Making more memories at the District 91, UK South Annual Conference 2024

It came… and went in a flash! I write this a week after the #LimitlessYOU conference in Bristol (and online) in May 2024. Colleagues around the world still have their conferences coming up and a few of us are already planning our trips to the International Convention in California this summer.

Following my recent article, reflecting on my conference experiences since 2017, I’ve been asked to write a few words about my reflections on this most recent conference.

Duty bound once more, I knew I had at least two jobs over the weekend:

  • Moderating the panel discussion celebrating the legacy of District 91 on the Friday night
  • Delivering the report of the District Leadership Committee at our Council Meeting on Saturday morning

I have a non-Toastmaster friend who lives just outside of Bristol that I looked up earlier in the week. She had been intrigued about this Toastmasters thing, probably because of my social media posts and decided fairly last minute to grab a ticket to have a taster. It was great to be able to have brought a non-member to the event and to catch up.

One of the other things that I noticed on the Friday evening and a definitive reason to celebrate was the number of first-timers to a District Conference. This was evident both in the official proceedings and over informal drinks in a hotel bar afterward.

After the Table Topics Contest, a little pivoting was required for our panel discussion. It was an absolute pleasure and honour to have been given the opportunity to Chair, and I’m still amazed that we managed to have all TEN District Directors on stage at the same time.

Past District Directors for Toastmasters International UK South 2014 - 2024 on a panel
From the far left – Arnaud Sartre, DTM; Helena Boden-Brewer, DTM; Diane Richardson; myself with Jean Gamester, DTM and Pedro Casillas, DTM on screen. On the right off the screen we have Hilary Briggs DTM, Vanessa King DTM, Andy Hammond DTM and Florian Bay DTM.

Two friends having breakfast together, celebrating a recent book publication
All smiles at breakfast with my freshly signed copy of Keynote Speaker Nadia Nagamootoos’ book ‘Beyond Discomfort’.

Saturday, the theme was Connect – there’s something to be said about how we do this through speeches – and connecting with our audience/listeners, for me, is just as important in terms of the one-on-one conversations that happen through networking.

Our keynote speaker on Saturday morning, Nadia Nagamootoo, was someone that I’d met at an event pre-pandemic. We went to the same business school. The power of social media is such that you can keep reasonably up-to-date with what is going on with another person and so when our Conference Director asked me for speaker suggestions, I shared a post that I’d seen. On the morning of the keynote Nadia and I got to have breakfast together and catch up.

On to the District Council, I’m not kidding when I say that I love a good business meeting! Yes, there are a few of us that geek out on this sort of thing. For many of you, you may not be aware that the conference weekend is built around this one event! For a District Director, it’s their main event of the year… whether incoming or outgoing, a LOT of work goes into bringing the event together and starts months in advance. I chaired the District Leadership Committee this year and that process started back in December. It culminates in the elections that take place at the Annual meeting of the District Council.

In the afternoon, we typically hold the International Speech Contest finals. After the District Council, this event holds the next highest significance and is mandatory. Getting it right gives our winner the greatest possible chance of making it through the next level and onwards to the semi-finals of the World Championship of Public Speaking. The standard was incredibly high this year and on a personal level, it was incredible to see two members from my club(s) in the final.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have developed a global network of friends in Toastmasters, mainly as a result of my time on the District Trio – some of that cohort will be lifelong friends and is evidence that adversity fosters resilience and deepens relationships. As a District, we’ve got a few members from other parts of the world who served in various capacities and are still willing to serve. I may have heard of them through my friends and contacts but only got to meet a couple of them for the first time in person at the conference.

Two friends smiling at a conference event
Excited to finally meet Allen Paul.
Members of Toastmasters taking a conference selfie together
Big smiles with Diwakar!

The Saturday evening culminates in our Hall of Fame and Gala Dinner, and for some an after-party of sorts. This year it was the #321 gang and perhaps as I am heading to retirement, I sat that one out! No doubt, more was celebrated, members connected and memories were created.

On Sunday, I missed most of the morning of the conference. Here’s the thing… it’s ok not to go to every single thing on the agenda, particularly if you are an introvert. I totally needed a bit of quiet time for myself. My official responsibilities were largely over and I needed to sort something out so I could get home later that day. As I’ve learned over the years, there’s an art to conference going, and some of the moments and memories that are created happen around the event itself.

I’ll certainly be catching up with the bits that I missed in the conference platform, in particular the conversation and the evaluation contest. There’s also something to be said about capturing moments on camera that people don’t know you have (up to mischief!)

I managed to catch the humorous speech contest final which again showcased the best of the best. Delighted also to watch the panel discussion moderated by Alistair Marson, who has been behind the scenes for the past two District Conferences and has become a great friend.

And finally, watching the installation of the new District Leadership Team and hearing our District Director elect’s inaugural speech. Not only was I, and the rest of the audience moved by it; for me, it epitomised the conference themes as a whole.

Rupa Datta
Immediate Past District 91 Director

on stage live panel
Alistair live in action hosting the Sunday afternoon panel focused on unconscious bias.