The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on August 19, 2010.

I was dozing on the plane as I returned home from California last week. When I woke up, I glanced out the window. I’m not sure where we were, exactly, but the land far below looked like a patchwork quilt, with squares and rectangles of different colors and shades, separated by lines that could have been roads or rivers. All the pieces fit together perfectly in the tapestry that makes up this planet earth. Or as much of it as I could see.

“That sounds about right,” I thought as I dozed off again, reflecting on where I had just been.

I was returning from the Toastmasters International Convention—my fourth. I have to say I still laugh when I think about how caught off guard I was when I attended my first one, in Phoenix in 2007.

After all, I knew the meaning of the word “international.” I knew that Toastmasters was an international organization, and that the event was an international convention. Still, it struck me more powerfully than I could have imagined when I first entered the large reception area and saw people from around the world chatting with each other as if they were old friends. In some cases, they were. In other cases, they had just met but were already sharing stories of common goals and interests, of how long they’d been in Toastmasters, and of what their challenges and achievements were, both in Toastmasters and in life.

I loved becoming a part of that. It was enlightening and inspiring to talk with people from exotic lands – like Ireland, Nigeria, and Montana – who wanted to know more about my life and experiences, and to tell me about theirs. I learned more about different countries and cultures in a few days than I’d have ever thought possible, in a much more enjoyable way than reading about them in a newspaper or textbook. And I’ve made new friends at each Convention – people that I’ve stayed in touch with and that it’s heartwarming and exciting to see again the next year, or the next.

Another reason I enjoy the International Convention is that it’s where the World Champion of Public Speaking competition is held, and where contestants from around the world – who have already won first place at five different levels of competition – give the most inspiring, entertaining, and engaging speeches they’re capable of. Being in the audience is an incredible experience. Not only do I learn invaluable lessons from what the contestants say and how they say it, but I gain eye-opening insights into ways to connect with an audience and hold their attention.

I can say the same about the educational sessions, which always hone in on exactly what I want and need to know, and are presented by experts who are entertaining as well as insightful.

The Convention is held in a different city every year, so another thing I enjoy is visiting the different locations, some of which I’ve never been to before. Since the Convention schedule is usually packed pretty tightly, and I don’t want to miss out on anything, I don’t do as much exploring of the area as I’d like. But I still get a good idea of its flavor. And I find new ideas of places for family vacations.

The main thing I get – and what I cherish most – from the International Convention each year is a sense of both power and peace. The two may seem to be mutually exclusive – or at opposite ends of the spectrum – but they’re not. Power is the ability to do something – to realize that you have the knowledge and the skills, the confidence and the courage, to recognize what’s important to you and to go after it. Peace is what comes when you’ve achieved it. Especially when, in the process, you’ve connected with others in a way that helps both of you to accomplish your goals – your individual goals and the ones you have in common – and in a way that teaches you appreciation and respect for each other.

As I looked out the window of the airplane last Sunday, I realized that the Toastmasters International Convention is just like the patchwork quilt I saw far below. It’s made up of people and countries of all shapes and sizes, in a world of different colors and textures. It’s as strong and as beautiful as each of the individual pieces that go into it, and it tells the story of our history and our hopes for the future.

The only thing better than seeing and admiring it from a distance is being a part of it. I hope I will be, for many years to come.

© Betty Liedtke, 2010