Once upon a time, a very mature woman discovered a hidden jewel of epic proportions. For so long, she had no idea of its existence. Upon discovery, she became enchanted by its ensuing sparkle and lure. What was this gem that attracted the woman of a certain age? How could she have lived so many years of her life unaware of its magic and potency? Being at an event celebrating this jewel surrounded by people who recognized its power years earlier, she wondered to an enlightened one, “Why am I so late for the party?” His positive response was, “Well, at least you came to the party.” How right he was! The party is the transformational  Toastmasters International organization and the conversation this mature woman, moi, was having unfolded at the international convention in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago. Yes, the illuminating jewel was on display in its full glory. 

Having been a member of Toastmasters for less than a year, this was my first convention, and what a treat it was! The first evening included opening ceremonies, and it was amazing to see so many countries gathered together in our nation’s capital. Each country in attendance, over 130, walked proudly with their flag receiving rounds of applause. To have different cultures amassed peacefully in one colossal ballroom is truly an Olympic feat if not equal but even greater than our Olympic meets. In fact, the ancients would be pleased.

The next day, I attended the semifinals which included our wonderful candidate from District 31. Although she did not progress to the final ten, she was indeed a star with her winning speech about overcoming obstacles in the academic and the sports’ arenas. The winner of this round happened to use her creativity by shedding her trousers and revealing strong, robust calves. She indicated how she has perfected the use of a trait perceived as unattractive in the age of perfection into a positive.

Later that day, I attended the First-Timers’ Meeting which was inspiring in itself. The CEO chose various members from the audience. The age range was through the life cycle. Some just joined a month ago while other first attendees have been members for decades. Many traveled for thirty hours to attend the convention. One woman told us she belonged to five clubs in her country. Another new member valiantly revealed she was a felon. Finally, one man from Connecticut shared he had suffered a brain aneurysm, but thankfully, with the help of Toastmasters, he is speaking again. Needless to say, he has vouched to remain a life-time member.

Over the next couple of days, we heard inspiring speakers about a range of topics, and opportunity abounded to network at lunch. One afternoon, I sat with a group from Maryland who chuckled at my central Massachusetts’ accent. On Friday, some of us chose to observe contestants from the Accredited Speakers’ Finals who gave their pitch to be among the most sterling in receipt of this coveted award. There were five gallant speakers, and for twenty minutes each, they attempted to educate and entertain as they strove to reach the final goal of accreditation. Alas, only two were granted the title. All of the brave souls, however, should be given accolades in their pursuit of this final title of excellence which I am sure the honorable mentions will eventually attain.

On Saturday, the last day of the convention, we listened to ten finalists compete for the World Public Speaking Award. Although every one of them were stellar, the uniqueness of the final three winners could not be ignored. The three stand outs entertained us with thoughtful and humble stories woven with creativity, humor and personality. It was an honor and privilege to cheer for these amazing stars as well as learn from them.

Next year Toastmasters International is going from D.C. to beautiful B.C. I hope to be there. In the meantime, along with other Toastmasters, I continue my own pursuit of excellence. If you are someone who sees yourself as I do, a work in progress, I suggest you explore Toastmasters. By promoting movement and growth, it helps you become “unstuck” and hopefully remain so.