Fall is for Fall Fusion: a Little Background on a Unique District 101 Conference
Four years ago, Toastmasters International announced a new policy. Starting in 2018, they would allow only one officially sponsored annual conference per year. Instead of an annual Spring Conference and Fall Conference, now there would only be a single conference each Spring, and that conference would be required to include the International Speech Contest.
When I heard this, I said to myself, “WHAT??!! Really???!!! Wow, I’ll really miss the Humorous and Tall Tales contests! Will we now have to alternate between Evaluation and Table Topics events? Is once a year enough to give us all a chance to compete outside our home clubs? I’ll miss seeing everyone under the big district tent if we gather just once a year!”
I wasn’t the only one thinking along these lines. Fortunately, there were no rules in this new policy prohibiting the district from creating and hosting an event. Our district leaders gathered to come up with an alternative to the Fall Conference. This second annual event would be uniquely our own. The policy change turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it gave birth to Fall Fusion of 2018.
While there were some challenges in working out the logistics, what we created for ourselves turned out to be different in many wonderful ways. It was more playful, relaxed, and more collaborative. It gave the planning team a chance to flex some new muscles because they were no longer following a method done year after year. The process and the result were up to them to create.
The event team, headed by Rita Barber, worked out a new scheme to conduct the different levels of competition beyond the club level. They renamed the contest events as “Speakers Showcase” and opened them up to everyone. District executives and leaders need not sideline themselves. Instead of the usual trophies, they awarded prizes that the winners’ clubs could enjoy. The first years were boxed sets of thought-provoking questions that could be used for Table Topics.
Witches, wizards, vampires, spiders, and Red Riding hood roamed the corridors at the event. Wonder woman and Spiderman swooped in, but they did not save us from the unsavory characters in campy outfits and prison uniforms. Yes, given the date, the event team had no choice but to include Halloween for maximum fun. That first Fall Fusion, I made it into the Table Topics competition and wondered, “Should I wear my clown costume during the contest? What if I get a serious question? Will the costume undermine me?” I asked my mentor about it, and she gave me the green light.
We both figured if I got a serious question and pulled it off wearing a green wig and a tutu, then I shall have earned that win. It worked! The following year, Fall Fusion of 2019, I made it back into the Table Topics Contest. The question was, “Robin Williams once said everyone is born with their own special brand of crazy. What is yours?” I leveraged my Wicked Witch of the West costume by responding with a loud cackle and doing the full two minutes in character. It worked again.
Last year Fall Fusion went virtual. No one had to think about costume integrity from the waist down, plus you could go full surround by adding virtual background and sound effects. Chie Kawahara was a dead ringer for Wednesday Addams of the Addams Family, and the haunted house background made her my personal favorite and a winner in the costume contest.
While ramping up the fun, we did not compromise on quality. The event started with keynotes from our district leaders instead of an outside speaker. They spoke to us all personally, commending us on our progress and focusing on our goals for the rest of the year. Next, they announced awards and recognitions for the clubs that excelled in DCP goals and district programs. Finally, there were the usual high-quality breakout educational sessions, with six great presenters from which to choose.
I attended Elaine Lung’s session, Improv to Improve Your Leadership. I don’t know whether my costume made me bolder because I felt I could get away with anything while wearing a tutu or whether it was Elaine’s mastery or both, but I experienced listening on a whole new level. Elaine organized us into various groupings, pairs, and small circles. Next, she led us through the steps of each improv interaction.
First, we had to listen carefully to our partners to catch a cue to an unfolding storyline. Then, with that cue from your partner, you respond in some way to move the story forward. Each response would be quick, from the gut – the seat of the inner creative spark. You had to trust your partner would give you something workable. Then you had to trust yourself to offer something back to your partner that they could run with. Both participants share the leader and follower roles in this kind of exchange, the spontaneous swapping of storylines in a magical dance. Each empowers and promotes the other. What better way to practice leadership?
What You Can Expect This Year: This year’s Fall Fusion is once again virtual and creates broader access to District 101 members. It is free to all who register, and we had over 200 participants last year. Our featured contests will be Humorous and Table Topics. In addition, special sessions will include The Solution Room, where you can learn and contribute with other members in facilitator-led, topic-specific rooms. Also offered are special topics sessions on Starting a New Club and High Performing Club Showcase where President’s Distinguished clubs will tell you how they got there.
So, dust off your fairy wings, brush those fangs and claws, rev up your broom, and get your technical effects lined up to give us all a thrill. Come join us on October 30th and make more history at District 101’s very own Fall Fusion 2021.
Written by: Alyson King: DTM First Street Speakers