Club Ambassador Program

Normally I don’t have good things to say about the current District 30 leadership, due to the current District Governor and to the lesser extent, the Lt. Governor of Education and Training.  But there is a recent initiative brought up by Joan Moore, the Lt. Governor of Marketing, that I think is an excellent idea which should have been thought of years ago.  It is the Club Ambassador Program, which is designed to encourage District 30 Toastmaster members to not only visit other clubs but to both contribute to the visiting club and to learn something from them.

The member visiting another club brings a form, which can be obtained through here, enter whatever roles the member took at the meeting, get it signed by the visiting club officer, and list at least three things either unique about the club or what the member learned from them.  Each visit counts towards “Ambassador Points”, with bonuses for taking meeting roles, giving a speech and visiting a club that has yet to charter.

If a member submitted at least three visit forms, that person will be recognized as a Club Ambassador at an upcoming District 30 Conference.  The person with the most Ambassador Points by April 30th could be named Ambassador of the Year.

I would say that this is highly recommended for members who have given a few speeches in their home club and want to stretch out of the “four walls” of the club without competing in a contest.  Or for members who are curious about how other Toastmaster clubs work, either after completing all the meeting roles at their home club or serving as a current club officer.

The only thing I don’t like about this program is that Area and Division Governors are allowed to participate.  There are a handful of current Area Governors and at least one Division Governor that have visited multiple clubs outside of their responsibility even before they started their current terms, and have continue to do so this Toastmasters year.  That doesn’t encourage the rest of AGs and DivGs to compete and may even affect Area Governor or Division Governor of the Year awards, where visibility could triumph over meeting and exceeding their actual roles and responsibilities.

Anyway, I do commend Joan Moore for introducing this initiative to District 30 and would encourage Toastmaster members who have the time and curiosity to try this program out.

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Is this “change we can believe in”?

Hard to believe that there is only a month and a half till the Fall District 30 Conference to be held on November 5th and 6th at the William Tell Holiday Inn in Countryside.  Looking at the conference website, it appears District 30 is addressing a few problems from the last conference, such as those mentioned in my own entry, showing I’m not alone in having major issues from that event.

First the Conference Chair is NOT a current District 30 officer, but a past Conference Chair in Stella Lorens.  She ran the 2007 Fall Conference which many considered one of the best District 30 conferences ever (one of the few I did not attend at all during my time in Toastmasters).  She also created the “Advisory Council for Events”, which during the last conference I wondered if it really had any substance, so for this one she may actually put their recommendations to use.

Second the conference schedule is altered dramatically from the previous one, actually starting early Friday afternoon with a session on being a professional speaker.  They reduced the number of events, such as eliminating the Youth Leadership showcase and new club recognition, reducing from three sets of breakout sessions to two, and no late evening entertainment.  The most radical change to the schedule was moving the District 30 Humorous Speech contest from Saturday evening to late in the afternoon – the catch is the contest results won’t be unveiled until the evening portion of the conference!  Some will be very disappointed that it is not part of the evening entertainment, plus it would be hard for the contest personnel to hide the results for several hours.  However having the Humorous Speech contest early may be the best way to get the contest started on time as I don’t remember seeing that happen in any Saturday evening contest.

My question now which I haven’t had the chance to ask anyone directly is if the conference committee consists mostly of those who are not currently District 30 officers.  That was a major concern in the last conference and it appeared then that multitasking and risking burnout are “badges of honor” in District 30, proving that a few in D30 may win but the rest of D30 loses as a result!  Already I noticed one Facebook friend who is a current Division Governor bragging that he is helping out the Fall Conference after serving as Education Chair in the last conference, while at the same time was a current Area Governor running for Division Governor.  That should raise a red flag that even if that person is somehow capable of doing all of that and have some sort of a life outside of Toastmasters.  The people serving in critical conference roles such as Education Chair and Facilities Chair should be those who will spend their conference time exclusively in their conference roles and not hobnobbing with their Area or Division constituents that come with being an Area or Division Governor, nor take part in the politics in District 30 that take place at the business meeting and discussed throughout the conference.  I truly believe that if that was the case in the last conference, the outcome would have been much better than it turned out!

