From Surprises to Success: The Thrilling Journey of Becoming a Conference Director

My first District Conference was in Autumn 2014 in Brighton. Prior to that, family commitments and a sense that a weekend of Toastmasters was not for me had kept me away, despite having 5 years of Toastmasters under my belt. To my surprise and delight I had a great time and was surprised to find myself ‘head-hunted’ to act as the next Conference Director by the Program Quality Director, just as the conference was being put to bed on Sunday afternoon. The PDQ graciously suggested I should think about it before committing – she didn’t know me – I act on impulse and a yes is immediately set in stone.

I loved the exercise putting together a team, creating a concept and structuring the programme, finding a venue and bringing together all the elements of a conference. It was an extension to the concert and theatre productions I had pulled together previously. Why was that? In many ways I had a different set of stakeholders to the one’s that I had experienced in my professional life. Toastmasters had expectations and my conference exposure was limited to only one conference. However, the experience of using my imagination, taking advice from others (previously I had only asked myself for ideas, expertise and validation) brought a new dimension to the project.

It was suggested that District 91 needed to have a Central London conference, something that had been shied away from in the past because of cost. I definitely struck lucky. It had been suggested that we use one of the Grange Hotels. On my way to meet the Events Director at the Grange opposite the Tower of London I bumped into a friend on the bus who I had not seen for ages. Telling him where I was going, he walked me into the hotel, introduced me to the Events Director who he knew as his law firm organised many events there. He insisted we should be given 5-star treatment and the same discounts afforded to repeat customers.

That gave us a huge boost and all the interactions with the hotel were positive and helpful. The rapport was reflected in the spirit of the conference which ran smoothly and was very relaxed, or at least my wonderful team gave that impression even if they were stressed behind the scenes. Not only was it a tremendous learning experience for me, extending my event management toolbox but I managed to sit back and enjoy every moment of the conference. A great team made for a wonderful experience and I recommend it to all intrepid Toastmasters!