Posts Tagged ‘conference’

Robin Hood Conference

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015 | Public Speaking, Travel

The Spring 2015 Toastmasters District 71 (UK & Ireland) conference took place in Nottingham.

Nottingham is quite a happening city. There was plenty of people out in the evenings and a good range of restaurants. We also did a walking tour lead by Robin Hood. He told us that the city was originally called “Snotingaham” which it turns out is true.


The workshops were a mixed back. You get a lot of professional speakers and motivational coaches running workshops, and they send to speak a lot of shit. Erick Rainey for example started his speech with a slow motion run down the aisle. I thought to myself “brilliant, this is going to be a sarcastic post-modern take on how stupid a lot of the motivational crap is”. But then he did it all seriously. He’s a great communicator, and has loads of good stuff to say, but then he mixes it with nonsense like NLP.

Rav Chambers presented a good workshop on video. It did not teach me anything I did not know already, but it was valuable to have a reminder of all the things I know I should be doing when shooting film.

Vinay Parmar’s workshop on personal branding was interesting. However, for someone who focuses on how you present yourself, he really needs to spell-check his slides as there were several errors in them.

International Speech Contest

The district final of the International Speech Contest took place on the Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t the best venue for it as it was in a lecture theatre. The speeches were good, but I am looking forward to getting back to competing. Two years ago, in Torquay, I felt out-classed (to be clear, I wasn’t competing). Here, I sat there thinking there are a bunch of us in Area 15 that could compete at this level.

Opening ceremony

The Friday evening is a buffet and fancy dress party. Of course the theme was Robin Hood!

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Gala dinner

The Saturday night was the Gala dinner. We had the Sheriff of Nottingham as a guest and for one of the raffle prizes, she let someone wear her robes and hat! Best of all, Gillian took the prize.


ICE Totally Gaming

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 | Travel

Earlier this month we visited ICE Totally Gaming to get to know potential customers and suppliers. It was my first trip to the ExCeL centre which is predictably huge.

Many of the stalls were very impressive. One had a slot machine connected up to a Oculus Rift headset and when you won you got taken on a roller coaster ride.

Not surprisingly, there were lots of men in suits and women in far less clothing. I was very proud of the good twenty minutes we spent discussing sexism and objectification of women.Then we had a good stare.

London was as horrible as ever. It took me an hour and a half in a taxi to get there the first morning.

Loony Party 2014 Conference

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 | Events, Religion & Politics

Last month we attended the 2014 conference of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. Very few party conferences are start with a pub crawl.

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Or have a travelling band that follow them around.

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In my opinion, this is of the severe detriment to the other parties. It had all the important bits too of course. The cabinet reshuffle for example.

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Llandrindod Wells it quite a nice place. Rather scenic. Being in the middle of Wales, it is a bit of a mission to get to though.

Boadicea Conference

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013 | Public Speaking

In November, I travelled down to Colchester to compete in the District 71 humorous speaking contest finals. I lost in the semi-finals which was pretty disappointing. I was happy with the structure and quality of my speech, but I didn’t get the laughs the other contestants did, so more humour is probably needed. Our short stay at the conference was enjoyable though – unlike the Riviera Renaissance conference everything was in the same hotel which made it a lot nicer.

This is me receiving my certificate of participation.

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The purpose of these is to fill time while the votes are being counted.

North West Humanist Conference 2013

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013 | Foundation, Humanism

After a great time last year, we returned to the North West Humanist Conference last weekend to represent our work in Leeds.

Organised by Greater Manchester Humanists and Central Lancashire Humanists the organisers do a great job of putting together a programme. This year featured a keynote by David Pollock, Sara Passmore talking about the BHA, Robin Cross talking about Humanism in the Armed Forces, Amy Walden talking about Humanist chaplaincy in prisons and the inaugural performance of the North West Humanist Choir.

Videos of the talks will be available via Worfolk Lectures at a later date and you can see the full set of photos on Flickr.

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Sunday, October 13th, 2013 | Programming, Tech


Last weekend I headed over to Manchester for PHPNW13.

