Robot VPE, the only solution?

27 May 2017

With nobody willing to take on the role of Vice President Education (VPE) for the first half of next term, I delivered this opening speech in exasperation:

Some of you might be wondering why there’s no programme sheet, why wasn’t it sent out as usual.

No, it’s not been taken by the super heroes, although today’s theme is super heroes.

Doing without programme sheet could be the new norm that you have to get used to.

Why? Because we don’t have a VPE for the first half of next term, that is, from July to December.

Some of you are on course, can’t spare the time; some of you who remain in Singapore on employment pass but your employment status is uncertain, some work on most Saturdays or spend half the year overseas. Others simply don’t want to assume the role.

Perhaps we should have an equivalent of the match-making app tinder to match make speakers, evaluators, and appointment holders, with functions to draw up programme sheets and update the Google sheet that tracks our progress. But until then, a human vpe is still required.

Toastmasters is a non-profit club with no full-time staff and everyone of us is working full-time.

Who isn’t busy here? Have a show of hands. No one.

All of us are stakeholders of the Toastmasters journey and we can’t do it alone. No doubt the executive committee roles take up time, someone has to do it. But if you think “let that not be me”, it would end up that we have no VPE, no Sergeant-at-Arms, no meetings.

For those who understand Chinese,  please look at the term on the whiteboard.  What does this term 舍得 mean? It means the willingness to part with. If you look at the two characters separately, 舍 means “giving up”, 得 means “gaining”. You give up one thing but you’ll gain something in return.

For those who are looking at practical returns, being in leadership position enhances your résumé.  Those who want to make sure you’d attend meetings – like what Taichi was after  – being on the executive committee pushes you to attend meetings regularly.

For me, I just kn0w I couldn’t simply take from the club, I have to give as well. In the process of giving, what did I get in return? Opportunities like this to make you hear me out, opportunities to network with other clubs’ leaders and stronger friendship from my fellow executive committee members.

Do we have a VPE next term, you decide.  Over to you,  Toastmaster of the Day.

Coincidentally, Jean took the day off and she joked that her rare absence might reinforce my message. However, it didn’t because two days after the meeting, KUTMC still doesn’t have a VPE (for July – December) and Sergeant-at-Arms.


Selling pens… and Toastmasters

13 May 2017

Suhas was innovative in his speech Selling Anything.  He talked about tips on pitching oneself using the example of selling pens.  He concluded his speech saying if he failed to sell the pens to us, at least we could use the pens to vote for him as the Best Speaker.  He successfully got the majority of us to support him.

Besides Suhas, there were five other full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) among us that meeting.  Youngsters nowadays equip themselves with skills and make constructive use of their spare time.  It’s admirable.  Though we welcome fresh blood, I was very frank with these five who were visiting to find out more, and told them that they should visit other clubs to check out the vibes.  They must be comfortable with the club members especially when Toastmasters isn’t compulsory.  In a way, I was not selling our club but I prefer that members join willingly, voluntarily and wholeheartedly.

KUTMC had the honour of having Toastmasters Tushar, Jacky, Vernon and Gerald visited us.  I was smart not to let this golden opportunity slip by without having Tushar, Jacky and Gerald share their Toastmasters journeys with us.

Gerald quipped that some toastmasters became DTMs – not Distinguished Toastmasters (highest level a Toastmaster would attain) but disappeared Toastmaster.

It was sheer coincidence when Tushar delivered his speech on Successful Club series, which is an outline of Toastmasters programme, helping the five NSFs understand better.

Vernon would be Jacky’s successor as the Area Director for our club next term.  He became Word of the Day unplanned when we realised that Ajoy did not know he’s scheduled to take on the appointment role.  Despite being an impromptu act, Vernon played the role effortlessly and he even offered valuable tips on rhetorical devices.

