Sunday, July 1, 2012

My Toastmasters Story

Note: This is the abridged text of a talk I gave at the Speakeasy@Sun Toastmasters ( club open house in May 2012.

A few centuries ago, when I was in my early 20s, I joined Toastmasters ( My favorite uncle took me aside and told me that he was a Toastmaster and I might like to check it out. A year or two later, I found a Toastmasters club right at my workplace in San Francisco. Recalling my uncle’s advice, I tried it. My first impression was that the meeting was weird! It seemed extremely regulated and the members clapped a lot. Despite the weirdness, I decided to come back.

I could tell you that when you join Toastmasters, you will challenge yourself to do things you wouldn’t normally do; you will learn about what makes you tick and begin discovering what you’re passionate about; you will get lots of leadership opportunities by volunteering as an officer.

But you know what? I can’t guarantee that. I don’t know what your Toastmasters path will be. In fact you might hate Toastmasters and leave the room screaming! If you do join, you'll have the company of 270,000 other members in 13,000 clubs in from Argentina to Zimbabwe.

I’m just going to tell you about my Toastmasters story.

  • I’ve learned about myself and what’s meaningful to me.
  • I’ve seen some significant career growth.
  • I’ve gained a community of friends.

I’ve learned about myself and what’s meaningful to me.

In the 4th century BC Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

What does that mean? The unexamined life is not worth living? I think it means that it is worth the effort to look around at our lives and to seek meaning in our lives. Through joining Toastmasters, I've been given the opportunity to speak on a semi-regular basis. I have looked at what’s important to me, what gives my life meaning, what I enjoy and what I mourn. In Toastmasters, you get to speak about whatever subject you want. Toastmasters just gives you a rubric: a plan, a set of goals for your speech.

I looked back at my manuals and I’ve talked about social networking, being green (environmental), gay rights, my trip to China, my vacation in Japan, personal stories from my car accident in Taiwan, how I bounced back from my divorce, and stories I’ve written.

One thing you should know about me is that I’m a writer. I’m not only a technical writer, but I also write books. In fact, a Toastmasters speech helped launch my book-writing career. The 3rd speech in the Competent Communication manual is “Get to the Point,” which is about organizing your speech. I chose to speak on social networking because I learned that social networking was an essential skill for me to survive as a non-engineer in a high-tech world.

After I wrote the speech, I took my notes and wrote an article for the San Jose Mercury News. After that article as published, I was invited to speak at the dinner meeting for the Silicon valley chapter of the Society for Technical Communication.

Heck, maybe I could write a book on this. I wrote a book proposal, sent it to 11 publishers and garnished all rejections or no answer at all. A few years later, through a personal contact, my book “It’s Who You Know” was published. After that book, I switched genres from self-help to children’s literature. My 7th book, Operation Marriage, launched at Kepler’s bookstore last year.

Toastmasters has fed my literary career. And my literary career has fed my Toastmasters speeches.

I’ve seen some significant career growth.

When I was in my 20s, I was an entry-level writer with not much experience in anything. Over my career, I’ve been able to do lots of things and I believe Toastmasters has helped me through the challenges of my career:

I’ve been laid off many times and I have gone thru many job interviews! Doing Tabletopics has helped me answer questions with calm and poise. I don’t get rattled too easily.

I’ve taught college (five years part-time as an adjunct lecturer at De Anza, four years part- time at Santa Clara University). Toastmasters helped give me the confidence to try teaching.

Somewhere along the way, I became a manager. I started out as a writer at three companies, Oracle, i2 Technologies, and Sun Microsystems and I’ve been promoted three times to manager. Toastmasters helped me develop leadership skills that helped me learn to become a manager.

In 2007/2008, I had one special opportunity in my career that was directly related to Toastmasters. In 2007, my director at Sun Microsystems, started an engineering office in Shanghai. Since I have a degree in East Asian Studies and am Chinese by descent, I had a special interest in going to Shanghai and I have visited China many times before. I asked my director if she would let me go to the Shanghai office. She asked me to make a proposal on what I would do to justify the trip. So I told her I would give communication training classes to the engineering staff. Those classes were from the Toastmasters Speechcraft program. We got such great interest I ended up doing two Speechcraft programs concurrently! I solicited help from the local Shanghai Toastmasters clubs and met many members of the international Shanghai Toastmasters community.

I stayed in Shanghai for 6 weeks in a company-paid apartment and brought along my husband and son at my own expense.

I’ve gained a community of friends.

My Toastmaster friends are many. I’ve listened to my fellow members speak about their passions, what makes their lives meaningful. They’ve influenced me just as I hope I've touched them. A few weeks ago, some of my friends from my old club Tandem Toastmasters ( called me to have lunch. I hadn’t seen some of them for over 15 years! It was like going into a time machine. We caught up with each other and shared both laughs and tears. I feel so blessed by the community of my Toastmasters friends.

What will your Toastmasters story be?

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