by Ciara Halloran & Kathleen Gately
As members of Rathfarnham Toastmasters our last attendance at the International Convention was in Calgary 2008 when we supported fellow club member Sultan Nazir who won the District 71 International Speech Contest and made it into the world semi-finals. This year the combination of a visit to beautiful Vancouver and the Toastmasters annual conference drew us back to Canada so what was our experience of this year’s convention?
Events commenced on Wednesday August 23rd with the Board of Directors briefing, which gave us insights into the work of our International Directors and an indication of what it takes to run our global organisation with approximately 352,000 members across 141 countries. This was followed by a Leadership Panel with a mix of past leaders – from our CEO and outgoing International President, to Regional Advisor 11 Aletta Rochat, division and area directors, who all gave a flavour of the leadership challenges and insights they experienced.
Mark Hunter, DTM and 2009 World Champion of Public Speaking, then gave a leadership workshop on President-Elect Training Sessions – a six-hour program designed by leaders in District 69 to complement club officer training. It included understanding purpose, self-awareness as a leader, and the differences between masculine & feminine communication styles– a real eye opener for some of us!
The highlight of the day was the opening ceremony with First Nations musicians and dancers welcoming Toastmasters to Vancouver. They presented our leader with the traditional “talking stick” much the same as our gavel – he who holds the taking stick has the power to speak and command as a leader. We moved to the Parade of Flags, where our very own Red Skeleton carried up the Irish flag, District 91 got the British. A hoop dance by the world hula champion completed the opening ceremony.
Next up our keynote Delatorro McNeal II took us through his highs and lows in true superstar-speaker style as he grew from Toastmaster to Top Speaker. A bundle of energy on stage, he gave us the components of a killer keynote and DelQuotes!
The culmination of day 1 – and every night of the conference – was the sing-along with our favourite host – Past International President Ted Corcoran DTM!
Some early-bird Toastmasters took part in the inaugural Smedley Fund 5K Run/Walk at 6am; others joined Mark Hunter for The Voice of Bonsai – a Conversation on Leadership! We opted for beauty sleep arriving at 10.30 to take our seats for the first of many International Speech Contest Semi-Finals. We were sorry to miss Kindra Hall on the ‘Irresistible Power of Strategic Storytelling’, as we heard only good reports!
After lunch, we were inspired by Shailee Basnet a young lady from Nepal who, with her motley crew of ten women, aimed for and achieved the Seven Summits Challenge – climbing the world’s seven-highest summits on each continent! Each of them had never even climbed, or really physically exercised, before starting their journeys and there were no qualified female mountaineers in Nepal. Now, they are all qualified and committed to sharing their skills with other young students around the world who need to find their own inner strength for life, which they aim to discover by learning how to climb a mountain!
More semi-finals followed including District 71 contestant Vinette Hoffman-Jackson who did us proud in a tough semi-final. The evening culminated with the “Hall of Fame”, where Red Skelton received recognition for his individual member accomplishments.
We learned how to ‘Put Life in Your Speech’, thanks to Mohamed Ali Shukri. He gave us the three signs you have found a topic that brings life to your speech, he showed us how to practice this live and he gave us all a Satsuma!
Sandra McDowell followed with ‘Leading with the Brain in Mind’, which focused on tips to improve our brain health, improve performance and why social acceptance really does matter.
After lunch our Golden Gavel recipient this year, Erin Gruwell silenced the room and took us on an emotional ride as she shared her story, now captured in the international bestseller book The Freedom Writers Diary and film. A wonderful Toastmaster and storyteller, this uplifting, unimaginable journey of dedication and perseverance changed the lives of Erin and her students forever.
In ‘Life is Like a Sales Call’, Diane Ciotta informed us selling is more about building relationships and speaking from the heart than sales tactics. She showed us how we are all selling ourselves daily and that while appearances matter for that first impression, “a reputation is ever lasting!”
The top 10 finalists competed in the World Championship of Public Speaking – we are so glad we didn’t have to judge this one! Every speaker would had made a worthy winner and each speech was memorable and touching. Our congratulations to Simon Bucknall, District 91, who we were cheering on and came first runner-up in the final!
Last day of the convention and congratulations to Clare Crowther from D71’s Division E, who achieved the designation of Accredited Speaker in Toastmasters. The afternoon was taken up with the Annual Business Meeting; this mammoth three-plus-hour meeting included updates from each of the International Presidents and Vice Presidents, and election of next year’s International Board. It also included voting by members on a number of proposals, all of which passed and were put forward to direct the future of our organization. There was dancing in-between votes, to keep our spirits up!
In the evening we had our Region 11 gathering followed by a reception before the President’s Inauguration where our newly-elected officers and directors were officially installed into office. The celebration for the new team turned into a party to mark the end of a great convention in Vancouver – the final last word of the night was by Ted Corcoran Past International President, DTM as he led all those still standing in a rendition of Oh Danny Boy!
More than 2000 Toastmasters attended the international conference this year and there was ample inspiration, learning and experiences on tap. We would particularly like to say thanks to all the volunteer “Helping Hands” who guided us, shared their recommendations on Vancouver with us and made our visit so memorable. A special thanks to our host, Past International Director Margaret Hope, and Vancouver Toastmasters Club 59 who became our club-away-from-home during our trip – so good, we had to visit twice!