I have been a Toastmaster for 16 years and have attended quite a few District Conventions, but I always cherished a dream to attend the World Convention. It got materialized this year during 22nd-25th August in Chicago. As a gift to my wife Manjari for joining Toastmasters 6 months ago, I took her with me to Chicago too.
The International Convention is a different world; a Toastmaster should attend it at least once in their lifetime. Toastmasters not only promotes communication and leadership, but also encourages global unity among people from diverse cultures amid unparalleled bonhomie. At a lunch table, my wife and I met a smartly suited man who looked like the Managing Director of a company, but he proudly introduced himself as a lorry driver from Australia. He had joined Toastmasters because he needed to train other lorry drivers with effective communication and leadership skills. At the new International President’s gala dinner celebrations, we shared a table with Toastmasters from China and Korea and danced with many Indians who were settled in the USA. I also bumped into a number of old friends from the Middle East fraternity. It was a big chivalrous rendezvous!
Manjari and I got chance to personally meet past and present International Presidents DTMs Balraj Arunasalam, Dilip Abayasekara, Mohd. Murad, Ted Corcoran and Lark Doley, apart from several International Directors, including the International First VP DTM Deepak Menon. I had read their articles in TI magazines over the years and thought that they would be very formal or maintain a distance with ordinary Toastmasters like me. But I was proven wrong. They were friendly, cheerful and behaved as if they were neighbours from across the street. They spent some time chatting with us about our clubs and readily agreed to be photographed with us.
I could track Col. Mohd. Murad’s growth from an ordinary Toastmaster to the world TI President. He was a great inspiration to me, because his is story gave me a resolve that if he could do it, even I could.
There were wonderful educational workshops by world class leaders and speakers, on topics covering leadership, communication, overcoming personal challenges and a lot more. I liked Col. Mohd. Murad’s session about the importance of 5H for leaders (Head, Heart (with Honesty), Health, Humility and Happiness) the best because it was very practical and he presented it very naturally. I could track his growth from an ordinary Toastmaster to the world TI President. He was a great inspiration to me, because his is story gave me a resolve that if he could do it, even I could.
In addition, there were 9 professional speakers excelling in their respective fields who delivered a 20 minute talk and were judged by a panel in order to be passed as TI Accredited Speakers. Only 6 could qualify.
This year’s prestigious Golden Gavel award was presented to Keith Ferrazzi for his exemplary work in the field of behavioural transactions, which propelled many companies and societies to success. His rags to riches story inspired me the most. He negated the struggles of his childhood and youth, and rose to the pinnacle of success. Today, his company is in the business of corporate cultural transformations and he is also a great humanitarian and philanthropist.
At the Semi-Finals of the World Championship of Public Speaking, contestants representing Districts from 14 Regions all over the world were divided into 10 contest groups, with each group having about 11 Districts. One could witness a maximum of 3 Semi-Finals as their timings overlapped. It was a fierce battle indeed. Our TM Prathima Madireddy delivered her speech very dexterously with clarity and a subtle message which won everyone’s heart.
At the finals, my excitement knew no bounds! The ambience was truly world-class and well planned. The finalists had to deliver a different speech than they had delivered at the Semi-Finals, with one day’s gap. They were beaming with energy, enthusiasm and purpose and it was a treat to the eye to watch them perform. Those who won the World Championship looked just like you and me, but they had great skill to conceive their thoughts simply and deliver them effectively. History was made when the top three positions were bagged by women contestants, Ramona Smith (USA), Zifang Su (China) and Anita Taylor (USA). To mark the icing on the cake, the new International President is a lady, DTM Lark Doley!
My dream visit to the world convention came to an end but I gained immensely from it. I salute the organisers, volunteers and advisors who made it all possible. Back at my home clubs, I encouraged members to attend the world convention at least once in their life time to more closely capture the fever called Toastmasters!
This article was first published in District 98’s bi-monthly newsletter ‘Communicate 98’. To read more articles, click here.