So will this conference be the “change we can believe in”?  It’s very likely I won’t attend this at all after being totally soured from the previous one (plus I do have an excuse, at least for the Saturday evening portion as my singles golf group has their end of the season dinner dance at the same time).  So I would have to hear from others who did attend, maybe find out instantly through Twitter or Facebook.  But if there is anyone I can trust to fix what ails the District 30 conferences, it would be Stella Lorens.  I wish her the best of luck and hope the event turns out all right.

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Should contest judges be anonymous?

A few weeks ago, Bill Bishop put an entry in LinkedIn’s The Official Toastmasters International Members Group on the following:

Is it Toastmaster International official policy that contest judges are to remain anonymous?

He actually put forth this question to research for Addressing the Opposition speech in the Persuasive Speaking manual he gave at one of his clubs, so he wanted to find out from other Toastmasters outside his local district if there really is a rule and if it was necessary to keep the judges anonymous.

If you checked the contest rulebook, there is no mention in any contest about judges either remaining anonymous or if/when they are to be introduced as individuals or as a whole.  So it implied that it is up to the contest personnel to determine on judges anonymity.  However, it appears each district have consistent practices on this and District 30 is no different.  In fact judges anonymity went from one end to another within one year!

Prior to the 2003-2004 Toastmasters year, it was common for the Chief Judge in a District 30 Area/Division/District contests to introduce each judge (except the tiebreaker) individually when that person reviews the rules prior to the contest.  That was done to make sure the judges were spread apart so they did not look at each other’s ballots to influence their own judgment.  In fact some of the contest documentation that District 30 used at that time, such as this I have from 2002, did indicate introducing the judges.

During the 2003-2004 Toastmasters year, the District 30 Governor at that time appointed a District Contest Chair, primarily for political reasons as the person he appointed was a two-time unsuccessful candidate for Lt. Governor of Marketing whom he wanted to showcase at whatever way possible.  Several times at presentations about contests, the District Contest Chair mentioned she was told by Toastmasters International that the contest judges should no longer be introduced and must remain anonymous throughout the duration of the contest.  Not sure anyone questioned that or have pointed out that the rules did not indicate anything about judges anonymity, though the District Contest Chair had been someone that did not take well any questioning or criticism of anything she does.  Nevertheless, all Contest Chairs and Chief Judges that year followed this plan to keep judges anonymous.

When the District 30 Contest Chair eventually became the District 30 Lt. Governor of Education and Training in 2006, she went even further on judges anonymity.  At the Fall contests she attended, she badgered the Chief Judge, the contest judges and the Ballot Counters on getting the judges to not raise their ballots so no one else in the audience could tell who the judges were.  She acted like she was going to panic if that did not happen, to the point I told her she was going overboard and should not “sweat the small stuff”.  She did hold that off during the Spring contests but contest judges remained anonymous.

However when I was judge for the 2010 District 30 Table Topics contest, the Chief Judge of that contest wanted to do the same thing and wasn’t happy when I told her during the briefing that I did mention in my blog that I was going to be a judge.  I told her she was wasting her time dealing with the “small stuff” and being overwhelmed with her duties she moved on to cover the rest of the briefing.

There are merits for Contest Chairs and Chief Judges to keep the judges anonymous, mainly not to be held accountable for the judges’ identities if a contestant had a problem with the results and accused the judges of screwing up the contest.  Then again from what I’ve seen in the past, if the contestant had such a problem, that person generally did not take defeat well and would find some other person or thing to blame for not winning.

I believe that it should be up to the Contest Chair to decide if the judges be anonymous or not.  Perhaps the Contest Chair wants to give public recognition to those who have the unenviable task to determining the contest winner, especially if all the contestants were superb to the point where there was no clear winner.  If we give recognition to Toastmaster members for anything they’ve done, from giving their Icebreaker to serving as International President, why not contest judges?  After all they can be the most critical part of a speech contest!

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His website is back!

District 30’s own Mike Raffety, who just finished his term as International Director from Region V, reactivated his website earlier this month as he is making a run for Second Vice President of Toastmasters International for the 2011-2012 year.  As International Director, he was told by TI two years ago to deactivate his website as there was a policy prohibiting board members from having their own Toastmasters website.  His blog is also back and Mike has been updating often with maps and statistics (he is the ultimate expert on compiling that) related to Toastmasters, as well as notes from the International Convention that was held two weeks ago.

