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Past President Interview: Adrian Barrett (1998-99) on how to keep a club buzzing

December 11, 2012

Adrian believes in keeping meetings upbeat

Q: During your time as President did anything memorable take place during meetings or otherwise?

A: Well, no-one ever needed first aid. And no-one died. And I don’t recall anyone walking out of a meeting in disgust. I suppose the most memorable thing, for me, is that my fellow members continued attending meetings, in spite of the fact that I was their president. One would have expected other members to stay away! There were occasional entertainments at the Ebury Arms, where we met for four or five years including my year as president. It’s a very smart place today, but back then it was somewhat down-market. We met upstairs, of course, but had to use the bar downstairs during breaks and after meetings, where our fellow patrons were of a certain kind. Many of them enjoyed their drink, and fights were a frequent occurrence, with people throwing chairs and bottles at one another – members of London Corinthians didn’t join in, of course. The police were occasionally called, which was fun. Our eventual move to the Cardinal public house, courtesy of George Jerjian, was a relief to us all. It was like moving from a flea-ridden guest house to the Ritz hotel!

Q: Will you describe the best speech you heard during your Presidency? What made it so good?

A: To be honest, it’s now so long ago that I don’t recall any single speech. What I can say though, is that the standard of speaking at London Corinthians was at least as high during my presidency as it is now, which is so high that it’s London Corinthians other clubs aspire to emulate. When I joined London Corinthians, in September 1996, there were only four Toastmasters clubs in London – Grosvenor Square, London Corinthians, London Athenians and City of London Club (there were a few suburban clubs in outlying areas, such as Epsom and Bromley). At least 9 of the clubs in London today were started by members of London Corinthians, including Athenians. Of the rest, many were started, in their turn, by members of the clubs started by Corinthians. The spirit of London Corinthians imbues many London clubs with their ethos. We should be proud of that!

Q: What made you decide to become President? How did it come about?

A: Leadership development is an important part of Toastmasters International’s programme, which many people, sadly, either miss or avoid. I was delighted to be asked to be vice president education (VPE) during Philip Fitzpatrick’s exceptional presidency, and having made a reasonable fist of it (I think I can say that), I was even more delighted to be voted in as president myself for TM year 1998 to 1999. I don’t think one decides to become president, it’s that one decides to accept the club membership’s invitation to become their president, which is a flattering and affirming experience!

Q: What have you taken away with you from your time as President? Did you achieve your goals?

A: I would have liked another two years as president! It was an amazing experience. One has both ups and downs, of course, as any past president will tell you. I did achieve the goals I set for myself, which were about the structure and running of meetings. Both Philip before me, and Bill Russell before him, had focused their attention and activity upon building the membership of the club, and they both did a wonderful job. I was lucky to take control of the club, as president, when the membership numbers were at an all-time high. In the late nineties and early noughties, the club’s membership was consistently as high as 60 to 65. In truth, 65 is unmanageable and too high. With only 26 meetings a year, it becomes difficult to give more than 55 members the speaking and functionary slots they are entitled to over the year. My primary goal as president was to ensure that meetings were fun. One of my primary goals was to make changes to the meeting programme. It was I who moved the club from welcoming the guests right at the beginning of the meeting to doing so just before the break. I felt strongly that it was better for guests to have a chance to warm up and see what the club was all about, before having to stand and introduce themselves to a room full of strangers. It’s always worked well, and a number of other clubs have adopted the same procedure. I see it as my memorial! I also introduced the tag: ‘The Greatest Public Speaking Club in the World!’ to London Corinthians. It seems to have disappeared now, to my disappointment. It was on every newsletter, and I started every meeting with it. The members would shout it out, and mean it, and every meeting started on a tremendous high. I have to admit, I did have fun. One of the things I love most about public speaking, and performing, is the response one can get from an audience. To tell an audience to do something or to shout something and then have them all do it is just the biggest possible buzz – especially an audience of strangers! I also changed the structure and layout of the meeting programme. The current meeting programme format has undergone a few minor alterations since I created it, but what we have today is as close to my original programme as makes no difference. The detailed noting on the programme of when different things should happen, and how long everyone should speak, was designed chiefly to help the Toastmaster. Generally, members are terrified the first few times they take on the role of Toastmaster. I have found that the detailed nature of our programme represents an aide memoir for the Toastmaster. If it helps everyone else too, then that’s a bonus. Philip Fitzpatrick, and his wife, Jill, introduced a wonderful new newsletter format during Philip’s presidency (it was the president who produced the newsletter until recently). Until, I think, 2003 or 2004, we still had to produce a hard-copy newsletter, which was posted to members by snail mail. It was only once all members had access to email that we were able to send the newsletter electronically (and we had to weather the problem of people’s workplace email addresses blocking our newsletter!). To be honest, I don’t feel that an electronic newsletter is adequate. I believe the club would better serve its members if the newsletter were produced in hard copy even today – however, I know, and I completely accept, that that will not happen, so please don’t flood me with emails! (Yes, I would like modern technology to disappear; and I would like to return to the 1950s. It’s true, I’m an old fogey!) Anyway, I expanded on Philip and Jill’s newsletter. I delighted in producing an A5 sized newsletter in booklet form, stapled twice along the fold. Its fortnightly production was a work I really enjoyed, even though I made many mistakes that infuriated me. However, it was, in truth, a rather self-indulgent activity, and it became apparent to me by the end of 1998 that the newsletter I was producing was too complicated and unnecessarily extensive. A few members whispered in my ear that it would be unlikely that any future president would want to continue with it; and even more to the point, that such a complicated newsletter may put-off potential future presidents and VPE’s because of the work involved. So for the second half of my presidency I returned to Philip’s leaflet newsletter, on a single sheet of A4 paper folded into three, which must have been a relief to Richard Murphy who succeeded me as president. From all that, and more, I took away from my presidency a confidence that I had made an effort and done a good job. I can be difficult to deal with sometimes, I know that (although I’m not alone), and I learnt a few lessons I should probably have learnt 10 or 20 years earlier; yet my fellow London Corinthians were tolerant and stuck with me. So, thank you to them!

Q: Is there any advice you would give to the future presidents with the benefit of hindsight?

A: Just one piece of advice. After almost 16 years as a member of London Corinthians, it continues to be my firm belief that the primary role of the president is to ensure that meetings are as enjoyable and as beneficial as possible, for every member. If members don’t enjoy the meetings, if the meetings are not buzzing and fun, they will not feel motivated to continue with their membership. London Corinthians became the ‘Greatest Pubic Speaking Club in the World’ by our ensuring that every meeting was a festival, that every meeting was a party; and that consequently every member would do everything possible to ensure they attended the next meeting. Members who miss a meeting must be told, through the newsletter, in no uncertain terms, how good the meeting was that they missed; and every newsletter and last minute trailer must tell members that if they miss the next meeting they will miss the most fun they could ever have other than ………….. (fill the missing word or words in yourself). In any Toastmasters year the hard work should be done by the vice president education, the treasurer, the secretary and other committee members. The president will have done some or all of such work in the past, particularly the work of the VPE. In my humble opinion, the president’s primary task, between meetings and during meetings, is to keep the club buoyant, blazing and buzzing for the whole of their year in office!


Working or living in the London Victoria area? Want to know more about becoming a better public speaker? Visit London Corinthians on the 2nd, 4th and 5th Thursdays @ 7.30pm.

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