The theme of the meeting was Mothers’ Day and I was tasked with Table Topics.  But instead of coming up with topics related to a mother’s traits, I had a play on the words “mother” and “mum”.  Hence, the topics were “Mother Teresa”, “mother country”, “Mumbai”, “mummy” (a dead body that is prevented from decaying by being treated with special substances before being wrapped in cloth), “mother tongue” and “mother figure” etc.

Chen Kuang, being the Toastmaster of the Day, designed an icebreaker for us to act out the various scenarios of Tiger Mum.  Jean being the only mother among us started the ball rolling, of course.

*I didn’t deliver an opening speech but used the slot to have the visiting Toastmasters share their journeys with us.

Suhas wasn’t only selling pens, but also clinched the Best Speaker title in the process.

Be yourself, have your own style, play to your strengths

Here’s my opening speech at 29th April meeting.

Let’s do a quick survey, among the members of this club, including those absent today,  whose public speaking style would you like to adopt, and what is it about the style that you like about?

Let me write down your reasons.

Most of you have a member in mind, whose style that you’d like to adopt.

A Toastmaster told me he’s not trying to be as good as Jun and the rest, he just aims to speak what he wants to say comfortably.

He’s right in one sense – he wants to be comfortable. But he’s not exactly correct, in my opinion, to use jun and others as benchmark.


I used to watch a lot of Hong Kong dramas and they were always peppered with punchy lines.  One of the lines that has stuck with me is “If you want others to be like you, unless there were two of you”. However, not even twins are totally identical, so it’s pointless for us to take on another person’s style because we’ll never be like them or  even beat him at it.

For me, it’s myself. I’m not narcissistic. In fact, I’m far from it, one of my greatest weaknesses is the lack of self confidence.

Yet I would like to be myself, find my own style, one that I play to my strengths and be comfortable with.

Therefore, I would suggest that, instead of trying to emulate that member, or adopt his/her style, think of the strengths or traits of his or her style and tweak them to suit your personality and abilities.

So instead of saying you would like to be like Pradeep or Jun, you might say, I’d like to be polished, confident, structured.

My message this afternoon is:

Be yourself. Have a style that plays to your strengths and that you’re comfortable with.


29th April 2017

I could feel myself buckling under the demands of work and Toastmasters. I have been so forgetful that I suspect I might just forget myself one day.

Past week has been busy, with the hours as usually long, and I could feel myself falling sick. Luckily I was to stand in for a colleague in high court on Thursday, providing me a much needed breather from the hectic state courts.

Despite resting on Friday as I took leave to take advantage of the long weekend to have a better and well deserved break, my mind was apparently not well rested.

I forgot to bring Toastmaster manual in spite of reminding my members to do so, and I also left home without Jeremy’s script with annotations on it for evaluation.

It was no better at the meeting. It’s hard to juggle a few appointment roles at the same time. I was the Word of the Day, evaluator of Jeremy’s speech and timer all rolled into one.

Did I say I was the photographer too?

We were stretched, only 11 of us excluding the three guests turned up and some of us took on more than one role.

I didn’t play any role well as a result. Except Kate, Lynn and Jean, no one else used the Word of the Day – spring – in their speeches.

Neither did I excel in evaluating Jeremy’s speech. There was no structure nor conclusion. The fact that I forgot to bring his script made it harder for me.

I was also struggling with tracking the time in between taking photographs using the same handphone.

The chapter meeting started with Toastmaster of the Day, Lynn, testing our memory in the icebreaker. What a game when my memory is apparently failing. But I wasn’t the one who lost the game.

We had five speakers doing their projects with Kate being the new kid on the block talking about herself as an avid traveller and a coffee lover. Jeremy who won the best speaker title for his Ice Breaker project clinched it again with his project speech on Tibetan Dream Yoga. Let’s see if he would have a hat trick. It was a tie with Edwin who researched on Time Travel and talked about paradox when one travelled to the past and it would affect one’s fate in the future as a result of meddling with one’s past. He’s composed. Like Ajoy said, Edwin had a conversational tone.