At least three other candidates are running for 2nd VP next year, as Mike mentioned in his Saturday lunchtime entry during the convention.  Whether you plan on supporting Mike or not (I’m not supporting or endorsing anyone yet), his website will provide very useful information for anyone who wants to learn more about how Toastmasters International works.

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Fundamental changes needed for District 30 conferences

I would consider the last District 30 Spring Conference to be the most disappointing among those I’ve attended over the years, and that included the one which I was humiliated as Contest Chair.  Not because there wasn’t a “Tea Party” victory in which the rejected candidates did get elected to the Top 2 positions for the 2010-2011 year.  It was because the execution of the conference was rather poor in my view, at least when I was in attendance Friday and Saturday nights, in particular the Saturday night portion.

When I arrived at the conference site for Saturday’s portion of the conference, it was 6pm and dinner was supposed to start.  After hearing from a conference co-chair that the ceremonies after the dinner will take place at 7:15pm, I headed to the restaurant hotel and grabbed a bite to eat, encountering several Toastmasters and talking about numerous topics.  When I went to the main conference room at 7pm, the servers were only handing out salad!  Looks like it would be a while before anything else will be taking place.

More people were waiting outside of the main room as time was approaching 8pm and only then the people were starting to eat their main dishes (8pm was supposed to have the District 30 International Speech Contest).  Many, including contestants and their families, were impatiently waiting for the dinner to conclude and the contest to start.  Almost 8:30pm, some speaking started.  Those who didn’t have the dinner were told to move to a spillover room to watch live footage in the main room.  Then, Past International Director Dietmar Wagenknecht was introduced and all of a sudden there was a “This is Your Life” skit that was supposed to be a surprise for him.  NOWHERE in the program indicated that this was supposed to go on, which did take half an hour.

9pm came and there was the DTM ceremony.  Unlike last Fall in which it was well coordinated, many of us were waiting for several minutes for any of the 7 to show up on stage and get the “high fives” from the previous DTMs.  After that, 9:30pm came and there were supposed to be two more things going on before the contest – the installation of new District 30 officers and to recognized the Conference Committee.  But without any indication that these two events were going to be deferred till later, the International Speech Contest took place!  After the contest was over at 10:30pm, announcements were made that the other two events will take place afterward and those not interested are free to leave.

Only a third of the contest audience remained, the 2010-2011 District 30 elected officers were inducted, the District Governor elect gave his presentation and the Conference Committee were recognized.  I left around 11pm while the committee recognition was going to start.  Well there was supposed to be one more thing that was supposed to start at 9:30pm till midnight according to the program – evening entertainment called “Saturday Night Live with Toastmasters”.  Doubt anyone could stick around after 11pm as many were “conferenced-out”!

OK, there was all this hype months before the conference about how much work and people were behind the event.  There was this hype shown in the Barry & Jerry Show that had videos out in YouTube claiming that this conference was going to be one of the best ever.  Many in the conference committee were part of previous conferences and had a lot of experiences and lessons learned.  We have a so-called “Advisory Council for Events” the last two years that is “committed to the development of conferences and TLIs from one event to the next”.  So why with all these things in place it appeared we were taking many steps back with this last conference?

I look at three fundamental areas in which District 30 officers and conference chairs need to address, failing to do that could cause more problems such as this one:

1) Conference personnel – The conference chair, one of the co-chairs, both contest co-chairs, the facilities chair and the educational chair also served as either Area or Division Governor.  Not only that but 4 of them who were Area Governors were also running for Division Governor at the conference.  I mentioned a couple of years ago that those handling two or three major Toastmaster roles could result in neglecting one or all of their roles.  And since they were close to District 30 politics and may have had their opinions on the top leadership, the election results could have affected their morale – which I did notice Saturday night.  Perhaps if we had people in critical conference roles that did not have other significant Toastmaster responsibilities and were not deeply embedded in Toastmaster politics or personal ambitions, we would have a team solely dedicated to delivering a great conference and can adequately deal with any situation during the event.

