I had the opportunity and pleasure of attending my first regional conference for Toastmasters this past weekend (June 26 and 27, 2009). Here are my reflections (a rundown that is long but not exhaustive).
The opening session on Friday started off with June 26 was proclaimed Toastmasters Week in Greensboro. Tom Loughlin, DTM, PDG read the proclamation and presented it to Lee Holliday, DTM, ID.
It was at the opening session that the main speaker, outgoing International President Jana Barnhill, DTM, made her first appearance. She happens to be only the fourth woman to hold this office. She discussed proposal A (see http://www.toastmasters.org/Members/MembersFunctionalCategories/AboutTI/Board/GovernanceReshaping/Governance-FAQ.aspx) and how it would help every member of Toastmasters. She said the purpose of proposal A is to provide equitable services to every member at a reasonable cost.
The International Leadership Committee is the nominating committee for Toastmasters International’s (TI’s) nine international directors (IDs) and officers. She said it is best to have competition, but this year, six of the nine ID candidates are uncontested. The vote will take place at the Annual Convention in Mashantucket, CT in August.
Under prop A, IDs will work to strengthen our leadership track, which has garnered much criticism in recent years. They will also use surveys for each region, and members will be able to vote for officers and directors. District officers will be able to received enhanced, year-round, 24/7 training with e-learning through a Learning Management System (LMS). The LMS will store your information, with the first module available in July. Eventually this e-learning training will be available to club officers as well.
Attendance at regional conferences has declined every year. Since less than one percent of members attend, the proposal is to end regional conferences. Otherwise, our dues would increase. Currently, our dues do not pay for these conferences.
As she answered one of the questions from a member, she diplomatically and honestly stated, “I never knew as much as I thought I did.” She talked about how sometimes we make judgments about people without knowing all the facts, and feel ashamed when we learn the truth. I can relate to that.
I was surprised at how open and approachable Jana was, seeing her in person. I would imagine that someone at her level would not have the time to talk to all the members, but she started off her talk saying, “Make sure I connect with every one of you before we leave this weekend.” That made it seem like it would be OK to approach her. Throughout the conference I noticed her walking around, patting people, and just being very down-to-earth, and funny, too! For more about Jana, see the September 2008 issue of Toastmaster magazine.
Friday Fun Night
Friday night’s dinner included a speech from Chuck Blethen, DTM about wine etiquette. He explained the proper way to toast, and mentioned that the toast article in the Specialty Speeches Advanced Manual had some incorrect information. I don’t drink wine or champagne, but I learned that you are not supposed to clink glasses, and you’re not supposed to drink when someone is toasting you. Jana was a good sport, and that was Welch’s Sparking Grape in those glasses, but the way.
After Chuck was done, the Blue Moon Players performed a hilarious whodunit-style mystery theatre.
I attended some excellent educational sessions, a few of which I will highlight here. Unfortunately I had to miss some of them that ran concurrently, including one by Nicole Greer. I heard from someone I networked with that her presentation alone was worth the entire trip to Greensboro. At least we got to sit together at one of the dinners, and we are Twitter buddies now. 🙂
In Finding Value in Evaluation, Joy Lewis, M. Ed., DTM shared several nuggets about providing effective evaluations in our clubs. She provided some excellent do’s and don’ts, but I’ll just mention the thing that most stuck with me—alternate ways of evaluating. In our club, we normally do a “Tell and Sell” evaluation for two to three minutes, where you simply give your recommendations and comments, without any feedback from the speaker. In the “Tell and Listen” method, the speaker gets to respond to the evaluator’s comments and recommendations (which may mean you need to allow more than three minutes). In the Problem-Solving method, the evaluator asks the speaker to share their concerns before the speech. During the evaluation, the evaluator identifies the speaker’s strengths and problem areas by asking non-threatening questions. This is time-consuming, but effective if your goal is to produce better speakers. The latter two methods are something I’d like to try, as they are different, probably more challenging and effective, and will improve the speaker AND evaluator’s skills, along with benefiting the club, and improving their mental flexibility. This leads me to my next session.
