August 27, 2005

Totally blown away

August 27, 2005 - Categories: !Uncategorized

I attended the 74th Annual Convention of Toastmasters International,
and the experience just totally blew me away. The quality of speech
was beyond anything I’d ever experienced. We had not only one
brilliant speaker but _ten_—eleven, really, including the extremely
capable and funny master of ceremonies. And that was just in the
morning!

And boy, Toastmasters are a _great_ audience. People were laughing,
people were cheering, people were energetic and out there. That
encouraged speakers to pour even more energy into their presentations.
Amazing stuff!

Each of us had evaluation sheets, and I struggled to score people who
were so far beyond my capabilities. After the first two speakers, I
knew I would probably end up giving everyone a perfect score. I just
didn’t know how to evaluate them! They all sounded and looked so fun,
so good… Seeing my distress, the gentleman on my right leaned
forward and whispered, “You don’t have to bother with numbers. There’s
usually a clear winner. Just see which speakers affect you the most.”

He then introduced himself as Richard Hockett. Throughout the rest of
the morning he deepened my appreciation of the contest by telling me
anecdotes about the contestants, like the way Lance Miller had
competed using the same basic idea two or three years ago, but had
been disqualified for going a heartbreaking fraction of a second
overtime.

When the judges announced that one of the contestants had disqualified
because of time, I groaned in sympathy. Could it be Lance? I liked
Lance’s speech the most. It was delightful and insightful, and if he
had lost for the second time because of a fraction of a
second… Awww!

But it was his lucky day today, and he was too professional to make
the same mistake twice. He won first place! We gave him a standing
ovation when it was announced, and another standing ovation at the end
of his speech. It was really cool.

The contest was an amazing experience. You _had_ to be there! The
contestants were masters at body language and theatrics, vocal variety
and speech organization. Amazing. Consummate actors, natural
comedians, inspired storytellers… They completely redefined my ideas
of a brilliant speech and gave me new role models. Wow. Well worth the
convention fee, even if I have to eat ramen for months.

In fact, I even sprung for the MP3 records of the entire convention,
sans speakers who didn’t give permission. Not the same as being there
and seeing everything, but at least I can be inspired by the content
_and_ the technique. Wow. I will think of it as a long-term
investment. I’ll need to keep telling myself that while I eat ramen
because of my totally blown budget… ;)

Richard and I chatted after the competition. Upon learning I’m from
the Philippines, he told me his wife came from Cebu, and casually
mentioned that Johnny Uy (our scintillating MC) is also married to a
Cebuana. (Lawrence Hughes will be pleased to know about that. It will
encourage him in one of his sinister conspiracies. ;) )

This large-hearted economics/speech/presentations professor then
proceeded to give me even more tips on public speaking. Really, I’m
amazed at how wonderful people are in Toastmasters, and how ready
people are to reach out and adopt this newbie. (“You’ve only been a
Toastmaster for a month? Wow!” “Yeah, I was really thrilled to find
out there was an international convention in Toronto! Perfect
timing!”)

After that exhilarating experience, I looked for people I knew. I
wandered around the lobby until I heard snatches of Tagalog. I
introduced myself and asked where I might find Gina, Charo’s friend.
Another woman turned to me and asked, “Chua? Are you the daughter of
John Chua?” As it turns out, she’s Tita Virgie’s sister, Irene! Had I
written Tita Irene earlier (which I would have had I not misplaced her
contact information… =|), I would have had the pleasure of meeting
them much earlier. Better late than never, though, and we all headed
out for some lunch.

The Filipinos were really nice! I thought they were going to a Thai
restaurant, and anything with the word “restaurant” in it would have
been even further out of my budget, so I tried to excuse myself and go grab a
hotdog instead. It turned out that they were just heading to the food
court in a nearby mall. When I offered to pay for my meal, though,
Marlon refused to hear of it and insisted on treating me to a chicken
teriyaki meal… Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!

It was great meeting other Filipino Toastmasters based in Toronto and
elsewhere. I finally got to talk to Gina (and, err, mistakenly picked
up her copy of the program). I also had a lot of fun chatting with
Tony Cortes, president of the Sick Kids Toastmasters Club. Sick Kids
Hospital is doing some really, really nice work, and I told him how I
wanted to volunteer to tell stories to kids. Turns out they’ve got a
regular reading hour set up, so I’ll get in touch with him and
volunteer to do that maybe once a week or once every two weeks.

After a fun lunch, we headed back to the convention center. I caught a
talk on organizing classrooms which stressed the importance of
establishing procedures to help make sure that a classroom runs
smoothly. I bought a book and I’m looking forward to e-mailing
insights from that to Mario Carreon and other teachers interested in
that sort of stuff. =) Then I caught another talk on influencing
people better by understanding what your filters are and what their
filters are. Randy Park had successfully made the jump from tech guy
to professional speaker and author, so I wrote him fan-mail on the
back of the suggestion form and submitted the form after the
presentation. Yay! Learned a lot!

Hitting the lobby after the convention, I mustered enough
self-confidence to smile and talk to people. For some reason or
another, Erastus Mongave (technical and community college teacher in
Delaware) and I started talking. When he found out I was just a
month-old Toastmaster, he laughed and introduced me to a friend who
joined Toastmasters 6 months ago and who thought he was the “youngest”
Toastmaster at the convention. We got a good laugh about that one, and
when his friend wandered off to other conversations, Erastus and I
talked about teaching. Another Toastmaster asked if she could take our
picture, introducing herself as Geetha Nicodemus from Dubai. Then Ari
Caylakyan wandered past (finally! someone from Toast I.T.!), and we
chatted about Sabah Dattu’s speech about Burj al-Arab, the seven-star
hotel in Dubai.

(Aha! I’m onto something here. The more I experience or learn, the
easier “small talk” becomes. Maybe that’s why older people don’t mind
small talk as much.)

Then Richard found me again, and I told him about the small-world
effect of finding out that the Cebuana he mentioned that morning is
the sister of a family friend. =) We chatted a bit more, and he
invited me to the Toastmasters karaoke party after the main dinner
event. I didn’t have a ticket to the dinner event, so Ari and I headed
off to the subway. Ari already had something else planned for the
evening, but I’m definitely not going to pass up the chance to hang
out with other Toastmasters some more.

Argh! Why didn’t I go for the dinner option? At first glance, USD 75
for a dinner that featured the installation of the 2005-2006 Board of
Directors was a bit pricey. Heck, at first glance, USD 110 for the
Saturday pass was pricey. But going for that—catching the first
circus, in the words of my parents—really paid off for me, and now
that I think about it, I should’ve signed up for dinner as well. I
wasn’t quite sure if I could make the most of it, but with the energy
I had from the convention and with such wonderful guides, I’m sure I
would have met many, many other fantastic people. Next time, Sacha,
cross the barriers of fear!

I still need to work on my introductions. Must get that active voice
introduction all fixed, and must trim my introductions down so that I
can quickly put the focus back on other people. But that was just
soooo much fun. I know today’s going to be one of those days I’ll look
back at and say “That was _totally_ cool.”

Last note: seven compliments on the red Thai pants. Kathy, I owe you
_tons_ for having such awesome taste. I need more of these pants. I
think it’s not just the cut, but the material. Shiny dark red stuff is
good for me.

Really last note: They don’t have easily-findable homepages… =( Hmm,
should mention this to Stephen Perelgut to get his insights on
personal/professional role separation.