The Division B conference was held 27 – 28 April 2019 in Helsinki, Finland. The conference was a happy gathering of Toastmasters from Finnish, Latvian and Lithuanian clubs. We initially assumed some 30 people would attend. Instead, we were 50! Seeing people’s radiating faces at the end of the conference on Sunday afternoon, I doubt anyone regretted making the journey, not even those who had driven all the way from Vilnius.
As with any Toastmaster spring conference, this conference too was about hosting the international division speech contest and evaluation contest. These would be the gems of the agenda, but we aimed to stud the conference with other sparkles too. In the end, the agenda featured four workshops, a yoga session, an unplugged musical performance and a kahoot session – in addition to the contests! As one of the speech contestants, Ilkka-Matti Kattilakoski from Vaasa Toastmasters, told us in his speech on the meaning of life, the meaning of life is that it is “not boring”. In that respect, we ticked all the boxes!
A conference, of course, is nothing without the enthusiasm of its participants. As people started to arrive on Friday, messenger flooded with people suggesting an informal get-together that same evening. Division Director, Heikki Siltanen, joined them and some joyful beers were had. Everyone, however, had the conference and its contests in mind, so no one made a night of it.
Saturday went quickly. Once mandatory contestant and functionary briefings had been held, there were two workshops to choose from: one by Clinical Psychologist Annabel Battersby on social confidence, and the other by Tea Lehikoinen on success. These were followed by the speech contest. Each contestant embodied the conference’s motto which was “Be Your Best”. The audience was treated to seven beautifully crafted and rehearsed speeches by Pekka Kokko, Inta Dimzule, Vytautas Rimkus, Ilkka-Matti Kattilakoski, Reino Toikka, Rasmus Bjergegaard and Kirsi Viilo. The winners, however, were not announced on Saturday, as we wanted to keep the suspense till the very end of the conference on Sunday.
To “distract” our audience from wondering as to whom won, we provided them with musical entertainment, courtesy of Tom Tikka from the band the Impersonators. Sitting on a bare wooden stool clutching his acoustic guitar, in between songs Tom would tell us stories from his life and musical career. This unplugged and very genuine performance was enchanting and exciting at the same time. I doubt anyone thought of contest results then.
Elated by music and thoughtful stories, the audience split once again to attend one of two workshops: that of Ann Marie Morrow and Eeva Jaakonmäki on body language and social confidence or that of Oscar Santolalla on the use of metaphors. An hour later, the audience drifted to their seats, the day closed by our über-enthusiastic (“über” was the word of the day!) Contest Master, Andy Bassuday.
But that was just to call it a day for official business. The conference crowd then split into three groups, one group heading for an urban sauna experience (enticing, I know – for more details contact Heikki Siltanen), the second group – “the gastronomes” – heading out for some delicious Vietnamese food and the third group for some intense barhopping under the guidance of Helsinki barhopper extraordinaire Jukka Tykkyläinen.
Despite the quality evening programme, no serious hangovers ensued. After all, some were competing on the following day! We decided to pre-empt and be gentle, though, so the Sunday began with a mindful yoga session given by Elisa Sendova and a key note, delivered by Marc Siles. Both sessions got our minds and attention aligned – everybody thus being in tune for the Evaluation Contest. Contestants this spring were: Adam Adam, Leena Rantala, Tuomas Lehtola, Gabriele Eidejute, Juha Oravala, Rasmus Bjergegaard and Liva Jegere. They all gave memorable evaluations of a target speech delivered by Matthew Petaisto.
Just to draw out the suspense a little bit more, we organised a quiz on parliamentary procedures. We sat the audience down and had them watch the 15-minute webinar on parliamentary procedures given by Marike Dijksterhaus, warning them a quiz would follow. But the quiz would be no ordinary quiz – it was a kahoot quiz! For those of you who don’t know, kahoot is an online quiz where participants complete one-on-one or as teams. It is freely available online and as an app and putting together a multiple-choice quiz is easy. The quiz event itself features music like on “Do You Want to be a Millionaire”, augmenting the playful, competitive feel. The quiz was won by International Director Tuire Vuolasvirta (one should hope so!) and Ville Kärnä and Kirsi Viilo. (The quiz is openly available on kahoot, “Parliamentary Procedures” by lauramurto. The questions have been written by Heikki Siltanen and Tuire Vuolasvirta.)
On this high note, the winners of both contests were announced. In the speech contest, the winners were: 1stKirsi Viilo, 2ndRasmus Bjergegaard and 3rdVytautas Rimkus. To our delight, both Kirsi and Rasmus will be able to compete in Worclaw. In the evaluation contest, the winners were: 1stRasmus Bjergegaard, 2ndLeena Rantala and 3rdTuomas Lehtola. Again, both Rasmus and Leena will be representing Division B in Wroclaw.
That is where the conference ended. Our Lithuanian friends made a quick exit, as their ferry for Tallinn was leaving at 16.30. The rest of us idled out, saying our heartfelt good-byes many times. The conference had touched as all in some way, all of us.