How could we maintain the engagement after a year locked at home?

District 91 held its 2021 Annual Conference on 1st and 2nd May 2021. 2020 saw the District pivot from in person to online in around 6 weeks; 2021 was always going to be online but how could we maintain the engagement after a year locked at home? This was the challenge our Program Quality Director, Helena Boden Brewer DTM had to steer on behalf of our members and appointed Guler Cortis (who was part of the 2020 conference team). She stepped into the role of 2021 Conference Director … the rest is history. I will forever be grateful to both Helena and Guler for the clear strategy and flawless execution of our 2021 Online Conference.  The lessons of the past were shared with many new and exciting opportunities arising after a full year of lockdown, from technology to new ways of engaging our members who once again attended in large numbers from across the District and around the World (approx 500 attendees across the weekend). So how did it look? The District went all in! Four (4) stages Learning, Growing, Inspiring and a keynote Stage. With over 20 workshops and a full complement of contests, it was one of the busiest conferences ever, within something for everyone! If you want to relive some exceptional moments, check out the 2021 Conference playlist. Of particular note, we were blessed with the presence of Erin Gruwell, 2017 Toastmasters Golden Gavel. Erin delivered a heart warming keynote, who recounted some of the deep personal stories behind the work of the Freedom Writers Foundation. We also had the exceptional presence of Dan Egan, World renowned Big Mountain Skier who truly put perspective behind pushing the limits to achieve peak performance and the power of purpose. What else did we do? We also had our Annual District Council meeting that voted in Helena Boden-Brewer DTM as District Director and other District business matters. In between sessions, did you know we can bring a unique flavour to online meetings? District 91 did it with a cocktail making session that was expertly run by Cat Kipling who I recall was particularly well received. Thanks Cat!  And of course, we also had a chance to wind down at the end of the day with a virtual party! Now … why do some of us keep coming back to District Conferences? There are multiple reasons. It is a time of celebrations! Celebration of our successes, celebration of our members & Clubs and celebration of our Contest winners. Conferences give us that annual opportunity to gather with friends and create memories that I know many of us hold very dear to our hearts. I have personally made lifelong friends, and can recall many special moments with our members. From first timers witnessing with awe the best our District has to offer to District contest winners contemplating a spot on the international stage – we have changed lives. Thanks to our members, we make a difference in the world, we empower individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders. This is our mission at Toastmasters and I look forward to seeing you in Bristol in May! Arnaud Sartre DTM, District Director 2020/2021