This year’s Toastmasters International Convention in Chicago was a truly impressive event – the last stop for the International Speech Contest and the first step for many in setting their future goals. Over 2000 Toastmasters Members joined the event and had the opportunity to participate in a variety of Educational sessions, inspirational speeches and, of course, the International Speech Semi –Finals and Finals. It was also the time when the new Toastmasters Leaders were elected. Every single vote, which was passed on as proxy by the clubs counted. The Convention was preceded by the District Officers training, bringing together District Trios from all over the World. It was a one of a kind Speakers’ and Leaders’ development journey.
Elena, what impressed you at International Convention?
Being an event organizer myself, I was impressed by the scale and professionalism of the Convention organization. The parade of 116 flags was rehearsed for 3 hours before the ceremony. The Hall of Fame during which all distinguished districts from the last year were awarded went very smoothly, as every step was thought through and there was a script for each part. The District Officers training for over 300 leaders from all over the world lasted for 2 days and was organized very efficiently – several common sessions and several sessions in smaller groups.
I was also impressed by the openness and friendliness of Toastmasters members from different parts of the world. In spite of the distances and cultural differences, I felt that this is my tribe.
Gabriela, how to be First Timer at this kind of conference?
I had heard from many Toastmasters how overwhelming the International Convention may be and I still wasn’t prepared for it. First Chicago welcomed us with an amazing skyline, beautiful buildings: old, new; classic, modern; astonish architecture and engineering gems.
Then, the venue, where the Convention was held, was huge, stretched out over 2 buildings: The Marriot and McCormick Convention Center, within several buildings interconnected through suspended bridges, made the entire place a labyrinth, so I managed to get lost several times.
However, the most impressive were the participants: thousands of Toastmasters from 18 to 100 years old, wearing amazing outfits, looking totally different, but having the same concerns: members retentions, Pathways and how to charter new clubs! From Australia, to Africa, from New Zealand to Korea, all District Officers shared best or worst practices: how to have great conferences and club officers trainings. How being Chief Judges in club level competitions made them feel part of the community and how they mentor and trained new members and give them an opportunity to learn new skills and make a difference. 20000 km apart and feeling like going to the same club meetings. Unbelievable!
World class keynote speakers and trainers, enlightening business session, spiced with wild dances during vote counting, amazing speeches during the contest, beautiful ball at the end of the convention, all made the event memorable and made me understand why some of the members return to the same event, over and over since 1960’s. It is addictive.
Piotr, what did you take with you from the convention?
For me it was the second Convention I attended. This time I knew what to expect and I used the time in Chicago to the maximum. While I was totally fascinated by the workshops and speeches, including the World Championships of Public Speaking, I went there mostly for three things.
First, to get trained. And I must say, that this year’s District Officer Training was at a very high level. It included inspiration from the Toastmasters leaders, hard knowledge from our Regional Advisors and a lot of experience exchange with District Leaders from all parts of the world.
Second, to elect the next International Directors and Officers. This seems to be easy, but in fact the future of our organization is in our hands, so it’s important to get to know the candidates, their backgrounds, their motivation and plans. It takes two days to meet and talk with all of them in the candidates’ corner. Also, thorough background investigation is part of the process. We also participate in candidates’ showcase, where we can clearly see how they handle sometimes very challenging questions. Although not in all cases my preferred candidate won the elections, I still believe we selected wisely and Toastmasters is in good hands.
Finally, I went to the International Convention to expand my network, to talk with people and to find out what challenges they face and what ideas and solutions they have. It’s amazing to see how diverse our organization is and, at the same time, how often we realize that whether we are in the US, Europe, Asia or Australia, we ultimately ask the same three questions: how to bring new people to Toastmasters, how to retain experienced members and how to ensure we have quality meetings.
The Convention is a unique event. Almost three thousand people from everywhere. With such a packed agenda it can be physically difficult to handle, but it definitely is very, very rewarding! And after you’re back home, you have a lot of new energy, new ideas and new fantastic people within your circle.
There is no one way to describe the event. For some –it’ll be all about the Speech Finals, for others, it’ll be about the Educational sessions and the opportunity to participate in our Leadership Elections. And for others, it’ll all be about the conversations and networking in between the sessions. In the corridors of the Convention Center, during the networking sessions or the gala dinner. Everybody found their piece of inspiration that they will take forward for another year –be it professionally or, very often, personally. Whatever it is, that you’re looking for with Toastmasters, the Convention is truly where it all comes together. You simply can’t miss the next opportunity which is soon to come in Denver, Colorado, USA.