2) Transparency when the schedule changes – No matter what steps the conference committee take in making sure everything starts and ends on time, many things could happen.  From what I heard for this conference, there was miscommunication between the hotel staff and the conference committee regarding dinner that may have led to the huge schedule delays in the program.  What the conference chair should have done was to huddle with critical committee personnel to revise the schedule, then (most importantly) communicate that to both those attending the dinner and others outside of the dining hall on the changes in schedule.  If it had to be changed several times and need to be announced several times, so be it – it is better than surprising the attendees.   Many attendees set limited time in their schedules for this event, if they were told in advanced that the contest starts two hours late they could, for example, tell their kids or their babysitter that they will be returning home late.  Or it may not be worth waiting that long and they would go home early.  Leaving the attendees guessing, which this conference committee did, would cause not only a disservice to them but to many not at the conference who are dependent on the attendees.

3) Conference priorities – District 30 conferences in recent years have become more and more like “Lollapalooza” with educational sessions, contests, business meetings, showcases, award ceremonies and entertainment all mixed into one.  The problem with that is how to deliver all of that in one Friday evening and all-day Saturday without either overwhelming the attendees or dragging them to late at night.  From my past experience in conference committees, District 30 has absolutely NO COURAGE in making tough decisions on what to keep and what to drop.

I still remember after the 2006 Spring Conference when there was a transition meeting with the 2006 Fall Conference committee, which I was part of both.  The Spring Conference ended at midnight for the Saturday portion, irritating plenty who were present and assumed that it would end a couple of hours before.  One thing we did in the 2006 Spring Conference was had a special ceremony on Thursday night to honor the International President on his visit.  So at the transition meeting, a question was asked about if we should continue that for other purposes.  I suggested that we use that in a Fall Conference to recognize Distinguished Clubs, Areas and Divisions, as I believed many who attend the conferences are not club or district leaders, but rather regular members who want to learn to be better speakers from the keynote speakers and educational presenters.  Mike Raffety, current International Director who was at that time the District 30 Lt. Governor of Education and Training, vehemently objected to that suggestion stating that recognition is extremely important in Toastmasters and we have to do that with the most audience possible.  Others agreed with Mike, so I gave them this question  – “so what else can be cut so the conferences will no longer end late at night?”.  There was silence then, there may still be silence to this day.

There have been surveys out in past conferences as to what the attendees want to get out of the conference.  Asking attendees if they were most looking forward to the educational sessions, the keynote speakers, the contests, the awards, the entertainment, or any showcase of speakers.  Instead of just giving “lip service” and pretending to tell everyone that District 30 cares about the attendees through so-called committees and YouTube videos, they need to put those surveys in action and start setting up conference schedules to what the majority of conference attendees want, n0t what they have always been.  If it meant reducing the need for, let’s say, recognition or entertainment, District 30 should try that and see if it makes a positive impact on the next conference.

District 30 needs to take a long, hard look on the organization, scheduling and execution of their conferences so members attending can get what they came in for.  Personal visions and ambitions along with traditions should be set aside if these conferences have any chance to move forward, otherwise many including myself may never attend another District 30 conference again.

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What’s next for Will?

So with another long absence from updating my blog and a new Toastmasters year starting, here is another Toastmasters update including a few of my plans at the start of the new year:

  • For the first time in my 11 years in Toastmasters I don’t have any formal responsibilities as I’m no longer a club officer.  As mentioned in Twitter on the morning of July 1: “Free at last!  Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!”
  • For the first time in my 11 years with the Arlington Heights Toastmasters Club, we were Presidents Distinguished!  North Suburban did achieve Distinguished Club as they did get some later renewals as a few joining the last couple of months.
  • As far as District 30 events go, I may be less willing to attend them, less because the person I did not want to see District Governor got elected (his challenger went on attack mode and that turned off those who voted that were not involved in District 30 politics), but more due to being very disappointed with the last conference, the Winter TLI and some of the contests I attended.  It was the reason I did not attend the Summer TLI last month even though I was unable to golf since the beginning of June due to injury.
  • I will however attend a roast next Saturday at the White Eagle in Niles, honoring the North, Northwest and Central North Division Governors.  Primarily for two reasons – 1) I want to support the organizer, past North Division Governor Steve Cerve, and Ted Przybylo, past North Suburban Club President whose family owns the facility; and 2) would like to see in particular how one of the Division Governors gets “roasted” as many knew who he was prior to joining Toastmasters.

