Daniel Kovari: “TMI is not fast enough to measure our growth!”

In 2014, Daniel volunteered in Indonesia. Today, he is still wearing the bracelets he got there. He keeps volunteering. At the moment in Toastmasters – he is leading the fastest growing Division in District 95.

From the first time I met Dani, he gave me the impression that he is the “cool guy to hang out with”. Always relaxed, always with a smile, always ready to offer almost philosophical insights about life. I met him at the District Conference in Borås and the frequency of my interactions with him gradually increased.

This January, Toastmasters in Hungary celebrated 15th anniversary. Dani envisioned celebrating with the biggest Division event Hungary hosted so far. In the end, the January TLI was attended by 170 people.

At the moment (10th May), Toastmasters Dashboards show growth in Division D from 21 clubs in July to 28 clubs today. When I asked Dani to comment on this, he said: “No way, we have more!” When I told him to check the Dashboards, he relented, saying: “All right. But there should be more. TMI is not fast enough to measure our growth.”

To Travel Is to Live

Dani, your Facebook cover photo caught my attention. On that picture, there are two quotes: “Travel brings power and love back to life” which comes from Rumi and “To travel is to live” which comes from Hans Christian Andersen. What do these quotes mean to you?

I was in Copenhagen last month and I had the pleasure to lead a workshop there for the Toastmasters in Division G. Saji Nair, the Division Director invited me to do this. I went there with my beautiful girlfriend. We went to one of Copenhagen’s markets and I found a grocery store. They had those two quotes.

I love traveling. My former cover picture was a writer’s ink and a pen on that – this was because of my position in IBM when I was a creative writer. I was the leader of European proposal writing team – or as we called it “Proposal Strategist Team”. And writing was really important for me. Then I wanted to change, because travel has bigger meaning in my life than writing.

My life goal was to visit all European Union countries before turning 30. I gave myself a grace period, because I’m 32 now and I still have 4 EU countries to visit.

That’s probably they keep adding the countries…

Yes. But that’s okay. Actually, I visited quite many of the countries thanks to Toastmasters. My first Toastmasters conference was in Borås, Sweden. That’s where I met you for the first time. It was a really good experience, I learned a lot and my eyes were open. But I also visited Denmark and Lithuania thanks to Toastmasters. These countries could get off the scratch map I have in my room. Only Portugal, Finland, Latvia and Estonia are remaining on the list.

Speaking of the travel. I also kind of like traveling, time to time I take an extended weekend trip to a European city – but I was curious, when you’re taking such a trip, what is it that you are looking for? Do you have specific goals? What is it that you are looking to accomplish?

I don’t like traveling alone. I usually travel with someone. A friend, girlfriend, a family member – depends on the trip. What I like to do every time, I try to breathe in the local atmosphere. For you it is visiting a coffee shop (Dani knows I do this – Lukas), for me it is having visited a dining space for locals. Or it can also be a meeting with local people who can share a bit more about how do they live, what life in their country is like and so on.

Are these people you knew from before, or are these new people you meet during those trips?

It depends on the situation.

How do you find new people?

I’m a very open person. If you remember our first discussion in Borås – you just sat at our table, we had some common topics, we could reflect on each other – and I think in general if you have an open personality, it’s not hard to find partners for this kind of discussions. What I love to do – I easily connect to people. This is why I feel really good when I’m abroad. I can speak English – well, almost everybody can, nowadays. I can speak Italian…

Yeah, you were living in Italy, right?

Yes, I studied at the La Sapienza university in Rome, worked in a souvenir shop.. That was a fun part of my life.

How did that happen? I did not know Italy was popular among Hungarians as a place to study and live in…

Hmm… It was based on my choice of the second language I wanted to speak. I had to choose between French, German, Latin or Italian. My reasons were: French was not a language for me. I didn’t like how it sounded. German I had studied before – and it was really neat and nice, but still the sound was not what I was looking for. Latin – I don’t need to speak about that, it’s a dead language which I had already studied for 3 years… So I said to myself “Let’s try Italian”. And it turned out to be one of the best choices I made in my life. I can speak Italian, as fluent as English. Sometimes I utilize it in my work too.

I agree that Italian has a nice sound to it. And it’s easy to combine with English.