I really enjoyed last year’s event and came away having learned a lot from it. This year was also quite interesting, though on returning home and reviewing my notes, there is only really one new thing that I want to look into.

BHA Conference 2013 photos

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013 | Humanism, Photos

Here are some of the photos from last month’s BHA Conference.

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BHA Conference 2013

Monday, July 1st, 2013 | Events, Humanism

I recently attended the third annual British Humanist Association conference. It took place at The Hilton Hotel in Leeds. Here are my thoughts…

Ethical Jury
There was a pre-conference event organised by one of the former BHA trustees. It was a shame that Humanist Society of West Yorkshire weren’t asked to get involved as a pre-event would seemed like a good place to get the local group involved. As it was, we weren’t contacted at all regarding the conference.

It took place 4-6pm, but I turned up at 5:10 as I didn’t fancy two hours of it. I think this was probably for the best – the format was interesting, and I think it has a lot of potential, but I suspect the discussion group was too large as the 20-30 people in the room, apparently discussing one topic for the two hours, made for a very boring event.

Friday night entertainment
The Friday night featured bingo, the BHA Choir, Robin Ince, Helen Arney and a quiz. The bingo felt like they were playing to the demographics a little – the Humanist crowd tends to be mostly retired, though at the speed we went through it, I’m surprised they could keep up as my and Elina struggled when working together. Perhaps they’re all seasoned experts though.

Helen Arney was reasonably entertaining with her intelligently humorous songs, though I’ve heard some of them before and I think she suffered from having to go on first (the BHA Choir being stuck on the motorway), as sex jokes work better towards the end of an evening.

Robin Ince gave an excellent performance – I think Robin is a smashing human being who does so much good work for humanism, but I’ve seen him so often that I don’t always find him that funny. On this occasion though, he really delivered some excellent material and rounded the evening off nicely.

The host, Timberlina, was fine, but didn’t really have an act, which was disappointing as as Humanists we’re an accepting bunch – being a drag queen isn’t really a novelty in itself, we’re comfortable with everyone.

Saturday Assembly
The Sunday Assembly team, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, presented a special Saturday morning version of their event. It featured three songs, a reading, a game, a pause for silence and plenty of comedy.

It was certainly an entertaining event – I think mostly as Sanderson and Pippa are both funny comedians (Sanderson is a comedian by trade, I’m not sure about Pippa). It was a little disheartening though as they’re doing what we’ve been trying to get going in Leeds Humanists for years, but having seen it actually done, and done well, it is somehow not what I had imagined, or hoped for.

That said, if I was in London, I would certainly attend.

Christopher Priest – Magical thinking
Andrew started by giving an introduction. He is a reliably good speaker and didn’t say very much at the end, which was a shame, as it would have been nice to hear more. We did get a round up of some of the BHA’s highlights over the year though.

He then handed over to the first speaker, the writer Christopher Priest. His talk started a little slowly with his life story but eventually opened up into some interesting insights into the beauty of the written words and social benefits of science fiction. Unfortunately he read his speech out from notes written out in full, but in the occasion off-the-cuff comments and Q&A he opened up to a warm and interesting personality.

The event was chaired very well.

Lee Cronin – inorganic biology
A superb talk on how to create life, Lee’s presentation style was funny, informative and engaging.

Given that both the field of organic chemistry, and inorganic biology, exist though, you can’t really blame Brian Cox for dismissing it all as all he same sub-division of physics.

Sue Blackmore – Living without free will
Having heard a few showbiz diva stories, I didn’t know what to expect with Sue Blackmore. What I found was a highly entertaining speaker and as tolerable a person as you can expect from a philosopher ;). Her talk was interesting and thought provoking.

Marek Kukula – Cosmic oasis
Marek is not only a Yorkshireman, but also turned out to be one of the best talks of the conference, talking about the relationship between the Earth and the rest of the universe. He is a science communicator and this really shined through in his presentation skills that were well refined.

Melinda Gebbie – Angels and dirty pictures
I’m not sure what to make of Melina. She talked about whether William Blake was an angel. He wasn’t, because they don’t exist – I thought we all agreed about stuff like that. She read her entire talk from notes and struggled quite a bit in the Q&A. She did talk with great confidence about baked good shaped like genitals though.