Kevin Spaulding talked about Mental Flexibility. I am pretty much a straight thinker, and I do consider other ideas or opinions, but usually not for long. So what I learned from Kevin’s presentation is ways to see things from different perspectives, and switching from practical to non-practical thinking. He identified two models to help do this: the PIN model and HELP. If you take a statement or idea and apply the PIN model, you will list and consider the Positive, Interesting, and Negative aspects of the statement or idea. HELP stands for Humor, Engage with a child, Let it go, and Practice doing things differently. We could all stand to flex our mental muscle a bit.
Pat Jordan’s, DTM, PID presentation on Social Networking to Promote Club Growth was stimulating to me, partly because of her exuberance and enthusiasm, and partly because of how addicted I am to social networking. It’s great for someone like me who works at home full-time. Pat shared that 2/3 of the world’s internet population use social networks! She then explained how you can create a group on Facebook for your club, and use it to invite and draw in new members. Social networking is especially popular with young people ages 18-35, which is a demographic Toastmasters wants to see increase. With social networks, you can provide instant word of mouth contacts, and if you allow it in your settings, you can let your friends evangelize your message by sharing your Toastmasters events with them. Facebook will not take the place of your freetoasthost website, but you can link them.
On Saturday we had the pleasure of hearing from Jana’s husband, Robert E. Barnhill, JD, DTM, PIP, AS. Bob motivated us to be extraordinary in a powerful and inspiring speech. He said that it takes a change in perspective to discover your uniqueness. Any road will take you somewhere, but is that where you want to go?
He said that the What and Why of what we do doesn’t change, but it’s the How that is the differentiator. “We can do anything, but I cannot. We’re in the service business, and we must help each other succeed.
“One day the future will be the present, and the then the present will be the past. What do you want for your future? The long-term perspective is needed to make better decisions. If look at someone and ask yourself, “What were they thinking?,” chances are, they weren’t.
“Love someone not because they may love you back in return, but just because.
“Toastmasters can help you discover who you are inside. We can help you be who you want to be, and maximize your potential. There’s something inside each person that someone else needs.”
These were just in my notes, folks. It wasn’t the whole speech, but I had to share these jewels.
Jana Barnhill spoke one last time on Saturday night. She talked about how clubs are the heart of Toastmasters, and that we have to keep going and stick with it until we reach our goals, then help somebody else do it, too. She mentioned how she used to not be the great speaker she is now, but she had people in her club tell her how to improve. She talked about how she has seen people gain confidence who never had it before in their lives before joining Toastmasters and unleashing their potential.
Mike Minter, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, was the 2009 Communication and Leadership Award recipient at Saturday evening’s awards banquet. Mike probably could have earned a Humorous Speech award for his testimony about getting into pro football and facing his fears along the way. He said that sometimes people stop themselves from going after their dreams because of fear. Then he likened the Toastmasters family to the ground water of a tree, which helps the tree flourish from the roots up.
This was another funny, but inspiring speech—a great way to end the weekend and the conference.
My Journey Continues
I completed my CC this month and am the incoming VPE of my Toastmasters club, Western Branch #771 in Portsmouth, VA. As I write this, I am also considering an Area Governor position in Norfolk, VA. I never would have thought I would forge ahead on the Leadership track quicker than the Communication track, but I am going to go with the flow and take advantage of the best of what comes my way.
My goal this year is to complete a book I started working on six months ago, but then stopped. It’s a book that I hope will inspire girls and young women to put aside negative circumstances and do whatever they put their minds to. As Bishop T.D. Jakes said, “If you have achieved any level of success, then pour it into someone else. Success is not success without a successor.” I never really had a mentor, but I can be one.
I’m so glad to have met all of you in Greensboro. The journey continues—this is just the beginning!