And if you go to Italy – people are way more welcoming when you speak their language and not just English. It’s the same as if you go to France and maybe in the Czech Republic – if you speak the language, people are much friendlier. And as for Italy, I really like the culture. I don’t like Italian football though.

You don’t like Italian football? What does that mean? You don’t like the way the players play, the way they look, or what is your problem?

My problem is that Italian football players are more like actors than players. What they do on the field is more like a drama. I visited some Italian football matches and they were really good. I went to the stadium with some of my friends who were hardcore fans of AS Roma. The atmosphere was amazing. But I did not like what was happening on the field. Football is not my favorite sport. I prefer and follow American football (NFL).

Photos Quotes

The Toastmasters vs Life Balance

Since you mentioned traveling – and to Copenhagen you went with your girlfriend. That is an interesting topic. I know that there are quite a few people for whom it’s difficult to combine their Toastmasters life with their personal life. What is it like for you? Because, clearly you are very active, you’re spending a lot of time doing Toastmasters.

Yes. I’m really lucky. I have a supportive environment around me. I have a lot of friends who are Toastmasters. Even the friends who are not, I’m trying to convince to at least visit a meeting so that they get the idea. The second point is that my girlfriend is also a Toastmaster.

I see.

Viktoria is the VP Education in one of the Hungarian speaking clubs. So sometimes I visit her club, sometimes she visits my club to support each other. Speaking about visiting different clubs – it is really good for the knowledge transfer, and club members can pair a face to the name of the leader. In fact I was lobbying for a club visiting initiative on the Division level. This way a program was born to visit different clubs and this way deepen the relations within the community. The name of the initiative is Explorer’s cup. This helped us to connect the dots between the corporate and community clubs. We are trying to give our members an opportunity to meet each other and learn from each other. This is the way how we can have a really strong organization.

The Magic of Corporate Clubs

You’ve mentioned the connection between corporate and community clubs. I know that in Budapest there is something like an explosion of Corporate Clubs. How did that happen?

Tough question Lukas. What we did was more like trying to spread the word as much as we could. We first tried five years ago. At that time, Morgan Stanley and EBSC (British Petrol’s Toastmaster Club) were active, along with Exxon Mobil. And then – then I don’t know how or why, but then it started to boom. Some of the Toastmasters who were frequenting a community club were working for a multinational company – and they realized that maybe there is value for the company in Toastmasters. So these Toastmasters – and we, officers – got to their management, and organized a demo meeting. Then they got together the core team – and a new clubs was born. Nowadays we have quite many – and they are doing it really well. In fact we can learn a lot from corporate clubs. For example – there is a club that is using QR codes for Table Topics voting. On the spot. Nice and digital. I really love that.

This is so cool, we’ve got to try that. Interesting. In many cases, people – or to be specific, Area and Division Directors – they speak of Corporate Clubs like “Oh yeah, it’s so difficult, I have a corporate club in my Area / Division” so in Hungary it’s not like that?

Not at all. The proportion of corporate clubs is much higher, than anywhere around Europe , let’s say 50/50 (we have 10 community and 10 corporate clubs in Hungary and Croatia right now). All but one corporate clubs are English-speaking. The only issue is their involvement outside the club. Most of the corporate club members think that there is the club and they don’t need more. This means that in most cases they don’t participate in Area and Division conferences. However, we have a few examples where the company is supporting sending their people to District conferences and they are even paying for their conference tickets, accommodation and travel. Why not? It’s education, it’s cheap. The people will learn something new and the company will benefit. This can spread in the future.

Never Work Alone

When you’re mentioning the work with the Corporate Clubs, I guess that you in your role of Division Director, you had quite an exposure, talking to representatives of those companies, selling Toastmasters to them… What did this experience bring to you?

Mostly, these opportunities are not getting on the table of company leaders. You are trying to work with the members you know from the community clubs and they then go and convince their management. When these members see your enthusiasm – they can get enthusiastic too. And pass this enthusiasm to their management.

Toastmasters is a lot about sacrifice – or maybe, better word – it’s an investment. When you invest time in Toastmasters, you will get the rewards. I joined Toastmasters to learn about communication. At the time, I was a team leader in IBM – and wanted to improve my giving and receiving feedback skill at the same time. And it turned out I could learn a lot about leadership.