Jim Al Khalili – Written in the Stars
Jim’s talk was very enjoyable. As you would expect he has great presentation skills and his ideas were interesting and thought provoking.

Gala Dinner
The events at Leeds City Museum looked promising. After having a drinks reception in the basement exhibit, which included a non-alcoholic version, we made our way into the main hall and found our table where we found Elina had “onion free option” printed on the back of her name card.

Unfortunately this turned out to be an empty gesture as the serving staff knew nothing about it and when we asked if the main was onion free, the waitress said she would go check then disappeared off and never came back. The food was otherwise fine though.

It would have been nice if they had got all the guest speakers to the dinner and seated them on various tables, but this didn’t seem to be the case. Unfortunately, due to ill health, Terry Pratchett was unable to attend the event, but did send a very short video message.

Zoe Margolis
Author of Girl With A One Track Mind, Zoe spoke about the problems in the publishing industry and their inherently sexiest attitude. She made some very good points though I’m not sure it’s clear how much is sexism in the industry and how much it is an industry catering to a sexist society. Either way, there is work to be done.

Adam Rutherford
I had seen Adam’s talk at QED. It was excellent then, and it was excellent here too.

The Hilton is a mixed bag. Due to the pool, it always smells strongly of chlorine when you walk in. They provided pastries with the drinks, but they only had tea and coffee – no cold drinks.

The Saturday lunch was good, and included a variety of cakes.

The conference room itself was absolutely freezing though. People were talking about bringing their duvets down from their rooms because it was so cold.

Overall, the organisation was good. There was a help desk where you could find out information, registration didn’t take too long and the conference pack provided full details on the schedule.

The conference did run perpetually late though. Events didn’t always start on time and cumulatively slowed down later ones. Having run conferences, I know how difficult this is, but you really have to be strict with times, and give speakers 50 minutes with a 10 minute break in between talks.

There were also plagued by technical problems, though these are always difficult to get right at conference events.

I think Jim’s talk was originally supposed to be on the Sunday, as he did 5:20-6:20pm on Saturday, which only gave us 40 minutes to get home, get changed and get up to the gala dinner venue. He was listed as a “Sunday” speaker on one of the other sheets and there were only two talks on the Sunday morning, so I assume he couldn’t be there on Sunday so they had to squeeze it in.

It was an enjoyable weekend full of very interesting speakers.

Ultimately though, it’s impossible not to compare the conference to QED, and there, there is no comparison. QED provided a multi track programme, BHA Con only had the one. QED had had three hilarious comedians including BBC’s Mitch Benn, it was side-splittingly funny. QED had Richard Dawkins. QED had two full days of speakers, BHA Con had Saturday and a Sunday morning. Most importantly, QED was £130, BHA Con was £180.

To be honest, it was Terry Pratchett that really swung it for me when deciding whether it was worth attending, so having paid all that money to not see Terry Prtchett was hugely disappointing. I also later found that you could attend individual events for £10. if I had known that at the time, I probably would have opted for that as it would have represented much better value.

Despite though concerns though, well done to Sara and the whole team at the BHA – it isn’t easy to organise and run a conference and it was, on the whole, a smooth operation.

Riviera Renaissance

Monday, June 3rd, 2013 | Events, Public Speaking

Last month I attended the Toastmasters D71 (UK & Ireland) spring conference in Torquay. It featured the district finals of the international speaking contest and evaluation contest, as well as a fancy dress disco, banquet and a series of workshops.

Torquay was quite a drive, taking nearly six hours from door to door once you include picking people up. I’ve also decided that it rains more often in Leeds than it does in Bristol – because it only really rains once in Bristol, and just keeps going forever. The weather at Torquay was a bit better, but certainly not the sun I was hoping for.

We turned up on the Thursday night, which I thought was just going to be a social. As such, we turned up an hour after the start having been to a restaurant first, and walked in to find a formal sit down meeting – a little embarrassing, but we were soon settled into our seats.

