Monday, August 22, 2011

Toastmasters Monday: The 2011 Convention

I'm baaa-aaack....!

A delay in my flight brought me home in the wee hours of today, vs. last night. After 5 days in Vegas, or at least inside of the Bally's hotel, I'm glad to be home. I have so much to talk about - I could write a post a day on the convention. Since most of my readers are NOT Toastmasters, however, I will refrain, and simply do a quick run-down on everything from the politics to the pomp and circumstance to the contests.

2011 World Champion
Jock Elliott

I didn't place in my semi-final. Other than my disqualification in 2005 for time, I had always taken 1st or 2nd in the semi round, so this is a new feeling. The person I thought had won took second, Michael Desiderio. Kwong Yue Yang won the contest, and finished 2nd in the finals, to Jock Elliott. I did not attend the finals - but I give all credit to Jock, who has competed for 27 years, and been to the Finals 6 times. Jock - you're finally done, and on top after all this time! (Jock and I shared the Finals stage in 2006 and 2008 - technically I 'beat' him in 2006 by taking 3rd....hmm, does that, not really!)

I learned a lot this year, and saw a lot of differences in the new format of semis vs. Regions. A difference in judging, in speech quality, in energy. Still, I think the new format is fair to all involved. Results are always debatable in such a subjective contest.


 2011 Int'l President
Michael Notaro
Our organization has a LOT of politics - and I've been vocal in the past about my likes and dislikes. Still, my overall feel after the business meeting is that we are being served as best as possible by our fellow Toastmasters on the Board of Directors. Their intent is in our best interests, even as they are unable to please everyone all the time.

The more I hear about Dan Rex, our organization head, the more I am convinced he is a calm and reasonable man with a love for the organization, as opposed to the megalomaniac he is occasionally portrayed as on LinkedIn by dissatisfied members. Our new President, Michael Notaro, is a good man, and a friend - I'm sure we'll continue to make progress over the next 12 months toward the betterment of TI.


Yes, dues went up, and people are ticked. The Board admitted up front they could have announced it in a better way than they did. That horse is out of the barn. If you're a member of one club, and can't save an extra $1.50/month for Toastmasters, frankly, it's not important enough to you, or you probably should be spending your money elsewhere. I know what it's like to be broke - so this doesn't come from a viewpoint of wealthy entitlement. If you're a member of multiple clubs, and can afford them now, you can probably save that 1.50 a week to stay in your four clubs. One less coffee, 6 less cigarettes, one less fast food burger. Or drop a club and just attend - they'll probably be happy to have you be a part of their group anyway, if you are providing value and have another group (or four) that you regularly attend.

TI membership may see a lull this year - hopefully the board took those risk factors into account.


Honestly - I'm not a fan. The logo is growing on me a bit, but I am a traditionalist, and the gavels and such on the old logo were great. But I'm not exactly in their target audience anymore, and the new colors and graphics will likely work just fine.

The Leadership push, however, leaves me frustrated in three ways.

1. We are no more a leadership organization today than we were a week ago. The rebrand to 'Where Leaders are Made' was not accompanied by a new program, manual set, etc.

2. Speaking seems to be secondary now, a component of leadership, instead of an end in itself. We used to be a speaking organization. Then we became a Communication and Leadership group. Now we're a Leadership Training Professional Organization, where speaking is but a cog in a bigger machine.

3. Our marketing will be a bait and switch. Come be a leader, we say. But once you enter a meeting, it's 85% speaking, 15% leading. The focus of the club, the format, the activities, are all centered on speeches and speaking, with leadership facilitating the speaking. Now our branding implies the opposite. What will companies and individuals think after finding out the reality behind the brand?

For me, I'd like to see our leadership component strengthened, certainly, and sit side-by-side with speaking. Equal parts to a bigger cause - Changing the World Through Leadership and Communication. But that's too long for a business card, I suppose.

The Convention Itself...

Well put together, strong ed sessions, and, for the most part, uplifting. Dr. Dave Logan was wonderful as a speaker in the Opening Ceremony - good message on the Invention of Ideas as a Speaker being a lost art. Toastmasters gave each of us a copy of his book, Tribal Leadership, as part of the rebranding push toward leadership.

The other major speaker, Robin Sharma, our Golden Gavel recipient, left me cold. Full of platitudes and cliches, it seemed like he was trying to get in and out of the event as quickly as possible. Equally disappointing was the applause he received in the middle of his speech for the use of a particularly hackneyed story about putting a puzzle together from a torn up magazine page, where the little kids say "put the person together on the other side of the page, and the world comes together on the other side". Groan. We as Toastmasters should be a bit more discerning....

Still, a tremendous experience over 4 days. Eye-opening in many ways. For first-timers, they were able to truly appreciate the breadth of our organization, both geographically and educationally.