So does that mean that I’ll be writing less frequently in my blog?  Hopefully not – I’ll still be an active member of two clubs, will be keeping an eye on how Toastmasters and District 30 is doing through LinkedIn, Facebook and directly from my contacts, and perhaps finally giving some speeches which I failed to do even though it was a goal of mine this year.  With a new District 30 Governor who has credibility problems, this Toastmasters year should be really exciting, if not enjoyable!

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My plans for the 2010 District 30 Spring Conference

The District 30 Spring Conference will be taking place this Friday and Saturday at the Holiday Inn in Elk Grove Village.  In my 11 years in Toastmasters, this is the latest the Spring Conference is being held relative to the start of the calendar year, in part due to the loss of the Regional Conferences that traditionally were held in June.  I’ll be attending parts of the conference, so here are my plans as well as additional thoughts about the event:

  • I plan to attend only the Friday and Saturday evening events, so if you follow me through Facebook and Twitter you’ll hear from me regarding the conference during those evenings, maybe a few comments when I’m not there.
  • I already have a job to do on Friday evening portion, serve as a judge for the District Table Topics contest.  Hopefully they’ll have a question that can measure the best impromptu speaker during the contest.
  • My proposal to give an educational presentation on using Social Media for Toastmasters was turned down last month by the conference committee.  Not disappointed at all as their priority was to get newer members to present, not those washed up or “has-beens” like myself.  If you check the agenda, they did have some experienced members to present as well such as Johnny Campbell, guess they wanted those who seemed well-liked and not those like me who may be polarized figures.
  • So since I don’t need to be at the conference during the day on Saturday, I opt to golf at Seven Bridges in Woodridge with my singles golf group.  This may be my best opportunity to play what many considered among the best public courses in the Chicagoland area plus the weather is supposed to be great on Saturday – 70s and sunny!
  • While golfing, maybe I can check Twitter and Facebook to see if anyone posts the results of the District 30 elections (for attendees who read this before this weekend and use either network, please post).  Hope that Kentucky will not be the only place having a “Tea Party” victory this week!
  • I should be back at the conference site in time for the DTM ceremony, honoring 7 who achieved the goal since the last conference.  Hope to be part of the DTM “high five” ceremony that the conference committee is planning to follow from the previous one (which I did not take part in).
  • Among the 7 newest DTMs, 4 belong to PESO club (Philippine Engineers and Scientists Organization).  When I attended my first District 30 conference in 2000, among the first people I met include members from that club.  Don’t remember their names, but a few of them may be among the DTM honorees!
  • Based on the 3 Division Contests I attended, the District International Speech Contest should be a real good one.  Two of the contestants were past District 30 Humorous Speech Contest winners – 2003 winner Conor Cunneen and 2007 winner Rudy Segovia.  Both are now representing different clubs from which they won their District contests, in Rudy’s case it is also in a different Division as he’s now in the Northwest Division.  The North Division representative, Tom Keefe of VW Credit, also has a great speech and can hold his own against the other contestants.

Look forward to seeing some old friends and hope that everything turns out for the better!

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Before you vote for the next District 30 Governor, consider this…

I served as an Area Governor for the 2nd time in 2006-2007 Toastmasters year, five years since I took that role for the first time.  Unlike the first time, I knew far more people in District 30, knew more about how Toastmasters works and knew more about what was needed for events and people to succeed.  I also developed friendships with those in different parts of District 30.

I knew the North Division Governor, Rhonda Craven, far more than the other Division Governors that year because she was in Toastmasters the longest and I’ve worked with her in countless events.  Prior to the 2006 Fall North Division Contest, Rhonda was in need for help in various roles, one of which was the Target Speaker for the Evaluation Contest.  Since it was customary to have the North and Northwest Divisions to swap Target Speakers for their Evaluation contests, she wanted someone in the Northwest Division for that role.  And since I belong in that division I offered to find someone for her, which she greatly appreciated.