The workshops were very enjoyable. I took plenty from all of the ones I attended and would have liked to see more of them – after all, I imagine there are plenty of Toastmasters who would be willing to get some stage time to deliver one.

The semi finals were interesting too, but things really got interesting when we got to the finals as the big stage really adds something to the speeches. The winner of the speech contest, William Dempster, won with a speech entitled “Scotch, The Way To A Better Life”. It won because of it’s clear purpose and William’s beautiful delivery – must mostly because it’s just objectively true.

Torquay as a place is a bit tired, especially the conference centre. It felt a little corporate too – the big pubs seemed to be a Wetherspoon, a Harvester and a Beef Eater. We stayed at The Grand, which would have been a nice hotel, but is now dating fast. It reminds me of the Britannia in Manchester – beautiful building and huge rooms, but the endlessly creaking floors and ageing facilities make for a disappointing experience. The pool was small and too shallow to swim in properly, but to their credit the staff were very friendly and helpful.

The catering was a mixed bag. I enjoyed both the Friday night buffet and the Saturday banquette, the standard of food was quite high at both. Elina didn’t have much luck with the buffet though as everything had onions in it (which she can’t eat). We didn’t specify it as a dietary requirement as she can just eat the things that don’t have onion in, but in an unexpected twist, they had put onions in almost everything.

Some things you expect it in, but there was onion mixed in with the salmon and the pasta. We weren’t sure about the quiche, so we asked the woman behind the table, but she said she didn’t know – what is the point of her even standing there at a self service buffet when she doesn’t know what the food is? Surely her only job is to answer questions about the food?

There was a lack of younger people there and I wonder if that lead to a bit of a generation gap. I found some of the procedure a little strange – playing the national anthem, toasting the queen and saying grace before the meal. I didn’t take part in any of these and felt rather uncomfortable having them included. One guest even hit me in a “you insulent youngster” kind of way.

I also find some of the comments made by people speaking to be racist or sexist. Examples including Kwame being interviewed, “that’s not a British name – where are you from? How long have you been here? 20 years – that’s pretty settled then!” Or an area govenor being described as having “hot little hands”, down to little things like people refusing to sit down at dinner before the women sat down (needless to say I just sat down) or a steam of jokes that that reinforced inaccurate gender stereotypes on both sides.

That certainly isn’t a reflection on the majority of the conference though, which on the whole was a very pleasant and professional experience. The conference team did an excellent job of organising everything, all the events ran smoothly and you felt you were in competent hands throughout the event. They can be really proud of the event that they put together.

In summary, I did enjoy the conference and look forward to attending further conferences in the future.

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QED 2013

Friday, May 10th, 2013 | Events

Last month, I attended QED for the first time. I’ve not been in previous years due to the cost, but having more disposable income now, I’m making an effort to get round the various conferences.

They certainly had a good speaker line up. I don’t think it was as good as TAM, but is better than the BHA’s conference this year, and both TAM and BHA Con are twice the price that QED was. In value for money terms, it was OK. There was no food provided during the weekend, so the £99 ticket price is actually more when you factor that in.

I also attended the Gala Dinner, which was supposed to have Brooke Magnanti on our table. She missed the dinner, which I didn’t mind too much as I was hosting her at Leeds Skeptics a few days after, but I might have been rather disappointed if not.

The speakers themselves varied in quality. Natalie Haynes was a bit of a disappointment because her speaking style is incredibly erratic – she was constantly darting back and forward on the stage and her talk had very little structure. It was still interesting and funny, but could have been a lot better. Rose Shapiro also seemed a bit out of her depth when it came to public speaking.

Stevyn Colgan justified his place as opening keynote though, with a brilliant talk about applying skepticism to police work, Rachael Dunlop was as entertaining and charming as ever, and Carrie Poppy delivered a brilliant talk too. Brian Thompson was a delight as Master of Ceremonies as well – imagine an American version of Andrew Copson and you’ve got a pretty accurate picture.

The star of the show for me, and I imagine many other people too though, was Lawrence Krauss, who presented an outstanding talk on how you get a universe from nothing. Well worth watching the video for that once it is posted.

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