Toastmasters International Conference draws thousands of participants

Black woman takes home championship

Carol Ozemhoya OW Contributor | 8/28/2018, 11:08 a.m.
Thousands of public speakers, representing 111 countries...

Thousands of public speakers, representing 111 countries descended into Chicago last week for the annual International Toastmasters Conference. The Toastmasters annual conference is celebrating its 87th year.

Speakers represented many countries, including Canada, India, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria, Kenya, France, Australia, China, U.S. and other countries. Often dressed in their country’s native attire, the competitors delivered inspirational and educational speeches. Ramona J. Smith, a Black woman, took home the most coveted trophy of the event: the world champion of public speaking.

Ramona represented District 56 in Houston. She faced tough competition, initially 30,000 competed to enter the semi-finals, of which 105 qualified, but only 10 would enter the finals. She advanced as one of the 10 into the finals.

For the first time in Toastmasters history, minority women swept the event winning first, second and third place. There were a total of six men and four women who competed in the fierce competition. Each speaker had a 5-7 minute time limit and spoke on their theme of choice. Smith’s theme was “Still Standing.” She used a boxing metaphor as the basis to promote resilience in a life storied by failures before she finally triumphed. She moved across the stage with the prowess of a boxer as she shared her personal failures having dropped

out of college four times and then being married for only eight months before divorcing.

“When was the last time life knocked you down?” She asked the crowd of thousands and before a select panel of judges. But, she said, “A mirror of defeat became a window of possibility.” Smith eventually found her way back to college and graduated with honors as a magna cum laude.

Formerly from Cleveland, Smith, now a Houston resident, also brought humor to her presentation as she joked about the romantic relationships in her life. “I haven’t yet found Mr. Right, but this is an international convention!” she joked, cupping her hand like a phone and holding it to her ear, mouthing the words “call me.”

The main point of her delivery was the fact that she persevered and didn’t give up.

“I’m still standing,” she proclaimed near the end of her speech. “My challenge to you is to stay in the ring… I’m still standing. Yeah, yeah,” she sang out. “Stay in that ring, and even if you take a few hits, you’ll still stay standing.”

Wendell Jones represented District 1 out of Los Angeles placed third in the fifth semi-final and did not advance to the finals.

Two of the top three winners in the final are Black women: World Champion Ramona J. Smith from Houston, Texas; and third place winner is Anita Fain Taylor from District 47 in Pembroke Pines, Florida, her theme was “It is What it is And it Ain’t What it Ain’t.” In second place is Zifang “Sheri” Su, from District 88 in China, whose theme was “Turn Around”.

Opening Ceremony

The conference got off to a rousing start with opening remarks from Steve Gilliland, a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame. He is one of the most in-demand and top-rated speakers in the world. Recognized as a master storyteller and comedian, Gilliland can be heard daily on SiriusXM Radio’s “Laugh USA” and “Blue Collar Radio.”