The Toastmasters Spring Division Contest, held in Vitoria in March, saw more than 50 speakers from 21 clubs across Spain battle it out in the English and Spanish speech categories.
Third place in the English Speech Contest was awarded to John Sandner, a retired merchant marine officer from Estepona who has been a member of Toastmasters Marbella for nine years.
John, 68, said he was “slightly disappointed not to have come in higher but proud to have achieved so much” for himself and the club. He said, “The whole ethos of Toastmasters is one of communal support.”
The president of Toastmasters Marbella, Ali Parandeh Zandpour, scooped first prize in the same contest for his speech “The Dividing Line”, in which he raised issues about nationality, religion and politics.
The 46-year-old, who has been a member of the club since April 2015, said that he was “overwhelmed with joy” when the results were announced. Now he will have the opportunity to compete at European level.
Ali joined the club two years ago when he was looking for a new challenge and wanted to get back into the academic world. “While Toastmasters is not an academic institute, it is very similar in the sense that it includes all the things we learnt in school, university and work and puts them to use in a perfect manner,” he explained.
Although he is relatively new to the group, Ali said he has been “amazed” by the changes and improvements he has noticed in other members. He highlighted the “dynamic of the group” as particularly special “because it is not the age that matters but everyone helps each other and we all learn together.”
“All members want you to learn and do better than them,” he explained. “They all support and encourage you to do better than your best. The only competition is to take the opportunity to improve yourself, pushing yourself slightly out of your comfort zone but in the most supportive atmosphere.”
In addition to his public speaking skills, Ali believes that Toastmasters has helped him become a “better listener, better communicator and a better leader” and would encourage others to follow in his footsteps. “Life is a journey and provides you with millions of opportunities: to visit places, meet people and learn new things. Toastmasters is one of those opportunities.”
Toastmasters International is a non-profit organisation that aims to help individuals become more effective communicators and leaders; there are over 15,000 clubs in 143 countries.
The Toastmasters concept is based on practice and evaluation of public speaking; each person is encouraged to try different roles including timer, grammarian and ‘filler words’ counter, as well as presenting speeches.
“No matter what you do at work or at home, there is always a moment when you have to speak, be it to your colleagues or just your family, at your wedding, a birthday, a wedding anniversary. Public speaking teaches you the art of getting the message across in the most effective way,” explained Ali.
The Achievers Toastmasters International Club of Marbella is the first of four in Andalucía - Malaga, Seville and Granada are home to the other three - and is the only English-speaking club in the region.
Originally created in 2001, the Marbella club now has over 30 members of various nationalities, including British, Spanish, German, Scandinavian, Czech and South American. Members come from an array of professional backgrounds and ages range from 18 to over 70.
Anyone is welcome to attend a meeting as a guest, with no commitment to join. Marbella Toastmasters meetings are carried out in English and take place every Wednesday at 8pm in the social room above Bar El Jardín in Nueva Andalucía.