Building Bridges in Amsterdam


“One of the best yet” was one of the compliments received during the closing ceremony of the District 59 Autumn Conference. Following a year of planning and preparations, we were hoping that all would go well. We could not have hoped for such a success.

The core team was small and efficient; Andy Baker as Contest Director (who had appointed Contest Masters to supervise each event), Eleonore Breukel as Education Chair, Ekaterina Voinova as Registration Chair, Saby Sangupta in charge of the 8 strong Venue team,  Biljana van Zanten as Finance Chair and Julita Davies as head of PR and website issues.


Their energy, creativity and leadership skills were vital in making the weekend run so smoothly and with such a high level of professionalism.

Our theme was “Building Bridges” and we tried to reflect this in as much of the programme as we could.

Friday morning was an early start for the team as the first attendees were in front of the registration desk and raring to go 2 hours before we opened! The happy faces of Saby’s team created the friendly welcome to set the tone for the Conference.

Dutch and Spanish were chosen as the languages for the Humorous Speech Contests, and these were efficiently run in the early afternoon, followed by the semi-finals of the English Contest; both in full rooms with only standing room left!

The evening social event was a walking trip to an Amsterdam “brown café”, which was enjoyed by a sizeable group – particularly impressive as winter had decided to arrive that very evening. I am sure that Paul Huxley did enough chatting and drinking to keep the visitors warm.

Saturday was the full day programme. A Table Topics Contest with 13 contestants at 9 a.m. was a test of commitment for everybody – the energy in the main room was a sign of the level of achievement and fun that we were all aiming for.

We received over 30 applications to host workshops and we choose a variety of new faces to fill our 22 slots. Next to registration desk, we had a sign-in system where people could show their interest in attending a specific workshop; this allowed us to reshuffle the location according to the size of room required. This was a great success, and happily we still had some very full rooms.

We are very proud that all of the items in the Conference ran exactly on time. With the exception of the DECM, which ran 40 minutes over into a one-hour lunch break. I strongly suggest that a system of discussion and voting on points and motions be devised to save lengthy debates on points of order or on topics that were previously known. Poor council members were left to scrap for a quick sandwich before heading into the afternoon session.

The job of keeping (nearly all of) us awake after lunch was well done by keynote speaker Jessie Gordon, with an animated presentation on gaps and bridges in personal communication. Perfectly in theme and despite some challenges, the only she dropped were the chocolates!

The late afternoon was the build up to the grand finale; where 6 contestants vied for the Humorous Speech crown.

Within 2 hours we were all back, suited and booted and looking as elegant as

The party went on as it can in Amsterdam.

Sunday morning’s closing ceremony was short of a few people (no surprise) but the workshops were well enough attended (considering).

The formalities were expertly and efficiently done and we were well ahead of time when I was called to the stage with my team. In fact, my whole team had not yet arrived!

could be for the champagne reception and gala dinner. An Italian “family” dinner, served on long tables and with no set seating plan made for an informal and relaxed, fun dinner with lots of cross-cultural bridges being built. The prize giving ceremony was short and sweet and the attention was maintained. We had a short break for gelato in another room as the main hall was remodelled for DJ and dance floor.

I will honestly never forget the ovation received from the (growing) audience – it made all the hard work totally worthwhile.

My thanks to my team, the District Council and to the venue staff at De Zwijger.

It was amazing!!

All the best to Luxembourg for the spring.

The bar is high!


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  1. Koen Hoffer on

    Very nice to read this overview of how the conference went. I surely consider joining next time!

  2. Noreen Murphy on

    A lovely piece from Ian but his name is nowhere to be seen. Well done IAN CHERINGTON! IAN CHERINGTON well done!!!

  3. Dear Noreen, thank you very much for letting us know that Ian’s name was missing, because we didn’t notice it was not uploaded. Now the article is complete! Toasts!

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