Positive About Presenting

Positive About Presenting

What's it like to be a presenter
at the International Convention

By Paul Sterman

This year’s International Convention featured education sessions led by a range of experts on leadership and communication. Attendees reaped many benefits from their tips and insights. But the presenters say they, too, benefited from their Convention experiences.

“All I can say is it was really a peak experience for me,” says Connie Merritt, who led a session on time management.

She and other presenters enjoyed the rewards of speaking at such a large event with a diverse international audience. More than 1,600 people attended the 2010 Convention, held August 11-14 in Palm Desert, California.

“People came from South Africa, Indonesia, Europe,” notes Merritt, a time mananagement expert who has spoken at the Convention several times over the years. “To see people come from so far cements the fact that Toastmasters is important to people. This is their family, this is their community.

“The Convention is just a wonderful event. There’s nothing else like it.”

Sheryl Roush, a DTM and Accredited Speaker, explored the topic of creativity and charisma in her session. For her, the highlight of speaking at the International Convention was addressing such a culturally diverse audience. It’s a challenge, she says, because “as a presenter, it’s critical to remember that just because you’re American, your audience is not – audience members come from all walks of life, all belief systems, and all cultures.”

A Toastmaster for 23 years, she adds that if you’re someone who wants to make a difference in the world – as she does – this is the kind of place you want to speak at. “It is a huge reward – a challenge and a reward simultaneously,” says Roush.

It’s not just a pleasure to speak at the Convention, presenters say, it’s an opportunity to attend the event and meet new people.

“I had a great time,” says Todd Newton, a veteran television host who delivered the opening-night keynote speech. “From the moment I set foot in the resort, I saw people networking and introducing themselves to each other. It was a powerful experience.”

“My living is made in television, performing in Las Vegas and through my personal coaching organization, so I certainly didn’t consider the Convention work in any way,” he adds. “It was an opportunity for me, like everybody else, to grow and to network.” 

A Toastmasters Triumph
For Lynne Brasher, DTM, the 2010 Convention represented a personal triumph. A Toastmaster since 2001, she has served in many leadership roles within her club and district. So when her application to speak at this year’s Convention was accepted, she was thrilled with the opportunity and nervous at the same time.

Although an experienced presenter and expert on the topic of leadership, Brasher had never spoken to an audience as large as the one attending her Convention session. By the time she arrived at the hotel, the butterflies in her stomach were fluttering at full speed.

“I was so jittery, I couldn’t sit still,” says Brasher, a member of the Centurion Toastmasters at American Express in Phoenix, Arizona.

But when she delivered her presentation about particular leadership concepts, everything went very well, leaving the Toastmaster feeling exhilarated. “It was amazing,” she says. “There was such a great crowd; everyone was interested and responsive.”

The successful experience boosted her confidence as a speaker. “I felt after that session like I could conquer anything,” says Brasher, a manager of business analytics for American Express Business Travel. “Now I’m ready to do this again and again.” 

Toastmasters Know How to Listen
Like Brasher, the other presenters point out the high quality of  Toastmasters audiences. Terri Langhans, whose session offered a host of strategies to improve one’s marketing efforts, says she was curious about speaking in front of Toast-masters since she herself is not a member. She says she was impressed with how receptive the crowd was.

“People were so polite and genuine,” says Langhans, a member of the National Speakers Association who has earned its designation of Certified Speaking Professional. “I know where to expect laughs in my presentation and I was getting great laughs where I was expecting them – and even some in spots where there typically might only be chuckles.”

Roush also notes how appreciative and generous audience members are. “When people come up afterward and say ‘thank you,’ which people did to me the rest of the Convention, or they want their photo taken with you, it’s truly an honor,” she says. “They are saying in effect, ‘You touched me so deeply, I want to cherish this memory.’”

In his opening-night speech, Newton spoke about how people can reach their full potential and achieve more confidence, greater success and a healthier lifestyle. A personal development coach, he found it gratifying that so many people shared their own stories with him and also told him how his words had helped them.

“It really warmed my heart to hear of the individual choices people made in their relationships and in their lifestyles and careers,” says Newton, a member of the Quincy Toastmasters in Quincy, Massachusetts. “One woman said that in the last 90 days she had completely walked away from an established career because it no longer brought her happiness. Even in this economy she had switched to a different career because it brought her greater fulfillment and happiness.” 

“Poster Child” for a Smooth Operation
Merritt says she was impressed by how well-run the Convention was, which made things much easier for speakers. Every need was attended to, she says.

“When you’re a speaker, you hope that meetings are run well, but many times it’s a disappointment, because organizers don’t have enough help. They don’t know what they don’t know. But this Convention was the poster child for how events are supposed to be run.

“I’ve spoken at maybe 750, 800 conventions – a lot of annual conventions, a lot of meetings. And this one stands out.”

In the end, says Newton, presenters and Convention audiences all shared a common aim. “We were all there essentially for the same reason – to be the best speaker we possibly can,” he says. “I don’t see how anyone could have left the desert not feeling more empowered, and without the burning desire to get up behind a lectern and speak.” 

Paul Sterman is an associate editor for the Toastmaster magazine and a member of Le Gourmet Toastmasters in Costa Mesa, California.

Toastmasters International is looking for experienced and dynamic speakers interested in presenting at the 2011 Convention, to be held August 17-20 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Speaking slots are available for the communication and leadership education sessions, as well as the keynote. To be considered, applicants must complete a Convention Speaker Submission form and provide a video sample. The application is posted at: http://www.toastmasters.org/speakersubmission. The deadline for applications is January 28, 2011.

If you know someone who is not a Toastmaster but would be a good fit, please let them know about the submission process.