One thing that you mentioned was that the time you dedicate to Toastmasters, you treat it as an investment. What I’d like to know is – clearly, there are 1001 things you can do in Toastmasters. If you treat them as an investment, you need to prioritize. How do you decide where you focus your effort?

I don’t like working alone – I like working with my network. I enjoy matching people with opportunities that would stretch them. Earlier, I often took the role of the main organizer. Today, I know I don’t have to work alone. It’s interesting how many people underestimate the power of delegation. By delegating you are also learning a lot. You are learning how to recognize who to rely on, how to follow-up and how to help others develop their own skills.

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I agree that delegation is a must-have skill if you don’t want to die of exhaustion after one week. So, how do you choose which activities you need to do yourself and which ones to delegate? For example, organizing the TLI in January?

Wow, this was a really complex issue. At that time, I did not want to have a single main organizer, but wanted to have a committee. Then it turned out that there were quite many strong Toastmasters in the committee who were great individually, but in the end they could not work with each other, because each of them had their own very strong opinion of what the conference should look like. What I did was – I reached out to my ADs, asked if they could help – one of them said she was interested. I was then in touch only with this Area Director and she supervised the team. And in the end it turned out well, being the biggest Divisionwide event in Hungary, 170 attendees. The team effort turned into reality and the 15th birthday of Hungarian Toastmasters became the best event we ever had.

I remember discussing this in November when I was visiting Budapest. In Sophie & Ben.

Oh yes. Great burger place. But you know what? They closed it.

No way, why?

The owners tried to triple the rent and the restaurant could not afford it. I’m really sad about that, I love burgers and these were the best burgers in town. Now I need to try out new burger places.

Yeah, I was just thinking of visiting Budapest and Sophie & Ben again. Now they’re gone.

There is one more Sophie & Ben but they are really at the outskirts of Budapest. I have not been there yet, but if you come, maybe we can make that trip.

Sounds like the plan. Back to the discussion about travel, volunteering and – journalism! You were working as a journalist. What connection – if any – do you see between writing articles and writing speeches in Toastmasters?

I was working in a newspaper that does not exist in Hungary anymore, unfortunately. They were writing about economic problems, currencies, stock exchanges. I was there to help them write online articles and do interviews with experienced members of different committees. I really liked it. I did it for one year, then it turned out that the newspaper was not doing so well and they basically laid of all the contractors. But what I learned from that was that I really liked writing and I liked understanding the background of a topic and then trying to simplify what I had understood there. This was the reason why I became IBM’s proposal content strategist, which meant that we could utilize nice methodology to understand the value of the clients we wanted to sell something.

I utilized this in Toastmasters too. In fact my Copenhagen workshop was on this. There I used a sales process for writing a speech. It was a really endorsed workshop. People loved it. I tried to use the sales model how and re-worked it for the use of Toastmasters.

Value Driven Proposal Workshop

So what is the trick?

It’s a simple model,called Value Driven Proposal methodology (VDP).


And this VDP method has five steps. I was speaking only about four:
1. Understand the audience
2. What is the solution
3. What is the value proposition
4. What are the differentiators / why to choose me
5 is then “how to move forward”, but this one is not that important in speechwriting.

I recalibrated this methodology and tailored to the need of speech writers, so from a sales process, a speech writing toolkit was born.
First of all, I found a model about the audience types – who are spectators, who are the active participants, who are the spies who came to spy on and report via blog and then there are VIPs who came for the unique content. I used that for the understanding of the audience.

Next: What is the solution. This presents the hook. How you can present your message in one – golden – moment. You need to know how to write a good hook. I was really lucky, because I could be present at the Division Contest of Division G. I utilized the examples of the speakers I heard one day before. Then the audience could really relate to what I was talking about. I quoted them, of course I asked their permission to use their quotes…

The third point was the value proposition. This is the punchline. This is the container of what you are trying to sell. Works not only in Toastmasters, but also in slam poetry or also in TED Talks, or wedding toasts. If you have a good punchline, you will be better remembered by the audience – as they will be able to convey your message.

Can you give me an example?

Of course: “I see something in you.”

All right, now I get it.

I used that. I also used other punchlines from the contest, from the day before. I also used Steve Jobs’ “One More Thing”, Martin Luther’s King “I have a Dream”. These are all punchlines – the value propositions of the speech you write.