In Closing...

Toastmasters is a wonderful organization that does a tremendous amount of good for over 200,000 people around the globe each day. It has its shortcomings, its detractors, and its 'haters'. Any organization made of people, and making a difference, WILL. It means that you're doing something right. It may not be perfect - but I know of no other organization that does more for less than Toastmasters - and I'm proud to be a member.


  1. Rich,
    Yet another well written blog. As a fellow long time Toastmaster, this blog is important to me. Keep up you high standards of excellence.
    --Dave Ross

  2. Great post, Rich.

    Comprehensive, balanced, journalistic in style. Well done.

    John Zimmer

  3. Rich, very well written and concise. I liked reading your thoughts about the convention and what went on behind the scenes. I do have a regret, not getting to meet you. Maybe I'll have the pleasure in Orlando.

  4. I made it a point to get to Semi-Final #4 which featured you Rich and Kwong who was in my semi-final Group #5 in 2010 along with Lisa Panarello, the only female finalist last year. Since I have lurked around your column and comments I was stoked to hear you live. Thoroughly enjoyed your presentation and the take away "Who wants to play with you?" And I remember Kwong either was 2nd or 3rd in our semi group last year. The whole feel of International semis is different and, in my opinion, harder than regionals to International finals. Hope to catch you again next year in Orlando and maybe have the gumption to shake your hand this time.

    Judith Kidd

  5. Rich, I totally agree with you on all your major points, but first a minor correction. Jock Elliot was in the Semi-Final (previously known as InterDistrict) contest 8 times and advanced to the Finals 6 times (not 5. I know because he won my heat in Calgary in 2008.)

    My problem with rebranding isn't so much the new logo or the new badges which people rightly complain about because they're hard to read (and printed rather than engraved). My problem is with the new emphasis on "leadership" in place of "communication."

    First of all, imagine a tagline that said, "Where speakers are made" or "Where scholars are made" or "Where movie stars are made." Cars are made. Sausages are made. Who wants to join an organization that thinks of you as a product?

    More importantly, Toastmasters clubs meet a few hours a month. It's an ideal format for members to practice doing something like giving speeches and receiving evaluations. How can leadership be practiced in that format? I talked to top leadership in Las Vegas. They are NOT equating leadership to club officers (or higher admin positions in the organization) - which is good because we all know that how difficult it is to recruit officers. Besides, changing leadership each year in a volunteer organization is hardly the best training for becoming a leader in the real world. The bad news is as far as I can tell, they are thinking about leadership projects OUTSIDE of the clubs. That COULD work in corporate clubs, but I can't envision the logistics in regular clubs.

    Until and unless Toastmasters can demonstrate a viable program for "making" leaders, people won't join to become better leaders. They WILL join to become better speakers, and we've got 80 years of success to prove it.

    The rollout of the new dues (which even the highest directors admit they didn't handle well) and the controversial rebranding reminds me of how Congress had plenty of lead time to deal with increasing the debt ceiling but shot themselves in the foot because they couldn't get it together before time ran out. The irony for Toastmasters is that this failure of leadership undermines the very credibility of the new tagline.

  6. Thanks for the comments Cap'n! Course, I do list Jock as a six time finalist - beating John Howard's record of five...though I know another prominent blogger lists him as 5... ;)

  7. For us the problem is that the same year we changed place of the meeting, more expensive and fees go up, just hoping no one will go away because higher membership fees.

    I mostly dislike the idea of TM making leaders, as if they do, that is mostly for voluntary organizations where one leads on committees. I really not like the new CL manual which I did finish and yes, learned to chair a contest but not much more.

    Love Ralph Smidley's spirit of experimenting, never the same, let us hope that is somehow which will continue.

    The Tribal book is difficult to read and understand but I am working through it. If we adopt some of its ideas, we should have been more consulted BEFORE the branding and it should have been done more transparently with imput of all clubs and members not in secret behind the scene.

    Also there is a culture of who is more important, who seats with the winners, with the leaders of leaders, and so on, that I did not appreciate at the Convention. I would have also liked some more informal gatherings. As someone 77 and with cataract on my eyes, I felt it was not easy to go see nearer.

    The level of speeches was high and wonderful, and I prefered personaly the woman who went over time and the Kwong, for the finals. Did not even remember, what the finalist price 1 said, after the contest, had to look again to the published video to remember him.

    It was a great event and wonderful Workshops, I attended each time to as many as possible, and also learned how it works. Mostly, it was a great pleasure to speak to so many Toastmasters from all over the world!!! I was impressed how many we were and were present in the Vegas conference.

    My best memories are from Hunter's workshop "be an explorer not a tourist" what a great natural speaker! And of a young girl who offered me at a bus stop, after a few minutes of chatting a monkey.



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