2018 D57 Spring Conference Was a Success!

It was overcast, cold, and quite windy as District 57 (D57) Spring Conference attendees began parking before 7:30 am at the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo along the shore of the Carquinez Straits. Brave Toastmaster volunteers flitted between arriving cars passing out parking vouchers.  Quietly, without much fanfare, toastmasters from distances as far away as 1,000 miles lined up at registration outside the main auditorium. This year, over 200 attended – approximately thirty percent more than the 2017 D57 Spring conference. The Friday-night showcase dinner with keynote speaker — Eldonna Lewis Fernandez — was sold out.

What Happened?

The Spring D57 conference, co-chaired by Kevin Thornton and Ramesh Yakkai, opened with Bryan Fisher getting the crowd ready for an exciting day with the imminent Table Topics competition, followed by the keynote session, 11 breakout sessions throughout the morning and afternoon, the business meeting, the International Speech Competition (ISC), and finally the awards ceremonies and closing remarks.

Table Topics: There were nine contestants, all addressing the topic: “Beyond Expectations.” Each had their own twist, some addressing it on how Toastmasters pushed them beyond their own expectations, while others cited how their heroes had overcome adversity to live an inspiring life.

Winning the competition (photo below) was Sharon Wilkerson, CC, ATB Argonauts in Concord, 24 years in Toastmasters followed by second place James Volponi, DTM /Silver, Amador Valley Toastmasters, 33 years in Toastmasters, then third place Marie O’Neill, ACG/ALB, Next Level Toastmasters, 12 years in Toastmasters.  Last year’s contest winner, Kiran Patel, served as the contest Toastmaster.

(left to right) Sharon Wilkerson, CC, ATB Argonauts in Concord; James Volponi, DTM /Silver, Amador Valley Toastmasters; Marie O’Neill, ACG/ALB, Next Level Toastmasters in Sonoma County

Keynote:  Eldonna Lewis Fernandez, DTM, a retired Air Force Master Sargent, Harley-rider (she rode from Southern California to the 2017 Toastmasters International Conference in Vancouver, Canada), and CEO of Dynamic Vision International led a passionate speech entitled: “Think like a Negotiator” where she detailed a series of six tactics that audience members could immediately employ in varied situations. Well over half of the survey results rated Eldonna’s presentation as extremely or very engaging.

Business Meeting: Not in recent memory had all three positions for the D57 trio been open for a vote. Most often there’s a succession of trio members. Elected incoming trio members are District Director, Diane Pleuss, Program Quality Director, Kevin Markl, and Club Growth Director, Bett Bolhoefer. While the business meeting went overtime, it was necessary to accommodate a full agenda and three contested races. Additional business matters conducted included District Realignment, approval of interim appointments, election of Division Directors, committee reports (credentials, audit, leadership and finance), and district leadership trio reports.

District Director-elect Diane Pleuss commented, “I am honored to accept the D57 director position. I want to thank everyone for their support, and I look forward to an exciting year ahead.”

Outgoing District Director Randie Ellington ended the business meeting reminding everyone that the current year is not over and that there is much more to accomplish before June 30th. He also touched on his personal growth, through Toastmasters District leadership. Mr. Ellington cited some of the many mentors and associates that made his Toastmaster journey such a meaningful experience. “As recently as three years ago, I did not think I could lead a Toastmasters District as the Director,” Mr. Ellington said.

As the attendees left the dining hall after lunch, the overcast and gray clouds were gone. The bright sunshine greeted the crowd as they made their way to the afternoon breakout sessions.

Breakout Sessions:  With 11 sessions, and a wide variety of topics, participants had difficulty choosing the right presentation for them. Topics covered connecting with your audience, career and personal development, plus storytelling tips, and overcoming speechwriting challenges.  According to the conference survey, an overwhelming percentage of respondents rated the three breakout sessions they attended either extremely or very engaging.

International Speech Contest: Nine contestants vied for first place and the opportunity to represent the district at the International Conference in August in Chicago. Speeches focused on personal journeys: overcoming discrimination, addictions, even battling forest fires. Unprecedented, at times, was the vulnerability highlighted by the speakers which stilled the crowd – making them feel part of the speaker’s journey. First place went to Greg Carter, CC, Santa Rosa Toastmasters, six years in TM, he highlighted his challenges with what he called his three friends euphemistically: Marlboro, Mr. Goodbar (the candy), and Jose Cuervo. Second place was Aurora Bataclan ATM-B, San Leandro Toastmasters, 14 years in Toastmasters, who detailed her challenge in overcoming panic attacks, and Colin McKechnie, DTM, Pleasanton Community Toastmasters, took third place with his charming story about befriending a troubled youth that overcame adversity to be a successful adult. And a tip of the hat to Michael Commer, last year’s winner, and this year’s contest Toastmaster, as he had us doing a German jig while we waited to hear the results.

(left to right) Michael Commer, 2017 D57 ISC winner; Greg Carter, CC, Santa Rosa Toastmasters; Aurora Bataclan ATM-B, San Leandro Toastmasters; Colin McKechnie, DTM, Pleasanton Community Toastmasters

For the first time, attendees using a downloadable smartphone app could rate the conference, speakers, breakout sessions, and even the food live. While some unfortunate delays pushed timing on some events, the conference did end at the appointed time. Survey results showed that a large majority of attendees rated the conference as excellent or very good overall, and a similar number are highly or very likely to attend next year.


It’s the Toastmasters Leadership Institute (TLI) – July 7, 2018 at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California – Details to follow soon

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