Since none of my Area clubs were strong and had very little interest in trekking outside of their clubs for any Toastmasters activity, I was looking at other clubs in the Northwest Division to find a Target Speaker.  One club that was increasingly involved in District 30 was the AT&T Chicagoland club that met at their Hoffman Estates campus.  Their Table Topics contestant last Spring won the District 30 contest with two dozen from that club cheering him on, their Club President made the trip to Washington, DC  for the 2006 International Convention and wrote her take on it in the October 2006 District 30 newsletter.  I keep hearing how the club was increasing and mentoring their membership and filling their agendas to the point where it could take months to get a speaking slot.  So this was by far the best club to supply a Target Speaker for the North Evaluation Contest and I called and left a message with the Club President asking for help.

Well AT&T was the home club of the Northwest Division Governor and a couple of days later during a phone conversation, I added that I gave the club president a call asking for a Target Speaker for the North Evaluation Contest.  What I heard from him was shocking – he ripped me for several reasons.  First he claimed that AT&T is a bad club to find a Target Speaker because they do not conform to Toastmasters International customs and rules, which he did not specify.  Second he claimed that I went behind his back and I should have talked to him or the Area Governor for that club (who was also an AT&T club member), implying that they both had authority over their club president on club matters.  He also mentioned that he heard many complaints about the way I did things in Toastmasters, which he also did not specify.

This was very demoralizing for me – I went out of my way to help many in District 30 succeed, attended many events because I knew my assistance was needed.  Plenty of people appreciated my help and leadership, one kept writing in her e-mail messages to me “thank you for all you’ve done in District 30”.  I never did this for my personal or political gain, I did it because I love Toastmasters and want to see everyone in the organization succeed.  It may have been one reason I was named the 2005 District 30 Toastmaster of the Year.  And now there seemed to be a backlash against me.  Or so this guy said…

I talked to the Area Governor for AT&T about this encounter with the Northwest Division Governor.  He mentioned that the Division Governor had problems with the club president and others.  The Area Governor did not find anything wrong with my actions.  It appeared the Division Governor just did not want the club to get any further credit for their accomplishments, apparently more for his personal issues than anything else.  Anyway, the Club President did find someone from the club to be the Target Speaker for the North Division Evaluation Contest.  Don’t remember if anyone credited me or thanked me for getting this done, if so I didn’t want to hear a word about it.

Whether what I did was noble or intrusive is up to you.  But I did it as a favor for a close Toastmaster friend, not for my own benefit.  I had no intention of undermining anyone or making a person look bad.  The Northwest Division Governor wanted to paint me the opposite.  I started asking myself what was the point of getting involved in Toastmasters if I had to deal with such crap.  It was one major reason why after this term as Area Governor ended, my involvement in District 30 “ceased to exist”.  It was the primary reason why I got into a big mess with this person as mentioned in a December 2008 blog entry.

I came to the conclusion that he just did not respect what I did as it did not match his view of the world.  And I was not alone.  The following year, my successor as Area Governor endured the same wrath due to the same club!  My successor was invited by the AT&T club to attend their club contest and was encouraged to let her own club know.  So she sent a broadcast e-mail to her club members about this.  The Northwest Division Governor, serving his second consecutive term, was at that time a member of her club as he was their club coach previously.  And he went on the same diatribe just like he had at me regarding how bad the AT&T club was and that she was going behind his and the AT&T Area Governor’s back.

That Northwest Division Governor is now the District 30 Lt. Governor of Education & Training.  As you may know he had his nomination for District 30 Governor rejected by the Nominating Committee.  While I am not a voting member of the District 30 Council, I saw the packet for the council members to be considered at the District 30 Council Meeting on May 22nd.  There was a letter mentioning why his nomination was rejected, among the reasons include  “Demonstrated disrespectful behavior to others in meetings, in person, or via phone.”  Not sure if he did something similar to what was mentioned above with both myself and my successor, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that was part of such reason.

Even though it is apparent that the LGET is not liked at all by many in District 30, he still has some friends and allies who would nominate him off the floor for District 30 Governor.  I’m not convinced he has learned from his past.  Therefore he needs to be stopped before more damage takes place that could turn more people off from Toastmasters.

Many in Toastmasters are willing to take their time and energy to help the organization, to help the clubs they belong to, to help those in the organization that they hold dearly.  Why?  Because they love Toastmasters, what it stands for and the people in the organization.  And each has their own way of helping, another way to embrace the diversity of this organization.  It should be a win-win situation for everyone involved, from the member to the District Governor to the rest of Toastmasters International.

