of such a situation. I didn’t have a clue of how much I was supposed to give (the official visit cost 120 dirham per person, 240MAD in total) or how much others had given; the only thing I knew is that in my pocket I only had one more note of 20MAD and some others of 200MAD… so I took the 20MAD one, place it in his hand and left without ever turning my head back.

The previous anecdote clearly put us out of our comfort zone. We were out there in some other situations as well. I would say that in many of them you have the feeling that someone out there wants to cheat you. So you end up negotiating for everything which hasn’t got attached a price tag to it. So there I was bringing down prices (in my poor French!): a pair of babouches down 15MAD, a funny camel down 5MAD, a taxi down 7 MAD, another taxi down 30MAD… so much stress, so much effort to save 57MAD, less than 5.7€!! At least you get to practice negotiation skills…

The low prices that make you mad when seeing the outcome of the negotiations, on the other hand, have the positive effect that you can easily afford dining in very good places such as La Fibule and La Sqala, both by the sea; and both culinary experiences being part of the highlights of the visit.

Sightseeing. The other two main attractions for us were walking through the Medina Habous and the Ancienne Medina. We liked it more the architecture in Habous, though we had a deeper “cultural” immersion in the Ancienne one. Before going for dinner the first night, we decided to have a walk around, so we went into the Medina and took one street left, one right, then… we found ourselves walking without any sense of direction, in some crowded streets without any single tourist.

I then made the comment “it feels so safe to walk here without having read in a travel guide that we should not walk here after certain time and in these not well-lit streets”. As I said we hadn’t read anything in advance, and only now I have checked that indeed some sites make the point of it being a dangerous place by night… well, sometimes it may be better not to let that fear get into you by reading such things in advance.

There were plenty of other mosques that you may not visit, but that you notice especially when all of them call for the prayer time at once. Hear their choir recorded from the great terrace that our hotel had at the rooftop.

Finally, we also visited an old Christian cathedral that now is used as an art gallery.

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Filed under Travelling

De Feria en Feria

Last weekend, on top of attending family visits and a wedding, I could spare some time in two different fairs: the “VI Feria de la Tapa de Madrid” and the “LXIX Feria del Libro de Madrid”. Both experiences, as it was expected, were a success.

Posters of "VI Feria de la Tapa" and "LXIX Feria del Libro" of Madrid.

In the gastronomic fair I had lunch on Saturday and supper on Sunday, the day it closed. There were 38 restaurants and taverns from the Madrid region represented in the fair, and each one of them brought 4 or 5 different tapas. By chance, while we were there on Sunday evening it was taking place the contest to elect the best tapa… My first thought was “it’s not a bad contest to be judge”, later I thought it better… one thing is to take 6 or 7 tapas at your will and rhythm, and a very different one is to take 38 tapas in a row! Anyway, the judges didn’t look bad at all.

VI Feria de la Tapa.

On Sunday I went to the book fair (I will come more times this year, until June 13th) and I had another please surprise. During the first smooth walk along the stands I stopped by the one of Ecobook bookshop and I asked about a book just to see if they had it by chance, and, they did have it! The book is “Confusión de confusiones” (of which I had already referred to in another post).

This book was written by the Spanish Jose de la Vega and is the first book about the stock market. Once I finish it I’ll write more about it, now I leave here the link of a blog about it.


Filed under Books, Miscellanea