I just attended the 2012 Toastmasters District 29 Conference, which occurred on Friday evening and all day on Saturday. It was held at the Westfields Marriot in Chantilly, VA, which was nicely accessible. Since it was my first Toastmasters conference, and many other people in my club, the Ashburn Toastmasters Club, have also never been to one, I decided to write an after-action report to convey what the conference was like.
The Friday evening keynote was by Geoffrey Abbott, a former Chief Technology Officer of the Coast Guard. The focus of his talk was on the benefits of encouraging innovation from the middle. He described how organizations could be more effective by empowering the people closest to critical problems to make innovative decisions.
One of his most effective examples was a heart-wrenching story from the Coast Guard’s Katrina mission. He described how helicopters delivered rescue divers to remote flooded areas to help find and rescue flood survivors. With limited fuel, however, the helicopters would sometimes have to leave the diver in place while they flew off to refuel.
In one instance, a helicopter left a rescue diver on the roof of a flooded house. Upon returning, the helicopter crew found the rescue diver to be extremely agitated and upset. The water was almost to the crown of the house’s roof. A family had been trapped in the attic, and had drowned because the diver had no way to get to them. He simply couldn’t get through the roof.
Upon returning to base, the helicopter crew acquired, on their own initiative and at their own expense, every fire axe they could find and equipped their helicopter and others with them. Following their lead, numerous other Coast Guard helicopter crews, as well as crews from other military services, did the same thing. This was an example of innovation from the middle.
Needless to say, it was an interesting, inspiring and often riveting talk.
Friday also featured the culmination of the Evaluation Contest, as well as the debut of a new event for team debates. With the Evaluation Contest, a model speaker presents a short talk. The contestants are then sequestered in another room, while one by one, the contestants return to provide a 2 to 3-minute evaluation of the speaker’s talk. A team of judges then decides which contestant was most effective in coaching the speaker.
Next, the debate pitted two 5-man teams against each other, and featured prepared speeches from both sides, counter speeches from both sides and one-on-one cross examinations. Unique and very interesting. Clearly a lot of work on both sides, but it looked like it definitely exercised some speaking skills that aren’t normally exercised in Toastmasters. Expect to see more of this in the future. The guy behind the event, Isaiah McPeak from Leesburg, has been asked to rewrite the Toastmasters manual on debates.
Saturday’s morning keynote was from former Redskin (and Pittsburgh Steeler) Antwaan Randall El. He gave an inspirational talk about the power of giving. He spoke about how writing a check for a charity was a fine thing, but noted how much better you’d feel if you actually spent some time and effort physically helping your favorite charity. You too could make a change in someone’s life. It was so inspirational that he got a standing ovation from the crowd. It also turns out that he’s in Toastmasters himself, and attends a club in Leesburg. How cool is that?
Saturday’s luncheon speaker was Aneesh Chopra, former U.S. Chief Technology Officer. He described, at great length, how various information technologies are being used to provide a more transparent government that is increasing responsive and accountable to citizens. I believe his talk was supposed to be about 10 minutes long rather than the 50-minute extravaganza that he pulled out of his hat. Unless you were an IT professional like me, much of the talk went right over the heads of most of the audience. As a speaker, the moral here is that you should know your audience.
Saturday also featured breakout educational sessions on various topics. I attended one on effective storytelling and another one on how to get published in today’s market. Both were by recognized industry experts in the field. There were several other topics available as well.
Next up, Toastmasters business. Awards and election stuff. Lovely Lall is our new Division D Governor, replacing Edmond Joe. Mo Hamilton is our new District 29 Governor, replacing Shue Bartholomew. Mo becomes the second governor for District 29 since we split off (like an amoeba) from the overly large District 27 a year ago.
[For those who aren’t aware of this, our Ashburn Toastmasters Club is one of 5 in Area 45, which is part of Division D. There are 5 divisions within District 29. Our district is part of Region 7]
The day culminated with the District-level International speech contest. Five top-notch contestants presented some excellent speeches, with the winner going to represent our district at the annual Toastmasters International Conference in Florida.
I had a lot of fun at the event, met a lot of fellow Toastmasters and picked up some great speaking tips from people who were more practiced at public speaking than myself.
It was a lot of fun, and, at $95 including Saturday’s lunch, I thought it was remarkably cheap (particularly compared to what events in the IT field typically cost).