The last part – Why to choose me. The idea there is how to create wow moments in the audience. That went in three steps. How to use props – how to use a thing in your hand. Then – how you can wow your audience with your language. There we had the first Alliteration Awards in Copenhagen. There were people who could pile up twenty alliterations within two minutes in a well composed sentence.

Last but not least – I tried to show them the power of the impersonation. How you can wow your audience in the content itself. How you can transfer your content using a different personality. I used – and I have an article on this – for Toastmasters as well as for my company. And then in the end we summed up everything. The feedback was 9/10, which I was very happy about.

Wow, 9/10 score for your first workshop, that is impressive. I remember the first workshop I gave. I sucked. I put everyone to sleep, I can tell you that.

Thanks. I also asked two really experienced Toastmasters from the audience. One is Randie Finney. I asked her: Randie, I will need you for a little task. I gave her a little something and that was her prop. I told her: “You have 5 minutes to create a 2-minute speech around this.” Like a table topic with a bit more preparation. It was a Hungarian salami. She had to use it on the stage – and she used it as the ultimate weapon against hangover. She could take home the salami as a little souvenir of Hungary, and the smile on her face was happier than ever.

Good approach, inviting helpers from the audience. I’m curious – doing a workshop for the first time – what was most difficult about it?

It’s always most difficult to understand your audience, whom you will be presenting to. First I wanted to have a workshop about wedding toasts. It’s a really interesting topic – but then the organizers told me that Danish toast work differently – and they also said that the audience will be rather seasoned Toastmasters, where most of them had a speaking business. So I wanted to create something unique for them. To create something unique out of nothing was not really easy, so I tried to think, think – and in the end I realized that maybe this model would be the most interesting and important for them, for the audience. This way I crafted this workshop.

That’s a good way when you get an input from the audience, because then you can be sure you won’t completely miss the mark. And it will also give you inspiration, you can answer their questions if you know what questions they have.

I agree. As a speaker, you serve the audience. If there is something they can take home, then it was a success.

From your CV I’ve got the idea that you are the kind of person who enjoys being active and that you are into volunteering. You even did some volunteering in Indonesia.

That’s true. And I’m still wearing the bracelets I got while I was in Indonesia and Thailand. I don’t take them off even when taking a shower. This reminds me of the difference – what a country can have and also the happiness level. In South-East Asia I could feel on my skin that with so little people can be so happy. This always shows me that: “Wow, we really need to appreciate what we have.” This was really eye-opening for me during that month that I was there.

Indonesia 300kb

Not Your Free Time. Your Learning Time.

A lot of new experiences. Speaking of volunteering – now it’s May, time when there are officer elections in many clubs. Some people may just be considering whether to take their first officer’s role. If you were to give them a piece of advice – what would you tell them?

That’s really easy. This is happening to me on a daily basis. People are coming to me and asking: “Daniel, what did you get from your leadership activity in Toastmasters?” Three years ago I became the club president of Budapest Toastmasters, the oldest Hungarian club and this was my first role in Toastmasters. I always say that in my opinion, in Toastmasters there is as much as you put in. The more you put in it, the more you will benefit. This means – if you put more effort in, you will pump in the energy, you will gain more experience, fun and skills in return. For example, when people come to me and say: “Daniel, I have a job, I don’t have time and energy to invest in Toastmasters, what can i do?” I always tell them: “Everybody deals with similar issues. We all have things we have to do. But don’t take it as using your free time. It’s your learning time. Time that you want to invest into your self-development. And then – why not use this self-improvement time for Toastmasters. Here you have a supportive community. Here you have people around you who are really positive and can help you in many different areas of your life. Why don’t you give now – and then get back on the way.” This is the quote I usually utilize and then people are like: “Well, yeah, this is kind of inspiring!” And then they go for the position. I have a really good positive ratio of convincing people to run for positions. And I admit, it is nice when someone comes to me after the election, saying: “Dani, you inspired me.”

I guess it is. I really liked how you summarized this approach: “It’s not about your free time. It’s about your learning time. This is the best way how to use your learning time.”

Yes. Now this can go into the Black Book.

I think you’ve just made it.

Header photo by Edit Trunkó.


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