I have a rather lovely human to introduce you to today. Say hello to Sonal Dave. Popular wedding celebrant AND perhaps more pertinent, she takes the ‘stuffiness’ out of Toastmasters and is one of the only Asian female Toastmasters making her mark in a male dominated space and is smashing through cultural stereotypes and gender discrimination with quiet grace.
Equality advocate Sonal has quite an eclectic background and loves nothing more than being able to inspire women to pursue their dreams and be seen beyond the kitchen and home.
Born in Uganda, her career started in the government as a deputy director, this led to qualifying as a Magistrate, but like most of us with creative genes, her calling was elsewhere and she started working as a professional actress and a speaker turned celebrant and Toastmaster. She has quite story to tell and it’s a delight to be able to introduce you to her today to hear more about it, explore if Toastmasters really are outdated and share some of her expert wedding day tips.
What led you to start your own business and specifically become a toastmaster and celebrant?
As a child and adult, I have always enjoyed performing, acting, presenting and have had some amazing opportunities including The English National Opera, Sadlers Wells, Indian Dance Dramas in uk and abroad and so much more. My dad wanted me to get a proper job so I ended up getting a 3-month casual role with in the civil service and then 20 plus years later, I left, rising from an Admin Officer to Deputy Director. During my career, I was told “people like you don’t go far” and faced a lot of set-backs and workplace discrimination and tolerated that for many years, without fully realising the detrimental impact it was having on my health. It was then, I knew it was time to make a change and do what I wanted to and more to the point, enjoyed.
I used to attend lots of weddings and events as part of the live band and I would see the old english man in his red-tail coat managing and organising the day. Making announcements and it would just sound so formal and like a monologue that I knew that I could do so much better. Making people smile and have wonderful, special, unique and memorable days is something I very much enjoy. After training as a Toastmaster, it felt natural to also be a Celebrant. I would continue helping people through special moments and times in their lives. However I have found out that many people are still not sure what a Celebrant is so lots of education to be done.
In your words, what is a celebrant?
A celebrant is an independent individual who is trained to provide a non religious custom made ceremony designed to celebrate special moments through life. There are very few restrictions as to what can be included in a celebrant led ceremony. The wedding ceremony will be personal to you or your loved one.
Celebrants conduct weddings, renewal of vows, naming or adoption ceremonies, funeral or memorial services where a non religious ceremony, or service is required.
A little history: The civil celebrancy movement and profession began in Australia in 1973 under an initiative by Attorney-General Lionel Murphy. It was driven by a recognition that the existing system was not providing dignity, choice or a spiritual experience for many citizens.
Since its inception, civil celebrancy has spread to many countries across the world, including the UK. The number of people opting for civil or celebrant led ceremonies in this country continues to grow, both in reputation and as a market.
What’s the most heart-warming moment you’ve witnessed at a wedding?
Now this is a tough question as each event is so unique. I do enjoy seeing the couple enter a venue together to greet their guests as officially married, but then the way they look at each other during a first dance or when they say their vows or “I do” or when I see the parents beaming as their children are moving on in life. There are so many heart-warming moments.
How does it feel to be one of few female Toastmasters and definitely one of few Indian female Toastmasters?
Charles L Joseph ARPS – Emotions in Vision
So most days I am like “wow, look at me, breaking down barriers, challenging perceptions and daring to be different” and then there are some days when my mindset plays tricks with me and I wonder; “will I be accepted” and similar negative thoughts.
However being who I am, these thoughts don’t last very long. In fact I want to go out and inspire more.
Breaking down barriers and giving women hope, a voice and a choice. That is where I want to be.
Why is diversity and wedding equality so important to you?
I am a huge believer that it is humans who build barriers to diversity and equality (Nu Bride: Correct) so I am doing what I can to show that it is ok to be different. I am 4ft 9, born in Uganda with roots to India, married to Dhani who is not Gujarati, we do not have children but we do have 2 dogs and I have a disability. Should that stop me going out and achieving what I want – definitely not.
Couples should have a choice in who they marry, when they marry and how they choose to get married.
There is no reason why men & women cannot do the same roles in the wedding industry. I have already faced gender discrimination in the industry and it is disheartening, but I don’t let it stop me.
It is heavily dominated by men. Times have changed, the world has moved forward in so many other careers that it is time for the industry to change as well
What exactly is a Toastmaster? And how can they help at weddings?
