Tag Archives: Toastmasters

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

Toastmasters Division H Conference

I have already mentioned Toastmasters quite a few times in the blog. From the Toastmasters International site:

“[…] Toastmasters International has grown to become a world leader in helping people become more competent and comfortable in front of an audience. The nonprofit organization now has nearly 250,000 members in more than 12,500 clubs in106 countries, offering a proven – and enjoyable! – way to practice and hone communication and leadership skills.

Most Toastmasters meetings are comprised of approximately 20 people who meet weekly for an hour or two. Participants practice and learn skills by filling a meeting role, ranging from giving a prepared speech or an impromptu one to serving as timer, evaluator or grammarian.

There is no instructor; instead, each speech and meeting is critiqued by a member in a positive manner, focusing on what was done right and what could be improved.

Good communicators tend to be good leaders.”

There are 15 Toastmasters clubs in Spain in Portugal (3 of them in Madrid!), with over 400 members. Next weekend (April 24th), we will gather in Porto for the Division conference. There, we will have several workshops, lectures and presentations delivered by prominent speakers; among them Ed Tate, World Champion of Public Speaking in 2000, and John Zimmer, four times European Champion of Public Speaking.

Even more interesting will be the contests that will take place there: Evaluation and International Speech contests. From our Area (Madrid and South of Spain) there will be four participants taking part in them: Jane Kinnear, Ruben Navarro, Damian Alcolea and Alexander Hristov.

I am sure they will make a great performance and above all they’ll learn a lot just by participating in the contest. The rest of us attending will enjoy two great contests in a memorable weekend!

Good luck!!

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Filed under Personal development & HR, Toastmasters, Travelling

I am an angel

Last 23rd March the three Toastmasters clubs in Madrid organized a gathering at Hard Rock Cafe. The event was a great success with over 40 people attending it. John organized it including 3 prepared speeches, a book review, some table topics and an improvised theatre!

I gave a speech which I had created over a year before. That was my 9th speech in the way to obtaining the Competent Communicator award of Toastmasters. The objective: “Persuade with Power”.

I first gave this speech titled “Angels” on the 4th of February in 2009. Then I used it again for the Area spring contest and again in the Division conference in Lisbon that same year.

With some slight modifications I gave it again in the gathering. This is its script and more or less what I said…

“Do you believe in angels? I do. I do believe in angels. What if I tell you that I am an angel? Wouldn’t you be curious? Wouldn’t you like to hear about it? You will.

I believe in what are called “business angels”.

I guess that most of you have heard the term “business angel” at some point. For those of you who haven’t: business angels are investors who invest part of their money in small and medium start-up companies, helping entrepreneurs to set up their businesses.

In this speech I want to persuade you to become business angels. You may tell me “Javier, I don’t have a spare million to invest in companies”; neither do I.

Do you think that to be an angel… to help someone to start-up with their business, a lot of money is needed?

Microcredits are small loans given to the poor, to those entrepreneurs who lack collaterals and a credit history; this makes them not eligible for the traditional credit given by banks. We are talking about someone in Vietnam who runs a grocery shop or about Mariano Choque who makes handicraft in Peru and whom I met last summer in a trip to Peru.

Microcredits are generally considered to have originated with the Grameen Bank created by Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh more than 30 years ago. It all started as a research project to examine the possibility of designing a credit delivery system to provide banking services targeted to the rural poor. For this contribution, Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Ok, this is the theory. Now, I told you I was an angel; do you think I am part of that Grameen Bank in Bangladesh? No, I’m not.

Today the internet has facilitated very much the process. Kiva.org is a US non-profit organization which links those poor entrepreneurs, in developing countries, with us, here in Europe.

Kiva presents us with a list of individuals who are requesting an amount to start or improve their business. There you choose in which project you want to invest and how much do you want to invest. Kiva was started in 2005, and now counts with over 600,000 users who have given credits worth over 120M$ to over 320.000 entrepreneurs.

What it’s more… think of this for a moment: we are talking about credits and not donations; this means that you will get the money back! Say you invested 100$; when you get them back what would you do with them? You can lend them again! Imagine how many people you can help with those same 100$. Isn’t it wonderful?

