Time for the Curtain Falls

24th June 2017

I pondered what to talk about for my last speech as President and I only scripted my speech in the wee hours of the day we had meeting.

Though I had placed my tablet before me as a psychological crutch, I didn’t use it, thankfully.

Those of you who were here for last year’s installation ceremony would probably remember that I said I was an accidental President and a reluctant one.

Angela was designated for the President role while I was the Vice-President Education-elect. A week before the executive committee was installed, Angela was given a project at work that required her to travel often. Being a responsible person, she decided that she couldn’t hold on to the post of president without being around most of the time. They scrambled to find her replacement but it was tough.

When approached, I declined to be the president initially. As a free spirit, I don’t want to be responsible for others. That’s why I hadn’t been a leader after secondary school.

But, I was told that everything was ready for the installation ceremony which just a week away, and several members had turned down to be president. I accepted the post under such circumstances.

That’s how I became the accidental and reluctant President and Angela’s scapegoat.

What most of you didn’t know was my challenge started even before my presidency began. Just a week after installation and before the term kicked off, the then-VPE said she’d like to quit.

Upon checking if I was the problem, she told me frankly that I was micromanaging. I thought I was helping out to lighten the heavy workload but I didn’t expect it to be seen as micromanaging.

This reminded me of what a colleague said, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

Perhaps I was overly enthusiastic, the immediate past president Jun said.

I managed to persuade the then-VPE to stay on, assuring her I would take a hands-off approach.

I did. Nonetheless, two months into the term, she resigned.

It was a challenge to fill this second-in-command position.

Thank goodness, there was Jean, who must have been sent by my fairy godmother.

Then, she’s only a three-month-old Toastmaster. But experience isn’t a perfect yardstick of capabilities, skills, attitude and character.

Jean is the most capable right-hand assistant any leader could dream of. She was instrumental in helping some 40 of us track and achieve our public speaking and leadership projects and goals.

She did this while juggling the demanding roles of a daughter, daughter-in-law, full-time worker, wife and mother of two teenagers.

She deserves an applause from us.

Other exco members, most of whom are unable to make it today – a rare occurrence – have contributed behind the scenes as well.

So it wasn’t just me doing the work. It was a team effort. I salute all of them for giving their time and effort selflessly.

Edward said that it’s a thankless job. I could say with confidence that none of us who took up exco post was looking for this. We just wanted to help because all of us have a stake in Kampong Ubi toastmasters club.

But I must say, we have been receiving words of appreciation from members.

To the non-exco members, you’ve your reasons for not taking up the posts. I respect your decision but I urge you to help in other areas and render your support to the incoming exco.

Lastly, I would like to thank the incoming exco members for willing to contribute.

In particular, I have great respect for Puspita. She accepted the post of President despite knowing there were difficulties completing the team. She roped in her husband and fellow Toastmaster Ajoy last minute to fill the last role on the committee, in effect doubling the contributions this couple would make to the club.

Let’s give Puspita and her team a show of support. Thank you.

Last Chapter Meeting During Our Term

24th June 2017

Unlike last year’s installation ceremony which was attended by the who’s who in the local Toastmasters scene, it was a no fanfare but cozy event this year that saw the attendance of only senior members and an invited guest from another club.

I didn’t know what the incoming committee thought about the lack of heavyweights but I preferred it this way. After all, this was an important event to the club, it’s great to keep it to those who matter and those the club matters to.

Besides the installation ceremony, there was the usual chapter meeting. Suhas who was supposed to be the Toastmaster of the Day was mobilised last minute for national day parade rehearsal on the day we had the meeting. Fortunately, Kate saved the day by agreeing to stand in for Suhas at such short notice. Credit must be given to Suhas as well because when he was notified about the unexpected army deployment, he has had his script written out – in detail. It really helped Kate, who had never been the host of the chapter meeting.

Generally the meeting went well. Where there were hiccups, Kate reacted fast enough to turn things around. Being TMD trains one’s responsiveness and affords one room for creativity. That’s why I relish being a TMD.

It’s heartening to see members taking on responsibilities, and they learned and improved in the process.

I ended the session with a brief closing speech:

Thank you for your participation, especially thanks to EGG,  Edward Ma, Gideon and George, as well as guests who joined us in this special occasion.

That is the end of today’s meeting.