Historically, Toastmasters were seen as professional, for the well to do & very formal. In the words of William Knightsmith, at an interview with Fenn Sherie,” I once heard an after-dinner speaker say that “Toastmasters step in where angels fear to tread.” These were indeed true words spoken in jest, for I cannot imagine any profession which calls for greater discretion, tact, and diplomacy than that of the toastmaster at an important social or political function.”
People assume that a Toastmaster is someone in a red tail coat that only makes formal announcements at a wedding or event. There is so much more to this role now. As society has changed, so has the role of the Toastmaster. I work in a style that suits my clients. I describe myself as a young, modern Toastmaster and will utilise my fresh, engaging and approachable style to each event I will inject humour and ensure the couple, family and friends have a great day.
For example; From keeping the event organised and running to schedule, I will make sure it is a calm and well run event and look after the guest management. I can help individuals with drafting speeches, give advice on quality suppliers and fill in when there is a technical or unexpected hitch with my natural humour. I love to put everyone at ease with my friendly approach I will take away any concerns from couples, family and guests, leaving you all to have a stress free celebration. Because that’s how it should be!
What is the difference between a Toastmaster and an MC?
The main difference would be the uniform. The official Toastmaster uniform of The English Toastmasters Association will have a collarette with a medallion showing the association (also known as a medallion ribbon) and the trousers will have double stripes on the sides and lets not forget the red tail coat whose history goes back to 1894, William Knightsmith, a well-known and respected toastmaster, working mainly in London, was becoming increasingly incensed at being addressed as ‘ waiter’ by attendees at the various functions where he was working – you can find out more about the history of Toastmasters here.
Master of Ceremonies tend to be used at charity events, stage events, award ceremonies or corporate events as hosts, leading the raffle or auction. There is no uniform.
Aren’t Toastmasters a little out-dated now?
My personal view is that the old school Toastmasters will not have been trained to focus on the clients as much as I have and therefore may not be seen as integral to the event. My training puts the client at the heart of the event. I am a conduit to make the event successful. I listen to understand and not listen to reply.
In fact, more and more couples are choosing to have Toastmasters because weddings have become more like dramatic theatre productions. For example, an average Asian wedding costs £60k and above. Weddings are often themed, it may be an enchanted forest, a Christmas wonderland or a Rajasthan village in India. Each one is flamboyant with dancers, live singers, live musicians, bespoke dancefloors, cakes which have fireworks coming out of them, the list is endless.
Then you have each timed activity from when the photographers & videographers might want their wide shots with no-one in the hall, the musicians ready to start for canapes, the couple entrance, cake cutting, first dance, speeches etc which all has to be on schedule allowing the caterer to do their magic and serve the food in style and the timing for the event is optimised. Its like a huge orchestra with each part having to get their part right and on time to make the composition sound perfect. As such they require more coordination and guest management. Therefore, having an amazing Toastmaster (like me!), that can engage the crowd is really important. Especially for Asian weddings and the large numbers of guests, you will appreciate a Toastmaster who can build rapport with and manage large numbers of guests.
How do you find a balance amongst all of your different roles?
A very supportive and understanding husband (Dhani) who could see that I needed to get out of the Civil Service even though it would be a huge dent financially. Lots of To Do Lists help and we also try to go away twice a year on our anniversary and at Christmas to have “Our Time” prioritising balance, rest and time out.
What are your top three tips to give couples a public speaking confidence boost on their wedding day?
- It’s your day so say it your way
- Don’t forget to mention each other
- Its your friends and family in front of you – not aliens. Don’t panic!
What do you enjoy doing to relax and maintain your wellbeing when you’re not working?
Listening to music and singing out loud (Nu Bride: love it!)
Spa & Pampering Time
Quality time with hubby and our 2 dogs – Neo & Ri
Champagne, Chocolate and Chips
What’s your favourite place to visit and why?
India – great food, love the culture, visiting my grandmother & family, definitely loads of shopping, night life, love the music industry and meeting the amazing musicians and visiting spas for relaxing time.
Anything else you want to add?
As a Magistrate since 2004, I have learnt so much about people and how each of us lead a different life. Our decisions we all make can come from so much more than impulse. It can be upbringing, background, education, prejudices and so much more. Life really is not crystal clear and we are all trying to find our way.
People will forget what you said but will always remember how you made them feel.
The find out more about Sonal please visit her website – do tune in next week where Sonal will be sharing some brilliant tips on how to write and perform your own wedding speech -it’s a corker!
Header image: nick-karvounis via Unsplash
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