By Janet Fuchek

Gambling, shows, and an exciting nightlife - that's what Las Vegas might be known for, but from Aug. 17-20, it took on another dimension - the site of the 80th annual Toastmasters International Convention at Bally's Las Vegas Hotel.

Toastmasters International is a worldwide organization that fosters communication (public speaking) and leadership skills. About 2,100 people from around the globe converged at the conference to talk, listen, and learn, making it the highest number of participants at a World Toastmasters Convention since it was held in Las Vegas 18 years ago. What an amazing networking opportunity for Toastmasters and their guests!

The event kicked off on Aug. 17 with a panel discussion featuring international officers, directors, and regional advisors for the organization. They shared their experiences and insights on ways Toastmasters could get involved in leadership from the club to district levels. Afterwards, the Toastmasters International Board of Directors informed the membership of recent actions and decisions, giving an overview of the group's strategic plan and vision for the future.

The convention's first educational session was entitled "Lose the Excuses," where Linda Henley-Smiths dealt with a number of issues, including how to use humor to cope with challenges and how to move past excuses to be successful. Next on the agenda was speaker Johnny Campbell, an Accredited Speaker with his Distinguished Toastmaster distinction, who enlightened the audience with his talk on "Accredited Speakers' Secrets Revealed: Strategies for Earning the Highest Communication Designation in Toastmasters."

A popular first-timers' gathering ensued, where those attending their first Toastmasters International Convention were welcomed to the event and were briefed on it. At the Opening Ceremonies that followed, a Parade of Flags wowed the crowd, while a "State of the Organization" report by TM International President for 2010-2011, Pat Johnson, a DTM from Victoria, B.C., took care of business. Stand-up comedian and fellow TM, Dan Nainan, made the audience laugh with his comedy routine at the Opening Ceremonies, while Dr. Dave Logan, Ph.D., delivered a keynote presentation called, "Tribal Leadership: How to Build a Thriving Organization." Everyone in attendance received a copy of his book, Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization." The long line-up of fans for photos and autographs after the Opening Ceremonies was a testament to the popularity of these two guest speakers. Starting that evening, three days of Candidates' Receptions took place, giving people a chance to meet international officer and director candidates for office.

On Day 2 of Toastmasters' action, the morning began with a Hall of Fame event, where TM International's top performers were honored for their achievements over the past year. Other educational sessions were held, giving participants unique learning opportunities. They included the following presentations: Dana LaMon's "E is for Excellence in Speaking and Leading"; Mark Hunter's "On Life's Journey - Get Lost!"; Karen Baetzel's "Cockpit Communication Lessons That Work Anywhere"; and Byron Embry's "Leadership Assassination: There is a 'Hit Man' out for Your Character." Another highlight of the day were the nine International Speech Contest Semifinals, where the winners of each section advanced to the finals on Aug. 20. An Advisory Committee of Past Presidents' luncheon also took place on Aug. 18.

The next morning candidates for international office showcased their attributes during presentations to Convention delegates, followed by a Past Officers' and Directors' luncheon and more educational sessions. The crowd was treated to the following presentations: Darren LaCroix's "Speak Outside of Toastmasters for Fun, Profit & Club Building"; Craig Duswalt's "RockStar System for Success - How to Achieve RockStar Status in Your Industry"; Sindy Martin's "Smartin' Up Your Professionalism: Displaying Proper Etiquette"; Sandy Costa's "Humanity at Work - The Leadership Key to Spirit, Excellence, Loyalty and Engagement in the Workforce"; Mohammad Al-Issa's "Quickly Learn the Art of Communication"; and Cathy Newton's "Innovation in Full Swing: Flip Change-Resistance into a Change-Ready Mindset." Wow! What a lot to learn!

At the sold-out Golden Gavel Dinner later that evening, Robin Sharma of Toronto, Ontario, received the Golden Gavel distinction, which is the top honor the organization awards to non-Toastmasters that has been presented annually since 1959 to recognize recipients in the fields of communication and leadership. The founder of Sharma Leadership International Inc. is a leadership and management specialist with two law degrees who advises Fortune 500 CEO's. He has written 11 best-selling books on the international scene, including The Leader Who Had No Title. His charisma and expertise attracted a crowd following after the dinner in his honor.

It was an 8 a.m. start for the final day of the conference on Aug. 20. The early rising was well worth it, as nine contestants took to the stage for the International Speech Contest Finals. The learning experience for both the audience and speakers probably made up for any lack of sleep. A few hours later, the 2011 World Champion of Public Speaking was crowned, with the title awarded to Jock Elliott of Bongaree, Queensland, Australia, District 69, for his speech entitled, "Just So Lucky." Kwong Yue Yang of Guangzhou, Guangdong, China, District 85, came in second with his talk, "Fortune Cookie," while Scott Pritchard of Henderson, NV, District 33, claimed third with his inspiring presentation, "Roscoe's Words."

The 2011 Taped Speech Winners - all from Nairobi, Kenya - were also acknowledged, including top contestant Rozmina Rana, second-place finisher Okoth Okombo and third-place competitor Sonali S. Shah. Another person recognized at the conference was Distinguished Toastmaster Connor Cunnlen, who became an Accredited Speaker. Afterwards, The Annual Business Meeting took place, where members elected international officers and directors and voted on critical issues. Regional Gatherings gave Toastmasters a chance to mingle, while later that evening the President's Dinner Dance provided a memorable conclusion to a successful conference. Past International President Gary Schmidt, a Distinguished TM, facilitated the installation of newly elected officers and directors.

Next year's 81st International Convention will be held in Orlando, Fla., from Aug. 15-18, 2012, at the Hilton Bonnet Creek, where District 84 will play hosts to the event.





























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