The ASC National Conference is a vital part of the ASC annual calendar for many reasons. It represents the culmination of the regulatory side and smooth running of our organisation with the AGM, and it’s a pivotal part of our speakers’ journey and development pathway for competitors, with an opportunity to compete at national level. It’s also a chance to recognise our organisation’s talent as well as individuals or clubs who have gone that extra mile. And in a post Covid world, it was a unique chance to inspire and reinvigorate our members after an enormously difficult 20 months.
But putting together a conference in the face of a pandemic was never going to be easy. There was the ongoing uncertainty about whether the event would be allowed to go ahead, and the natural anxiety about meeting in person. There were logistical problems: this conference had to be organised in a couple of months compared to the usual year, and we had to embrace a hybrid format with livestreaming and Zoom. But perhaps more than ever before, this year’s conference also had to be different and dynamic, and above all else, it had to be good!
Our vision for the future
The main event of our conference was held at the unbelievably impressive Birmingham Repertory Theatre (The REP) throughout the day on Saturday. But events kicked off on Friday night in The Old Joint Stock Pub and Theatre. This beautiful building hosted the first ASC in person Senior Leadership Team (SLT) meeting in over 20 months. More importantly, it was a chance for the ASC’s leaders (from across the country) to outline their respective and combined visions for the next year and start to create a road map for achieving these.
There’s no doubt that the ASC has used the opportunities presented by the pandemic to consolidate, innovate and grow. Of course, there have been challenges along the way and undoubtedly there will be many more of these to come. But the mood of the meeting was positive and we can clearly expect a number of initiatives to emerge over the next few months. Watch this space.
Judge the Poet
If anyone doubted the judgement behind the decision to book a poet as Friday night’s entertainment, those doubts were almost immediately extinguished with the arrival of Judge the Poet. Modest in appearance, Judge is quite simply astonishing with his ability to take a collection of random words from the audience and instantaneously produce utterly entertaining poetry. Addressing a room full of speakers is nothing if not daunting but the Judge met that challenge and blew our respective expectations to smithereens!
The ambitions of the main conference event were never modest: to deliver an AGM, three speech competitions and a keynote speech in one day, whilst livestreaming to our membership who couldn’t attend and welcoming competitors and contributors via a Zoom feed. The REP is a large theatre in the centre of Birmingham which has seen the likes of many distinguished productions. No pressure to raise the rafters then.
There were some technical hitches with the livestream in the morning but by lunch these had been overcome and the ASC took the decision to also broadcast the event via Facebook Live as a belt and braces approach.
“Congratulations. The conference was a fantastic success and the team should be very proud for having organised such a wonderful event!!!!”
Topics and Evaluations
With motions and voting having been dealt with by proxy in advance, the AGM was dealt with within half an hour, and the conference moved on to the competitions.
Our target speaker, Azam Zia from the newly formed Lincoln Speakers Club, set the benchmark unbelievably high with a speech that left the audience spellbound and mesmerised. The standard for both competitions was also incredibly high, creating a dilemma for the judges. In the end, the Evaluation contest winner was Iain Parkinson from Horsham Speakers Club with Stephen Dance second and Chris Clissitt in third place. The winner of the Topics contest was Stephen Dance from Newport Speakers Club with Jeremy Cribb taking second place and Anna Tewson third.
“Well done all. I managed to watch some of it live, which was brilliant. Congratulations to all the competitors too!”
I can, I will, I did
Richard McCann from the iCan Academy was the keynote speaker for the afternoon. Richard not only has an incredible story but also an absolutely inspirational attitude to life. Honest, funny, poignant and uplifting in equal measure, few in the audience will forget Richard’s message and positive attitude to the challenges life has thrown his way. We can all learn something from Richard.
Whilst the day wore on, the standard just kept getting higher and culminated with the Speech contest. Contestants took us from pet hates, to overwhelming hobbies and from Chaucer to Poundland and few envied the judges’ task of choosing the winners. In the end, the winning speech was by Keith Davis from Sans Souci Speakers Club with Anne Todd in second place and Jackie Mafi third.
“This was an outstanding event breaking new ground. You’ve boldly demonstrated that when we adapt to change, we position the ASC for the future.”
As always, Conference cannot conclude without recognising some of the special contributions made to the ASC, and awards went to Tom Scott from Edinburgh Speakers Club, the Three Meem Foundation team (Anne Bouget, Beverley Sutherland, Mary Christie, Gwyneth Millard and Gay Rhodes) and Marina Roberts. Of course, there are many more people within the ASC who deserve recognition but there was only a day set aside.
Did it meet the brief?
As the first big step in a post Covid world, National Conference 2021 was bold. The overwhelming view and feedback so far has been that it was a massive success and perhaps marks the beginning of a new era in ASC history. Friends old and new had a chance to meet in person at last. New friendships were formed. Ideas were exchanged and plans were formulated. New approaches and skills were tried and tested. The standard of the speaking was outstanding and our competitors at last got the chance to showcase their talents. All those that we spoke to were inspired as the ASC demonstrated an ability to embrace change and showed the world and themselves that nothing will keep a good speaker down. Well done to the ASC and roll on National Conference 2022.
We’ll be sharing a more detailed look at the day’s events in due course, so once again, watch this space.