14 May 2016. Western Europe got together once again to celebrate an incredible Spring Conference, the D59 Luxembourg Talks. And boy, was it a celebration! Over 14 countries, more than 20 nationalities, the beautiful Alvisse Parc Hotel Luxembourg in the middle of mountain forests and a weekend to remember.
It’s during this whirlwind weekend that I remembered why Toastmasters is so great for the psyche.
Three years ago when I joined, I thought Toastmasters conferences were just about contests. Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 were focussed on perfecting competitive speeches and evaluations. But in the second year when taking a break from the contest preparations, I began to see it for what it truly was- a wonderful, positive place for people to come together.
We often focus the organization with speaking and leadership skills, but there’s something it does far, far greater. It promotes peace and solidarity. Especially in the times the world is seeing today, Toastmasters brings people from different countries, religions, races, backgrounds, thoughts and opinions together… and makes them bond with one another like a community.
Some of the best weekends I’ve had in my life were at District conference weekends- catching up with old friends, making new ones, enjoying a new city and the culture it offers and having a fantastic celebration all along. But while district conferences are fun, it is the club meetings that are the true soul of Toastmasters.
We fill each club meeting with applause, we shake each others’ hands everytime we go up on stage, we make sure to give credit to people, and any improvement feedback is handled tactfully. We may come into the meetings shouldering our personal worries, but during the two hours twice a month, we leave our worries behind as we smile, clap, cheer and encourage our club members. After meetings, we make it a point to catch up with each other over drinks. Members become friends, friends become like families. Whatever issues you may walk in with into a meeting, you always walk out feeling happy and content.
Some of my dearest friends today are from these clubs, and I continue meeting lovely people in every meeting. And the diversity! Just in my club- Utrecht Toastmasters, we have members from over 10 nationalities! Dutch, British, Russian, Indian, Chinese, Malaysian, South African, Portugese, Polish, Hungarian, Indonesian.. the count is endless. As we go up on stage and share our stories, all pre-conceived notions any of us may harbour begin to dissintegrate. Bonds of understanding, empathy and friendship weave through the room during every speech, all culminating in a two-hour journey of laughter and relaxation.
That’s why I believe that Toastmasters is… like Group Therapy! Yes, you learn technical skills, but more than that you gain joyous moments in your life. We get together and make each other believe that the world is our oyster.
And this girl, is quite enjoying her oyster.