With this, my executive committee has completed our term. We wish Puspita and her team a successful term in leading the club to greater heights. And you a fruitful toastmasters journey in the coming term.

Toastmaster Manish delivered his personal best speech to date last Saturday for his project 10.  He was generous to share his script with me, and here it is:

How many of you felt an anxiety when you were told to go on a stage and speak…

You are not the only one, I am an old member of this club.

Some of you will relate to this boy – Bright, knows his stuff, full of ideas but never raises the hand to volunteer to answer, in fact it’s the other way round.

I can really relate to this during my school days! A bit nervous on a big stage but great in an informal set-up.

I am not very close to you and I don’t know your motivations but going by the project ask, I am supposed to inspire you. Have to think about one common theme that binds all of us . What is that? Yes, all of us are here to get better in public speaking.

I am going to share with you some stories about me and hopefully you will relate to them.

1st story – setting is early year 2004, Citibank regional head office in London. After successful implementation of strategically very important project, I was chosen amongst the top officers to undergo senior level project management training in London. Towards the end, I was supposed to come forward and debrief the seniors and colleagues about my learning and accomplishment.

I stumbled, fumbled, mumbled….and just about managed to complete it (pause) to the dismay of people watching me. This happened when I was well into 8-9 years of my already successful career. I was posted to Dubai then. When I returned, my boss who was a Distinguished Toastmaster told me that I have the talent and potential, however my ability or inability to communicate on a big stage can be a blocker. He suggested that I join Toastmasters. I went, signed as a guest couple of times, fumbled in one the table topics and then never signed up. What you see, so many guests and new members here…they don’t come back. I did the same, this was an easy route – ESCAPE!

2nd Story –Singapore incident. Fast forward to June 2014, I was given a charge to head a big portfolio across multiple geographies – UK, India and Singapore. It so happened that one of the directors quit in Singapore and I was told to take over from him. He was heading a team of 30 people and he introduced me to the team and then looked at me to say a few words. I started confidently but suddenly felt a rush of blood and anxiety as I looked at so many eyes staring at me. I felt like a deer caught in the headlights – paralyzed with fear…and guess what – I blanked out. My colleague rushed and got a glass of water for me. That was one of the most embarrassing moments for me. I regained my composure and spoke coherently and confidently for 10 minutes about number of things. But I thought the damage was done. It took me some time to recover from the trauma and then I thought about my boss’s advice 10 years back – Toastmasters. I realized no matter how much I dislike public speaking, there is no escape from it. I will have to get comfortable with the associated discomfort and conquer the fear. So, I joined toastmasters in Nov 2014.

3rd Story – Toastmaster project 3.
I gave an ice breaker speech in Jan 2015, followed it up with project 2 in Feb. I made a good start and then in Mar 2015, during my project 3, half way down I blanked out. It was the exactly the same feeling…I did regain my composure and completed the speech after 15 minutes. I went back home scarred, wounded and disappointed and wondering why this experience keeps coming back and haunts me. Let me tell you by this time I could pull off most of the presentations with relative ease in the office environment which was a positive development.
Fast forward to 25-Apr this year, which was very recent. I met my new boss in India, he is British and group CIO for an important technology vertical. He called me over for a dinner, we had couple of drinks and we got along well. He suddenly looked at me and said, we have a town hall tomorrow and we have to address the entire offshore team, you are joining me on the stage and we will jointly address the crowd.

I could immediately see that my happy state of mind as a result of 2 pints was overtaken by the performance anxiety. I had never addressed a crowd of close to 120 people standing on a stage. He could sense my unease and he asked me if I was up for it. One side of me said, said no and wriggle out of the situation…I also knew that I will lose both – great opportunity and my boss’s confidence by saying no. I said yes…I will do it. I was quite nervous and got up at 5:00 in the morning and could not sleep after that.

However, as I came close to addressing the crowd, I was surprisingly calm. I had prepared in my mind what I had to say and told to myself, I have finished 9 projects in TM, I know how to do it. Just apply those principles. I spoke with full confidence, no nervousness and it was a huge moment for me, I felt so light. It was like exorcising the demons that have been badgering me for many years.

