Category Archives: Leadership

Toastmasters contests

Back in May, I attended a Toastmasters conference in Antwerp, Belgium. During this conference, I attended the International speech contest and the evaluation contest. I saw wonderful speakers, such as John Zimmer and many others give great speeches, impress and inspire their audiences.

As I was Public Relations Officer of the District, I could not participate to the contests, but during the awards ceremony, seeing the joy of the winners, I thought to myself “in six months, I want to stand at the same place !”. And so, a couple of weeks after, I started to work on three humorous speeches for the upcoming contests. One in English, one in French and one in German. Different speeches are needed because the type of humor is different in every language. Also, as the contests happen during the same day, it is important to offer different jokes, otherwise any surprise effect or twist that creates a funny situation does not have the same impact. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun to see the audience at different levels of the contest laugh at my jokes.

I made it to the contest at District level (Continental Europe), in Budapest, Hungary, in impromptu speeches in English and in humorous contests in German and French. It was a great experience to speak in front of hundreds of people in a larger environment with a microphone. I really enjoyed it and the feedback I get from my fellow Toastmasters will help me improve my public speaking skills.

In the end, I finished second in the humorousBudapest_French_Speech_Contest_Winners speech contest in French and won the humorous speech contest in German. I realized what I had promised myself a couple of months before: to win a District contest. To me, these contests are everything Toastmasters is about. If you are willing to work hard and listen to the feedback given to you, then you can truly make progress in public speaking. I can only recommend this experience to anyone.


To conclude this post, I’d like to thank a couple of people who helped me on my way to the finals:Budapest_German_Speech_Contest_Winners
– Thanks to Mel Kelly, who’s been a wonderful sparring partner, a great winner in the English humorous speech contest  and who took the time to help me improve my German speech
– Thanks to the members of the CRFM, and especially Elisa, Jean-Marc and Lucienne for their support and advice
– Thanks to all Prostmasters and especially Ineke and Christopher for their support across all contests and in Budapest.
And of course thanks to the whole Toastmasters organization, to all the people who spend an enormous amount of time organizing conferences and helping others grow as speakers and leaders.

Toastmasters fall district conference 2011

Last week end, I attended Toastmasters district 59 fall conference in Basel, Switzerland.

This bi-yearly event takes place every time in a different city among the numerous continental European countries that belong to the district (Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Germany, Danemark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Norway).

The main purpose of this Fall conference is to host the humorous speech contests (held in French, German and English), as well as the table topics contests (impromptu speeches) held in all three languages. These finals attract among the best speakers in continental Europe !

I arrived on Friday afternoon in Basel by train, as I took the role of chief judge for the German table topics. The conference was hosted in the Ramada Hotel in Basel: a great location for such an event !

After having briefed the judges about the rules and the ranking criteria for the contest, I attended both the German and French table topics contest, and one of the the English humorous speech contest semi-final. Finally, on Friday, the District Executive Committee Meeting (DECM) took place. This meeting gathered all Toastmasters Area, Division and District governors to present the progress made by the district towards its goals fixed at the beginning of the year.
From my perspective, the Area I supervise (F1) contributed to the general progress, as a new club was is being chartered in Stuttgart, which is excellent news for all Stuttgarters.

It was definitely an exciting experience to see how structured the success plan of the district is and also to see that it is executed in a fairly disciplined manner. All aspects of the plan were addressed : club and membership growth, educational achievements of the members, organization of the district conference and financial status. Although all people who contribute are completely benevolent, a lot of time and energy is put inside this organization.

One interesting fact is that the district has grown so big that it will be split in two in the coming years. A vote of all club president, VP education and district officers allowed the start of the procedure to check all facts and make a proposal in that sense. I personally think that the strength of this district is its diversity (especially of languages) but its size is just too big and a split would benefit the members. One of the biggest challenges of this reform is that a “border” will need to be defined to separate the two districts. As Germany provides by far most of the clubs, I fear that it may be separated, thus making a German speaking district contest less interesting. Germany also has a not-so-positive history with splitting…

On Saturday, Ted Corcoran, an Irishman, former Toastmasters International President, gave a very good keynote speech about leadership by stating ten skills leaders show (for example “take responsibility”, “be proactive”, etc.). Although these presentations may look repetitive, their core message is still important and the delivery of the one-hour speech was impeccable.

I then attended the German humorous speech contest (yes, these two things are compatible !), the English table topics contest, as well as the finals for humorous speeches. The table topic, an impromptu speech usually to answer a question, was this time very original. The table topics master gave an egg to the speaker, who had to make a one-to-two minutes speech out of it. The result was very different from speaker to speaker and it was fun to watch. The last contest was the humorous speech contest. As expected, the level of the speeches was excellent. The winner deserved her title and although some speeches were funnier than others, all participants deserved their applauds.

The organization of the conference must have been a huge work for the organizers. I contributed a bit by volunteering as a chief judge, but the task of managing this whole convention must have been a herculean task. The organization team can be proud of themselves !

For the future, from a personal perspective, I would like to contribute to the success of the district by taking over a role in the district team, for instance as Lieutenant Governor Marketing. Growth is something I am fascinated by and I would like to help extending the network of clubs all across Europe.

The next district conference will take place in Spring, in Poznan, Poland. The evaluations and International speech contest will be held there. I am confident that I will have achieved all the goals set for my Area for this Toastmasters year (June 2011-May 2012) until then. Also, I looking forward to go for the first time in Poland and to participate to the growth of Toastmasters in continental Europe !