Steven shed light on High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT in short, and this form of exercise is convenient because it doesn’t require equipment, takes up only 30 minutes per session and it can be done anywhere. Except that this isn’t for those who are not fitness buffs…like me.

Ajoy talked about Agile system in his technical presentation. It was not technical for non-IT practitioners like us and I think he had succeeded in this except that he busted the time limit. After hearing him speak, I noticed that Ajoy has a strong command of English and he was a few rare ones who pronounced the word “overarching” correctly by being silent on “h” and ending with “king” instead of “ching”.

We would meet on 13th May but already a few Toastmasters have told us they would be absent. Taichi would be running for a charity event, Steven would be burying himself in books for a financial exam while Venetia is attending her brother-in-law’s wedding.



Pit against the best…

Pradeep impressed the judges at the area contest on 15 April, with his composed speech on table topic “When you pursue your passion, you feel pain and fulfillment”.  He would now represent the area (and Kampong Ubi Toastmasters) to clinch the division championship.

It was Jamie’s maiden contest.  Feeling nervous was understandable but she gave her best.  She looked so drained after the contest.  While she didn’t bag any award, it was a fruitful experience for her, I think.

Being the photographer, I was busy clicking the shutter with nary a moment resting my bum.  I would say I was one of the most hardworking appointment holders.  I was almost late, after going to the wrong venue, Queensway Secondary School, and had a problem after that finding my way to Queenstown Secondary School.

Queenstown Secondary School v Queensway Secondary School, could you tell the difference, especially when the latter is just two bus stops away from Queenstown Primary School.  It’s misleading.

Probably it’s my last appearance at Toastmasters contest. Being President of KUTMC, I must discharge my duty to support my members and look out for their interest at contest.  But when I am just an ordinary member, I would support them… mentally, but unlikely to make my way to the west and burn several precious hours on a weekend.

Better Evaluation Now

After Pradeep attended a Toastmaster meeting at another club, he passed us a contact whom he was impressed with.  He’s Benjamin.  Jean invited him to share his tips on project evaluation at the 8th April meeting.

Though he has been with Toastmasters for only two years – that’s about the duration Jamie and I have been with the public speaking interest group – Benjamin is much more polished in his delivery.

He speaks like a DJ, and indeed he is one.  And he’s only 24 and still studying.  Wow!

Does the speaker’s personality have to do with his flair?  Being an introvert, I would probably have no problem striking up conversation or making small talks – at times, I don’t think I would have a style as open as Benjamin or any extrovert.

Benjamin shared that he likes to use his name BEN to evaluate a speech; B for Bravo, E for encouragement and N for non-desirable.

When I handed him a token of appreciation (sponsored by the beautiful VPE Jean, as usual) after the 45-minute workshop, I told members that with Benjamin’s tips, we could have BEN (Better Evaluation Now).



Jamie, Tricia and I completed our Competent Communicator manual when we did our project 10.  The club is short of another project 10 completion to earn two points towards Distinguished Club status.

While I have completed the manual with 10 speeches delivered, I don’t find myself a competent speaker.  More steady and less nervous?  Yes.  Polished?  Still far from it.  I remember the time I did my icebreaker and I was a bundle of nerves.  When I delivered my project 10 speech, I could still feel the nerves.

I am not doing any projects before I fade out as I intend to put all my effort and time on enriching the meetings.  Nonetheless, I opted for these two advanced manuals, Communication on Video and Speak to Inform.  Maybe after my break, I would tackle the speeches in these manuals.


Challenge the Way You Think

I completed the Toastmasters Competent Communicator manual on 8th April 2017, with the following project 10 speech entitled “Challenge the Way You Think”.  I was inspired by a highly-intelligent professor for my master’s programme.  Though it’s been a few years since I completed the programme, I remember his refrain to challenge the way we think.

Here’s my speech:

Jim was a newly minted fireman and he had just reported for work.  When he had barely entered the office, the landline rang.  Seeing his firefighting colleagues were at a corner playing cards, he answered the phone.  After he hung up, he went to the corner, walked up to one of the firefighters and relayed the phone message.