I thought today is the right occasion to share these stories and my test would be, if I am able to share these stories in coherent and confident manner, it should be an inspiration to some of you. From the stories main messages are – start early, persist and practise. I would like to close the session with this inspirational slide – Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

 

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Toastmaster Manish delivered a perfect 10 Project 10 to a rapt audience.

A heartwarming session

Manish’s “Exorcising the Demons” was one of the most inspiring speeches and his personal best to date, I think.  He recounted how he sucked at public speaking at first, especially with so many eyes on him when he made a public speech over a decade ago.  He, at the suggestion of his then-superior, joined Toastmasters in 2004.  But he did not persist and dropped out half-way.

He knew he had to do it when he rejoined in 2014.  He told us he blanked out when he was doing his project 3. However, that didn’t deter him.  By April this year, when he was told by his boss over drinks that they would go on stage the following day to address an audience, he was frightful yet it was a different Manish this time.

Having done a few projects by then, he was no longer the Manish he was a decade ago nor the Manish when he was delivering his project 3.

The words that he used for this speech were so vivid that I could feel what he was going through – the nervousness that gripped him when 30 pairs of eyes were on him.  He described the state as deer in the headlights.

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Manish delivered his P10 speech and it won him the Best Speaker title.

Manish had a message for us – it’s not late to join Toastmasters. It was the quote Manish used that left me a deeper impression. It was Neale Donald Walsch’s Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Besides Manish, there was Toastmaster Edwin who completed his project 10 as well. In accordance with the tradition, there was a cake to celebrate the completion of P10.

However, there was another reason for celebration – it’s Taichi’s birthday on 17th.  We celebrated his birthday in advance.  It was heartwarming to see three grown-up men of different age groups, nationalities and races to blow out candles together.  Toastmasters brought us together.

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Toastmasters brought these three men of different age groups, nationalities and races together for celebration.

I still sucked at Table Topics. I confess I haven’t put in much effort on this impromptu speaking. The most I have done is to tackle a topic every meeting. It isn’t enough as I would only be blabbering nonsense without a structure. I would work on it if I continue with Toastmasters after my break.

It was my fourth attempt at Toastmaster of the Day. After it was set that I would be the TMD, I brainstormed for an icebreaker and I was pretty delighted with my ideas “Bonding over bonds”, with members divide themselves into two teams with the same number of participants. The first would read a written message and then pass the message on to the second, with the latter whispering to the third. This was to be done out of the earshot of others as both teams got the same messages – to be fair.

While I studies bonds, I wanted to make it fun for most of the members who might not have much knowledge over the fixed income product type. What I did was to use terms with the word “bond” such as vagabond, James Bond and vanilla bond.

The other message was about the different types of bonds associate with countries. The catch was they were not obvious. Bulldog, Panda, Merlion and Kangaroo, which do you think was non-existent?

Lastly, there was dim sum bond, kimchi bond, sushi bond and Tom Yum bond, the last was a figment of my imagination. Hey, but didn’t it sound real as all these were signatures of the places where the bonds were sold – Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan respectively. I had wanted to use Laksa bond but this dish was available in Malaysia and Singapore whereas Tom Yum seems to be a national dish of Thailand, and this would put it on par with dim sum, kimchi and sushi.

After the meeting, when I went to get the badges from Taichi for the installation ceremony (he would not be present on 24th), he said he likes Jean and I very much. I remember Edward has said this is a thankless job, and I never expect to be thanked. Despite that, knowing that your efforts have not gone unnoticed was rewarding.

I told him I won’t be seeing him, since both of us would be taking a break from Toastmasters. As what I told Jean later, putting in too much feelings isn’t good for me and it’s perhaps time to step away.

After all, I am a free spirit.

Jean and Lynn were very sweet, they each got me gifts, including a plush toy of my favourite character Doraemon.  Jeremy, after learning that I would be stepping down and taking a break, offered to treat me to a meal.

These gestures melt my heart.

Gifts from my Toastmasters and they touched my heart.

Parting Words

It was the second last opening speech for me as president, and I wanted to share something more personal and cosy.