New branding for Toastmasters

Back in August of this year, Toastmasters International introduced a complete new branding. This -much needed- initiative aimed at presenting this venerable nonprofit organization with over 13,000 clubs and more than 270,000 members in 113 countries in a new light and give it a distinctive identity.
Founded in 1924 in Santa Ana, California, this institution’s goals is to help members become better speakers and leaders. The public speaking skills are trained based on a self-paced program and the leadership skills are trained by taking over roles in the organization, either at the club, or at a higher level. I have been an enthusiastic member for four years now and already wrote on this blog an article explaining the basic principles of Toastmasters.

The organization encountered identity problems as clubs and geographical divisions were created around the world. Many clubs started to use their own logos, colors and tag lines. The District 59, for example, which comprises all western European Toastmasters clubs, invented its own motto “Connect through diversity”. Although this sentence makes sense for this particular district with so much diversity, the strength of the Toastmasters brand was diluted. Indeed, there are around 89 districts in the world, each with its own tag line !

Toastmasters International gradually lost control on its own brand and needed an energetic answer to the fragmentation of its identity across the world. Moreover, some of its communication artifacts were not representative of the current state of the organization, such as its exponential international growth.

The logo, for instance, was one of the most outmoded part of the branding. Although the globe gave a sense of the international purpose of the organization, it was centered around the American continent only.
The gavels, one is used to open the Toastmasters club meetings, were not understood from a large part of the population. Some even believed to see fists gripping the world !
Furthermore, this logo, which is an evolution of the first logo designed in the 1930’s profoundly lacked dynamics and modernity. On the other hand, it provided a sense of authority (the gavels reminding of the justice) and of tradition.

The tag line of the organization was “Become the leader and speaker you want to be“. Although it perfectly described the goals achievable through this organization, it had a major issue : its length. No one could remember exactly the sentence after having heard it for the first time.

Finally, the organization used to use a patchwork of unrelated colors, changing, at each event or in each manuals.

Toastmasters International hence decided to hire a consultancy to refresh and align the Toastmasters brand on a worldwide basis. The outcome can be seen on Toastmasters International’s website, as well as on my club’s.

A definition of a brand is an idea embodied in, among others, products, services and experiences. The brand represents the interface between us and Toastmasters. It is present on all web pages, all official documents, all flyers and promotional items. If a branding is not efficient or not focused, it loses its strength and the message of the organization weakens with it. Toastmasters hence introduced in August a new unified branding for the worldwide organization. Its goal is clear : the clubs need to align to the headquarters’s communication to give a unified and controlled member experience.

The consultancy came up with a “brand” new concept, with a distinct set of colors that are culturally neutral and are not part of any country flag in order to emphasize the international vocation of Toastmasters. Also, this color panel is distinct from any other public speaking association, thus increasing the distinction and value of TM. I think they completely succeeded in this task.

The new logo is now much less centered on the USA and looks much more modern. However, as modern as it may look, the drawback is certainly that it will be outmoded much faster than the previous, more conservative, logo. Note the use of the new color scheme.

Finally, and this is my only real complaint, the emphasis of this new branding is clearly much more important on the leadership side than on the public speaking side of Toastmasters.

For instance, the tag line was changed to “Where leaders are made“. In the elevator speech provided by Toastmasters for district leaders, I could count one “speech”, three “communication”-related words , one “tell” versus 12 derivatives of the word “lead” !

The reason for that is that the consultancy associated the needs of the target groups (one of the most important being the young professionals) with the will of becoming better leaders. Thus these people will look for opportunities to increase their leadership capabilities and will acknowledge that, in order to become better leaders, they need to become better speakers.

I fundamentally disagree with that assumption. Although I look for leadership opportunities in this organization, I came on first place to improve my public speaking skills, and so did all members I know.
I highly doubt that people will make the connection between leadership and public speaking at first. Googling on the web “public speaking” would lead them to a website where “leaders are made”… not exactly what they were looking for, and in a world where the first impression is often the last one, I think this messaging will not grab the attention of the prospective learners enough to make them stay and learn more on the website.

This brand positioning assumes people want to become leaders, putting the public speaking skills aside. However, leadership can be understood in many ways and is too fuzzy to be really effective as a tag line. Hence, instead of reinforcing the message of Toastmasters, which is dedicated to helping people improve their public speaking first and then their leadership skills, this branding centered around leadership rather undermines it.

Despite this point, I think that this branding was much needed. Unifying and changing the color codes and the logo was necessary to regain control of the Toastmasters brand and to give members a better experience wherever they are on Earth. Nonetheless, I fundamentally disagree with the emphasis set on the leadership side of the educational program. I think it weakens our message, as well as will be less effective for prospective members to connect leadership and public speaking and eventually join this fantastic organization.

Mark Hurd leaving HP

As probably most of you know, Mark Hurd, HP’s CEO and chairman has left HP for, according to HP’s press release, reasons related to the way he conducted business with a contractor.

While Mark Hurd was often seen as a tough CEO, especially from HP’s older employees, I personally think he has done a great job at the top of the company. Some criticized him for having killed the “HP way”, which was one of HP’s fundamental approach of dealing with employees but, since Carly Fiorina’s time as a CEO, has lost more and more importance in the company. Despite HP’s R&D reorganization, some revolutionary products such as Virtual Connect or HP BladeSystem Matrix were brought to the market when he was a CEO. Mark Hurd made of HP the number one IT company in the world, before IBM and its financial results always (at least since 2007, year of my enrolment) outperformed the expectations, and that is, I think, the most important. The best job security is to work in a company that actually makes profits.

I was very impressed by Mark Hurd’s performance on the following video of the Haas School of Business. What I will remember from this talk is the mantra of any CEO: “To succeed, you need three things: to have a vision, to execute it, and you need the best people”. I wish the next CEO of HP will succeed as Mark Hurd did.