But if you berate and criticize, telling those who help that they’re doing things they are not supposed to do, not because they violated some rule but because you simply don’t like what they do or who they help, people would think twice before getting further involved in Toastmasters.  They may no longer get involved in the local district.  They may not want to be a club officer or stop attending their club meetings.  They could even leave Toastmasters outright.  As a result, you could lose a future District officer, a future conference chair, a future TLI Dean.  You could miss all the new people those members could bring to Toastmasters, the new club opportunities they could come up with.  You want a Distinguished District/Division/Area/Club?  Forget it, some you offend may even go as far as sabotaging those efforts if that is all you are concerned with because you may be so hung up in your legacy and glory.  It can be a huge lose-lose situation!

District 30 cannot afford this type of leadership.  It is important for those who are eligible to vote to either be at the District 30 Council Meeting on May 22nd at the Elk Grove Village Holiday Inn starting at 9:30am, or find someone in the club who can go.  When I was a District 30 officer, I mentioned when it came to the Spring District Council Meeting that “the future of District 30 is in your hands!”  None more so than this one.

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Contest Table Topics questions

When a Contest Chair asked me suggestions on what kind of question to use for their Table Topics contest, I usually replied that it should be short one that everyone could answer and does not tilt for or against a contestant.  It should be a question that allows a contestant to answer a question in many different ways, responses that could tell which of the contestants is the best in impromptu speaking during the contest.

Most of the contest questions I’ve heard over the 10 years District 30 has held the Table Topics contest fit this ideal type of a question.  Unfortunately, that was not the case this season.  A couple of Area Contest questions that I’ve heard, such as the one mentioned in the previous entry, were rather lengthy.  But the Northwest and North Division Table Topics questions were even worse!

Here was the Northwest Division question:

There was a huge flash of light and a crashing sound in the backyard.   When you went to investigate you find a very hot piece of multi-colored stone in a small crater.   After it cooled down, you put it in your pocket and as you carry around you discover that it gives you magical powers.  Describe how you came to realize that you can become invisible, leap fantastic distances or hear what animals are thinking.

Here was the North Division question:

Traffic cameras are being installed in many intersections throughout Chicago and surrounding suburbs.  There is a current debate, however, if they truly improve safety or simply just raise revenue for local governments.   In your opinion, what is the primary reason traffic cameras are used and should local governments continue to install them?

If you want to be punished further, here is the video of the actual Northwest Division Table Topics contest, held on April 22nd at the Motorola Schaumburg campus.  The contest started at the 10th minute.

The two questions were not only too long, it gave each contestant a limited set of answers.  The long questions made it hard for the contestants to put together a response as they had to absorb the question prior to responding.  In my opinion, they did not show who was the best in impromptu speaking during the contest, rather who was the most willing to put up with such a crappy question and/or who was the luckiest.

I wondered why there seemed to be a trend to use lengthy questions for Table Topics contests.  Since I have a distrust for the leadership of District 30, I thought it was some stupid encouragement from one of the top officers, likely the Lt. Governor of Education and Training, thinking that high quantity and high difficulty equal high quality.

After visiting the Southwest Division contest, that was not the case.  Here was their question:

If you were to nominate a person for best public speaker, what characteristics would that person have?

which I would consider an ideal question.  I was told the Central South contest had a great question as well:

If you had unlimited funds, where would you travel and why?

It appeared whoever ran the Northwest and North Division contests were on an ego trip.  They wanted to show themselves off.  They wanted their “15 minutes of fame”.  I noticed some things in both contests that did not seem right, especially in the North contest in which the functionaries were told to read from a script word for word on what they need to say to the audience when it was their turn to speak.

I’m hoping the District 30 Table Topics Contest on May 21st doesn’t follow the Northwest and North Division contests.  So far past District 30 contest questions were short and allowed each contestant to respond in their own way.  Otherwise I could say that contests in District 30, just like many other things, are going to hell in a handbasket.

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Being a “linchpin” for an evening

Two weeks ago, I decided after work to attend the North 44 Area Contest at the Lincolnshire Village Hall.  It was the first Area Contest outside of those of my clubs I attended since Spring 2007.  There were primarily a couple of reasons I attended, one was I planned to head back to the curling club to watch a men’s league final that took place later that evening, the other was to find out what others think about the “tea party” that took place during the Nominating Committee meeting.