Let’s see possible concerns you may have:

  • Is Kiva profiting from it? No, as I said is a non-profit organization. Like Toastmasters. Of course, Kiva has operating costs, but these are covered with different donations than the money you lend to entrepreneurs.
  • How do we know the money reached the entrepreneur? Kiva works with several field partners who are the ones scouting the entrepreneurs, uploading the information about them and their projects and finally handing them the money.
  • What if the loan is not repaid? Indeed some loans are not repaid. Around 2% of them. To avoid this Kiva is classifying the field partners. They classify them according to the level of risk of the credits already given to entrepreneurs presented by the field partners. But then again… with investment in the stock market, what would you do to avoid losing your investment: you just diversify!
  • If you have more concerns or questions about the topic you may ask me after the other speeches.

As I said at the beginning, I believe in angels. I am an angel. And what is more important: each of one you here can give a loan that can change a life… each of you can become an angel.”

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Filed under Helping others, Investing, Toastmasters

Speech about Minifutbol

Since I started the blog, I wanted to write about Minifutbol, a competition I play in Torrelodones. On March 17th I gave one speech about it at Toastmasters (supposedly a humorous speech), so what better way to explain what Minifutbol is that to share the script of that speech with you here:

“Mr Toastmaster, fellow members, guests,

This is the t-shirt of team with which I won last summer Minifutbol championship in Torrelodones… I am proud of it because that was the first championship I won in Minifutbol, I’m so proud that I’ll wear it here. I wear it here, because my partner Luca doesn’t allow me to wear it at home. She doesn’t like Minifutbol. On the awards ceremony after that tournament I was given a very big, shiny trophy… her reaction: “You’re not bringing this home! Not until you get rid of the rest of the trophies”. Once bitten, twice shy… now the trophy is somewhere hidden.

Fellow members, I want to tell you about Minifutbol, a kind of football being played in Torrelodones.

It all started 40 years ago with a group of friends in their twenties wanting to meet their old friends with the excuse of playing football matches.

Nowadays, in the village we are more than 600 people participating in it. We are divided in the following categories: “embryos”, “dummies”, “immature teens” (pavosos inmaduros), matures and veterans.

And there has always been a huge waiting list of people wishing to play, some applied in the 70s for the embryo category and still waiting and looking forward to join the veterans now.

As I told you, this T-shirt is of the team I played with last summer and won the summer tournament, now I am playing in another team. With this team we didn’t win the winter championship… no, we have been the last ones. We just won 2 matches out of 16… I don’t care, I’m even happy: in these competitions everybody gets a prize: I’ll be given a smaller trophy that will fit better in the living room of the house. Luca may not oppose this time.

Why did I switch teams? Minifutbol has a social ambition attached to it. There you get to know different people from the village. We switch teams every year and they are formed randomly: every year I inscribe myself individually and then by draw I’m placed in a team with other 7-8 players. At least this is what I’m told… actually, I never saw the draw taking place… It could be that each year my previous team is just getting rid of me.

Going back to the competition, we lost, ok, but let me tell you one rule of the competition that describes well the spirit of it: each player has to play at least a minimum of 10 minutes in every match. So it can’t happen that the best player of the team plays the whole of it and the worst doesn’t get to participate. In the case of our team we could say that we want everyone to feel part of the failure of the team.

Ok, failure is a strong word… let me put it in another way. What would you say is the most important thing in football, the success factor?… ok, so the more goals the better the match, the better the show. This year, I am in a team devoted the show, which in football means goals… we are so devoted to it that we try not to interfere with it; we have been scored 160 goals, about 10 goals per game. Sometimes we even had to score those goals ourselves. I had to score one myself.

Life goes on. In spring we play yet another tournament: the Cup. With the same teams we played in winter.

Now we have the chance to be the revelation team in the cup tournament… as you can imagine the pressure is very high among us, the expectations in us however are very low among the rest…

It never happened that the very worst team in the league has been able to win the cup.

I received the following message from the captain of the team trying to encourage us:

“Guys, I also think we can be the revelation team. Let’s do something that has never been done by anybody else, something never seen, something surprising and that will leave everybody with their mouths wide open…

… let’s play naked next Sunday.”

Mr Toastmaster.”

Of course, this post still leaves open the door to another post in which I talk about Toastmasters, but that one will come for sure.

That “next Sunday” indeed was 14th March, we didn’t play naked and we won the first match of the cup 11-5… sometimes you have to make up some facts in the speeches… the show is the show.

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Filed under Sports, Toastmasters