It wasn’t perfect, and the ending was a bit abrupt. I could have ended the speech better. Here’s my heartfelt speech:

Good afternoon. 
What shall I say as my term as President draws to an end?  
Let’s see this club report and you would know how Kampong Ubi Toastmasters performed in the past year.  (*Slide)
The club has barely passed, with only five out of 10 goals met. We lack the advanced communicator awards and grossly short of leadership awards.
With just five goals achieved, it’s historic low for kampong ubi toastmasters. (*slide)
I must say I am responsible and it’s due to my poor planning, otherwise the club should have produced at least a competent leader. 
I should have let Taichi be either the organising or contest chair in March, otherwise he wouldn’t be just one role shy of the award of competent leader.
My apologies to Taichi and all of you.
I hope the club’s performance in the coming term would improve under the new leadership and with your contributions.
Serious stuff aside, how do you improve your public speaking learning journey? 
Toastmaster Jeremy, what do you do besides preparing your speeches, taking in the pointers from evaluation?
For me, I blog.
I blog about the toastmasters journey and experiences. For example, how I felt when I was delivering my maiden speech. (* slide)
I reviewed my speeches in my blog, to see what I could do to improve. (*slides)

I blog about the thought-provoking and inspiring messages from the meetings.(*slide)

I blog about you. (*slide)
For example, our marathon runner Taichi who confessed that he has not 1, not 3 but 11 pairs of running shoes.
Jamie’s first words after the contest.
Chen Kuang and Hesperus took part in contest though they had just joined.

I blog about the fun we had.
I blog about your milestones.
I blog about your victories.
I blog about your magic.
I blog about your best.
Thank you for everything.

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We had fun!

Super Heroes…Not Everyone Wants to be One

27 May 2017

There were meant to be four prepared speeches but by Friday afternoon, only two left.  By then, I had already printed out the programme sheet and I didn’t want to waste trees equivalent of 20 sheets of paper to reprint.

Suhas couldn’t make it as well as he was assigned on Wednesday to take part in army open house held on that weekend.  I became the Table Topics master with the theme of Super Heroes set by Toastmaster of the Day, Jamie.

As I thought through the topics, I was wondering there might be people who would not wish to be a super hero.  A guest said he doesn’t want to be one because super heroes are subject to scrutiny and public opinions while Taichi would prefer to earn the super powers himself to having them bestowed on him.

Edwin’s prepared speech Never Try Never Know encouraged us to listen to our heart and not head/logic to take on risks at times.  When I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, that was my attitude.  But as I age, it seems too much is at stake, I lost the courage.

I wish I had vigour as well.  That’s the Word of the Day selected by Taichi, who recorded the number of times we vigorously used the word or its variants.

I was what E Hueen described in his The Three Seconds as I tend to think too much.  Three seconds isn’t enough to rest my racing mind and arrest my wild thoughts.

E Hueen is awaiting his national service enlistment.  He was a Toastmaster when he was studying at Temasek Polytechnic.  We didn’t know that former Toastmasters did not need to pay the one-time registration when they renew membership.  I wrote in to Toastmasters International to appeal for a waiver and we were told it wasn’t chargeable for former Toastmasters.

He clinched the Best Table Topics title at this meeting and the last.  Would there be a hat trick for this affable teen?

Saddiqi was a bit under the weather but he delivered his promise and conducted a workshop on rhetorical devices.  It was a shame that the turnout was small and just 12 of us benefited from the educational session.

Puspita, who left the club for a year for charity work, has not lost her public speaking skills.  She was a super mum and speaker, bagging the Best Table Topics Speaker title – a tie with E Hueen – and an effective project evaluator.

After the meeting, I ran through with her the duties of President and she was very quick to grasp, especially the importance of Personal Data Protection.  It made my handover easy.

After the meeting, a guest called Naveen signed up.  But another, who visited us in mid-May and had informed me before this meeting started that he was going to make payment, didn’t. Perhaps he has been turned off by my serious message in opening speech.  Jean had an explanation on why Naveen hasn’t been bothered by my opening speech – he didn’t understand what I was saying.

Yeah, Jean could be right!

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You don’t see me here because I was the photographer but actually I don’t like to take photographs.  I had asked why we must take photographs every session but I can’t remember the reason(s) now.

Toastmasters companion

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Toastmasters International has mailed my advanced project manuals to me.  I chose Speaking to Inform and Communicating on Video.  These are relevant to my job and most of the speeches are of moderate length – not too short nor long.

But I wonder when and if I would do these projects at all, given that I am taking a break.  Perhaps an indefinite one.  Nonetheless, I have had them wrapped.