When my professor told us this story,  he had this question for us: “Jim had just reported for work and didn’t know anyone, how did he know which of the three firefighters the phone message was for?”

Any guess?

The answer to the riddle is: the caller had asked for Jane, the only woman among the 3 firefighters.

Some people didn’t guess it because they had assumed that all firefighters are men or must be male.

Assumptions we make like this or long-held beliefs constrain our thinking. As a result we don’t think of or question if there are other possibilities.

What’s the moral of the story?

Challenge the way you think.

Have you ever been a prisoner of your own beliefs or thinking?

I have.

I go to Aljunied every day to pay respects to my late grandaunt.  For many years, I would take bus 67, that would bring me directly to Geylang Lorong 34 where I would need to cross 2 roads and also walk another 2 stretches to reach the temple.  When I was in a rush and bus 67 was nowhere in sight, I would take bus 28 first, and then transfer to another bus to bring me to Geylang Lorong 34.

I never thought of changing this route, because it had served me well. Or so I thought.

Then, came a day when I was too engrossed in reading on bus 28 and I missed the bus stop to transfer. I alighted from bus 28 at a bus stop I thought was the nearest to the temple.

After alighting from the bus, I cut across a muddy field and in 5 minutes’ time, I reached the temple.

That journey turned out to be not only a shorter distance but also a cheaper bus ride.

So, it was a blessing in disguise when I missed the bus stop and found a route better than my preferred one.

Would I have thought of other routes besides my preferred one? Maybe, if I had explored, if I had challenged my set thinking.

What’s the moral of the story?

Challenge the way you think.

But apparently it’s not just me.

Have you heard of the elephant-and-rope story?

A man was walking past an elephant, he suddenly stopped, puzzled by how the huge creature would be held by only a small rope tied to one of its front legs.


No chains, no cages. It was obvious that the elephant could break away any time from the rope but it did not.

The man saw a trainer nearby and asked why the elephant had made no attempt to get away.

“Well,” the trainer said, [vocal variety] “when elephants are very young and much smaller, we use a small rope to tie them and, at that age, it was enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free.”

Baby elephants are traditionally trained by tying one of their front legs to a stake in the ground.  Because the elephants are small, only a thin rope is required. They’ll struggle and pull at first, but eventually they realize that they can’t break the rope and they’ll give up.

Elephants grow fast. Before long, those cute babies become lumbering giants. But here’s the thing: that same thin rope is all that’s needed to keep them secured. They think the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free. In the end, you’ve got a giant held back by just a thin rope and a wooden stake. Freedom would be as easy as a little tug but the poor elephant never thinks of trying.

What’s the moral of the story?

Challenge the way you think.


Like the elephants, how many of us go through life hanging onto a belief, mindset or an assumption?

Just take today for example, how many of you came exactly by the same way you do for every meeting?  Have you thought of using another route?  If you have not, try thinking.

Try another route next time, think of a way to disrupt your routine, disrupt your habit.

The way you think is a habit, a habit first taught to you, then refined and defined over time by you.

Just because you’ve always done something one way, it doesn’t mean you should continue to do so.

Sometimes, we reach a conclusion based on a specific set of conditions, then forget or do not revisit our decisions even when conditions or circumstances have changed.

Rather than fully and clearly seeing the way things are or can be, we’re locked into how things used to be. The result? Could be missed opportunities, self-imposed blockers and wasted potential.

So if you’re struggling to come up with ideas, techniques, possibilities and options, it’s worth considering: what are you unable to see as a result of your set thinking?

Albert Einstein said we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.

If you change the way you think, the way you think will change.

Challenge the way you think. 

Let’s break our habit now, those who have been occupying the same seat, please move to the opposite side of the table, those who have been taking up the back seats, please sit at the front, and vice versa.  Changing your perspective could be the first step towards challenging the way your think.

P.S. The italicised portion was to be read out if I had not passed the minimum eight-minute mark. This was not done in the end.