Riviera Renaissance

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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This entry was posted on Monday, June 3rd, 2013 at 11:04 am and is filed under Events, Public Speaking. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.