There is only one way to describe the district conference in Porto: it was wonderful. The host city was wonderful, the organizing team was wonderful and so was the quality of the speeches. In fact, more than a few Toastmasters said it was the highest-level contest they had seen.
I learn so much at every district conference. It’s difficult to pick out highlights but here are two top things I learned in Porto:
1. Getting help from different corners
I was impressed by Antonio Meza’s winning speech. His presence, his content and his gestures hooked me from the start. Antonio delivered his speech artfully – but not overly theatrical. Of course, at this level, a speech is a performance, but I like speakers who strike the balance between performance and staying natural. How did Antonio achieve that? With practice! As he was awarded first place, Antonio told us that he had worked with Toastmasters all over Europe to refine his speech. And that’s what I learned from him: not to be shy to ask others for help.
More than one person can help us improve our speaking: one person is better placed to help us with our voice, another to help us with our gestures, another to help us organise our content. We all want to improve and whether we are competing or not, we can do what Antonio does: get help from different corners.
2. Inspiration from keynotes outside our orbit
On Saturday after lunch, the organizers had a surprise keynote in store for us. It was by David dos Santos and I loved it. Which is funny because I don’t like keynotes normally. They seldom keep me engaged for 45 minutes. And that has little to do with the quality of the speaker. I just find it hard to listen for so long.
So how did David dos Santos catch my attention all that time? I think it is because he is not a Toastmaster. He comes from the theatre world. He’s a choreographer and his keynote was as much a speech as a performance. It was entertaining and out of the box – just take the fact that he started speaking to us (via microphone) several minutes before he finally entered the room and took the stage. But his speech was also full of insights. He showed us how we can use our body to command focus and build connection with the audience. It’s hard to explain body language in words but to give one example, David showed how small and very slow gestures can be more powerful than faster and bigger ones.
Beyond body language, I think there is a lesson here for everyone who wants to organise a keynote: get someone from outside the Toastmasters universe. Someone from outside our orbit but still related to what we do – acting, dancing, conducting, singing, from TV, business or the arts; or be it a leader from another field like… I don’t know… a football coach maybe. Whatever it is, I’d love to see more fresh blood when it comes to keynotes.