My first International Convention was both exciting and disappointing at the same time. My reason for going was simply to support Sammy Su, our district contestant. Traveling so far away, it was inevitable that we experienced jet lag the first few days and then finding food also took some effort. Fortunately, there was a McDonald’s and a Subway across from our hotel. Waking up at 3 AM feeling hungry and without a kitchen or a refrigerator full of food was very frustrating.
Exciting: The first major event was the inter-district contest on Tuesday night. The contestant briefing earlier that afternoon was the first time that we had the chance to meet all the other contestants from both Inter-district A & B. Sammy was the only female contestant from this whole group. The tension was there already as each greeted one another and rehearsed on the stage, tested the microphone and tried to get used to the spot lights aimed directly at the speakers on stage. During the actual contest, the room was packed with more than 200 people listening to the inter-district B contest. Sammy was very well prepared, having rehearsed several times that morning and the days before. We were confident. All the contestants were outstanding. When the results were announced, we felt elated and a tad disappointed, because as the 2nd place winner, that means we were not going to compete in the International Speech Contest.
Below my expectations: We got together with all the DNAR members for a party after the contest, but that venue was too dark and the food too expensive, not inducing the right atmosphere for a warm and exciting party. Some districts had vests and outfits for their participating member and it was very easy for them to present a united front. This is something our district can consider for future conventions. Our district even choreographed a dance and used the music of our own district, “Toastmasters of Taiwan”. We practiced many times in Taipei and also for 2 nights right after we arrived. However, the effect was really bad and I don’t think people in the audience could see us because there was no stage and the room was really too dark.
D67 participants at the President's dinner party with Dr. & Mrs. Bennie Bough
Fun and interesting: What I gained from this experience was that I got to meet many members from different parts of the world. Granted most of them came from the hosting district and Canada and the rest were from the United States, it was still amazing to see so many Toastmasters gathered with the same desire to learn communication and leadership skills. All of these district leaders are devoting their time and efforts to promote Toastmasters and make sure all their members benefit from the education programs. While I sat at different tables for the luncheon and dinners, I shared with the other at my table how in our district, we use 5 different languages for our meetings and how we are the most multilingual district in the world. The district governors that sat next me were truly impressed. As a member of district 67, I felt it was my duty to tell others what wonderful thing we are doing here in Taiwan. The Toastmasters bookstore also offered many items on sale as gifts to bring back. That was a great way to save on shipping charges.
Valuable: All the international director and board candidates handed out valuable sheets of information at their campaign booths, offering very creative and helpful ideas for club and district management. Some of them had nice pens and free give away items that were cute and innovative. Attending the Golden Gavel Luncheon and the President’s Dinner Dance were eye openers. Formal meals and proper dining etiquette, carrying on polite conversations, and sitting down for a meal with 1000 other Toastmasters, all this was really quite an experience. I could only imagine what the kitchen must have been like.
Fabulous: Attending the International Speech Contest was a thrill in itself. Witnessing the first female champion in the last 20 years was really the moment that we felt proud as women. The audience response was immediate and multiplied by the size of the room and the number of people in the audience. Because we sent in our registration information late, I was assigned to the last row, in an audience of 2000 people! I could only watch on the big screens, same as watching the DVD because I sat too far back. Still, it was an experience of a life time to be there in person to listen to the contest.
D67 participants at DNAR party
Educational: For me, the most exciting part was sitting in at the Annual Business Meeting for the election of the international directors and the board of directors. The candidates had a few minutes to go onstage to make their last campaign appeals and then the districts voted. This year, for the first time in the history of Toastmasters International, the votes were so close for the 3rd vice president that the results were counted 3 times. It was the first time I had the opportunity to witness the process of a formal business meeting. On the stage, there was only the International President and the Parliamentarian. At our own districts, we have no idea what these high ranking officers are doing in the TI head office other than sending us our manuals and certificates. There are many important issues that they are discussing for the future of our organization.
Disappointing: There were really only 3 workshop sessions and because three to four trainers spoke concurrently, you could only pick one workshop to listen to. If you made the right choice, you learned something. If you got bored, you couldn’t really switch in the middle of the workshop to listen to another trainer, which were only about 50 minutes each. Two of the workshops I attended were not very informative and the content was not new. I expected to be enlightened with information that is not available at the local district level. However, I found that many trainers focused on information that is already available. Only two other speakers offered some new techniques for me. I think 50 minute workshops are too short. Perhaps these are just opportunities for us to get a taste of what their styles and the real content is in the books and DVDs on sale outside of the rooms.
The keynote speaker at the opening ceremony was really a big disappointment. He clearly needs a lot of Toastmasters training himself. He spent more than an hour detailing his plight up Mount Everest and shared many technical terms that audience members didn’t need to know. It was so boring most of us dozed off during his presentation as he flicked through numerous slides. His focus on team work, determination, and persistence was blurred as he explained and gathered all the attention on himself. I wondered how Toastmasters International could have invited someone like this when most members in the audience could deliver better speeches. Didn’t they watch his DVD before inviting him to speak? Didn’t they tell him we were there to be inspired and not to learn how to climb Mount Everest? I felt like giving him a copy of the advanced manual “Technical Presentations for the non-technical audience” to help him improve his presentation skills. Furthermore, he even went over time!
Finally, an inspirational speaker:
On the other hand, the speaker who received the Golden Gavel Award was clearly much more experienced as a speaker. Having worked as a journalist and media personality, Pamela Wallin enunciated clearly and spoke very eloquently about her views and made her points very easy to understand. It was one of the best keynote addresses I have ever heard in person.
Cost analysis: The convention itself cost me US$ 205 for the following with out food (I received a discount as a guest of Sammy Su. The normal price is US$ 285):
4 Education Sessions
First timer’s orientation
Annual Business Meeting
Hall of Fame
US$ 75: Golden Gavel Luncheon
US$ 85: President’s Dinner Dance
Free tickets to the Inter-district and international speech contest because of Sammy (a value of US$ 115)
All the meal costs were separate and only water is available at all the venues. The flight and hotel rooms cost NT$ 68,650. All together, this trip cost me NT$ 94,000
Conclusion: Considering the cost and the benefits I gained, it was not worth the time and the investment for me. I felt that it was most beneficial for the top 3 district officers because most of the training programs were designed for them to network with their counter parts in other districts, to work on their budgets, and to learn specific guidelines from Toastmasters International regarding district affairs. Unless you are a club president, therefore, eligible to vote at the Annual Business Meeting, most of the officer nominations didn’t directly concern the average member.
Advice: If you are considering attending future international conventions, look at the programs, the workshop offerings. Decide if they look attractive and interesting to you. If not, check out what is available in the city and in the vicinity and be prepared that you will have lots of free time. Register early and register with your friends if you want to sit together at the same table at the luncheon, dinners, and the contests. Seats are assigned for Golden Gavel Luncheon, the President’s Dinner Dance, and the international speech contest. The later you register, the further away your table will be from the stage. Don’t forget to bring outfits for different occasions, for example, the President’s Dinner Dance is a formal dinner and the Golden Gavel Luncheon is business formal. Look at your budget and don’t forget to add the cost of meals not included in the package. Last and most important of all, remember to bring an electric heater and a pot as well as some instant noodles, because it’s very comforting to be able to make hot water and soup at 3 AM, even if it is only a cup of instant noodle. It will help you sleep at night and be ready for more workshops the following day.
Three winners in the International Speech Contest from left 2nd place Mr. Loghandran Krishnasamy, 1st place Ms.LaShunda Rundles, and the 3rd place Ms.Katherine Morrison