I had a chance to talk with a couple of people about the politics taking place in District 30, one is an Area Governor from a different North Division area, the other is a long-time member of both District 30 and 54 who was competing in Table Topics representing one of her District 30 clubs.  Did not get much new information, so went into the contest room, which was actually where the Lincolnshire Village Board have their meetings.

Every time I attended a contest or an Area or Division which I did not belong to, I come in expecting to take a role, likely a contest judge.  Most contests are not well attended and any help contest chairs can get is very valuable.  But I did not expect the Area Governor, who was also the Contest Chair, to tell me this – “I got something for you to do.  Can you be Toastmaster for the contest?”  The person originally assigned the role ended up competing in the Table Topics contest as he was his club’s alternate and their original representative is unable to compete.

I’ve been a last-minute Target Speaker twice.  I’ve been a last-minute Chief Judge a few times.  This is the first time I’ve ever been a last-minute Contest Toastmaster!  And though I’ve attended over 100 Area Contests, I’ve only been the Toastmaster 4 other times.  The odd part about being asked to do this was that I only met the Area Governor once at last Fall’s North Division Contest and I did not think he knew much about me at all.

So I was fully in contest mode, just like the previous times I was Contest Toastmaster.  The Chief Judge handled the contestant briefings as well as judges briefings, so all I need was the speaking orders for both contests.  Also prior to the International Speech Contest, I verified the speech titles with the respective contestants – at the Northwest 4 Area Contest last month, one of the contestants gave a different speech from his club contest but did not notify the Toastmaster, who had the club contest speech title in the contestant’s paperwork.

The contest started with Table Topics.  My biggest challenge for that portion was making sure I say this lengthy question without butchering, something I still have a problem with when reading out something loud:

You are dreaming you are flying on the wing of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. When you woke up with a jolt, you realize that you are truly on the wing of the 787 Dreamliner cruising on the runway ready to lift off. What is your reaction and what would you do?

The contest started a little late and with 5 Table Topics contestants, my biggest mistake in the Toastmaster role was to take a long time with the contestant interviews, asking one or two more questions for each contestant than I should have.  At least when I first came up I did not talk about the history of the Table Topics Contest in District 30, which only was implemented in 2000, something I did the only other time I was a Toastmaster for a Spring Area Contest (the others were in the Fall).

So when the International Speech Contest started, I got rid of another thing I did at the previous contest which I was Toastmaster – explain the difference between the International Speech Contest and the other contests, though this time explain the new route to World Champion of Public Speaking as Regional Conferences no longer exist.  As we’re still behind schedule, for the contestant interviews I had all 4 contestants come up together and ask the same questions to each of them.

The Chief Judge and ballot counters did not return with the results after the interviews were done, so I asked for an announcement for the District Conference, which the District Governor made.  Oddly enough, all of District 30 Top 3 were at this contest with the LGET showing up near the end for whatever reason and the LGM serving as a timer, probably the first time I ever seen all Top 3 District 30 officers at a single Area Contest.  Also 3 of the 6 Division Governors were there so I also had each of them promote their Division Contests – in addition to the North Division Governor, the Central South Division Governor was there apparently to promote her candidacy for LGM, plus the Northwest Division Governor who was promoting a big “speech-a-thon” taking place in that division the following Saturday.

And I was done, bringing the Contest Chair back up to finish, though the Chief Judge and ballot counters still haven’t return until a couple of minutes later.  We did finish a few minutes past the planned adjournment, but everyone seemed pleased with the way the contest went and the North 44 Area has some top notch representatives for the North Division Contest on the 29th.

Recently I’ve been reading Linchpin by Seth Godin.  A “linchpin” is someone who is indispensable to an organization, someone who cannot be easily replaced.  There are times in which I did not want to be a linchpin because that means other members not only look up to me for guidance, they expect me to do most if not all of the work while they seem to do nothing but watch.  It’s opposite of what we want to see in Toastmasters in which those who were there before pass the baton to those who are new, letting them grow to be the new Toastmaster leaders.  But once in a while it may be a good thing to be a linchpin, especially if someone I don’t know well thinks highly to the point where he or she trusts me to do something critical the last-minute.

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