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The O.R.Society's very own Toastmaster Club

Tuesday, 6 Oct 2015
Sayara Beg

Data Science Speakers Club, London, UK: The O. R. Society's very own Toastmasters International Club.

In October 2014, I took the decision to join and actively participate in the newly formed Data Science Speakers Club, a Toastmasters International Club, at an important stage of my professional career, when I wanted to switch from academic research in biology to data science in the corporate world. Apart from very useful communication techniques, the Toastmasters Educational programme and its supporting meeting environment, it gave me a tremendous boost in self-confidence when having to stand up and speak in front of a diverse audience. This proves to be extremely useful in the company environment, where I need to communicate efficiently with colleagues from different teams as well as with clients. 

I am a Data Scientist at the ai Corporation (Guildford, Surrey), and my work involves developing new solutions to detect and prevent fraudulent card payments for card issuers and payment acquirers. In our research team we implement machine learning methods such as Neural or Bayesian Networks but also unsupervised pattern detection methods to identify card transactions done by criminals, which would result in substantial net chargeback losses for financial institutions, if not prevented.

I was introduced to Toastmasters by Sayara Beg (FORS), in the Autumn of 2014, by attending a MeetUp event which was organised through the Analytics Network, a Special Interest Group of The O. R. Society.  As an advanced Toastmaster, Sayara’s next Toastmaster leadership project was to initiate and create a new Toastmasters club. That is how the Toastmasters Data Science Speakers Club started in autumn 2014, with the precious sponsorship of the ORS Analytics Network. Toastmasters International clubs function as a not-for-profit organisation and are managed by a nominated club committee, which change each Toastmaster Year. I volunteered to be the Club's first President, from November 2014 to July 2015, because I wanted to make the club known to Data Scientists and Analytics Networkers and work with Sayara to set up and organise the fortnighlty agenda for each Toastmaster meeting, because I gained so much confidence from it, so quickly, that I wanted others to know about it too and also learn how to gain confidence.

Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organisation with clubs in 135 countries. The purpose through its thousands of member clubs is to offer an educational program of communication and leadership projects designed to help members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills.

Every session, is split into two sections.  The first section is composed of short prepared speeches by club members, who are following the competent communication educational programme, and they are formally evaluated by another club member, who gives constructive as well as supportive feedback to their speaker to improve the efficiency of their communication skills.

 The second section, following a short networking break, is the fun part of impromptu speaking and everybody gets involved.  Questions of any kind of topics (usually broadly related to analytics or data science) are asked by a ‘Table topics master’.  A random member of the audience is invited to answer the question and they have 60 second to formulate their thoughts and come up with a coherent and structured response to the question.  The questions are usually a combination of fun and challening, designed to give the speaker a chance to practice thinking quickly and on their feet.  This fun exercise not only trains the capacity of impromptu speaking; it often reveals a humorous side of the speakers, that they didn't know they had.

To date the Toastmasters Data Science Speakers club encountered great positive echo. Guests who came ‘just to see’ for one session, saw the benefits they could gain in training their public speaking and leadership skills in a friendly, safe, environment in the company of like-minded data science and analytics-minded people. Our club members elected a new committee in July 2015, with Matthew Robinson, as the current President, of the club. Matthew currently works as Business Analytics Specialty Architect at IBM and is member if the ORS Analytics Network committee, and I provide support, as the Immediate Past President, sharing my knowledge and experience, as President. 

 It is inspiring to see how willingly everyone invests their personal time to run and develop this club, in turn developing their own interpersonal skills. I have no doubt it is the profound gains in self-confidence and public speaking capacities are key in driving the motivation to get involved and participate. . Finally, for me, I think the best thing is meeting and learning from so many differently skilled and experienced people at the Toastmasters sessions.

 The Data Science Speakers Toastmasters sessions take place fortnightly on Monday evenings from 6.30pm to 8.30pm close to Old Street Station in London.  Feel free to contact us through the Toastmasters International club portal site:

or through the MeetUp site:

From these webpages you can contact the committee, sign up to attend a meeting and get detailed information about the venue and session dates.  I hope you will visit the club soon, and even consider signing up to become a member.


Raphael Zollinger


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