Saturday, June 2, 2012

My Toastmasters Story

Once upon a time, many centuries ago when I was in my early 20s, I joined Toastmasters . My favorite uncle, Uncle Frank, took me aside and told me 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 and recalling my uncle’s advice, I tried it! My first impression was that the meeting was weird! They kept time to the minute, and the members clapped a lot. But I decided to keep coming back. I joined and looking back on my life, I’m so glad I did. 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, what you’re passionate about; you will get lots of leadership opportunities by volunteering as an officer. You’ll join 270,000 other members in 13,000 clubs in from Argentina to Zimbabwe. Your career will grow and you’ll make new friends. But you know what? I can’t guarantee that. I don’t know what your Toastmasters story will be. In fact you might hate Toastmasters and leave the room screaming! So I’m just going to tell you about my Toastmasters story and I’ll let you think about it whether it's right for you. Extrapolate from yourself. Maybe you’ll hear something in my talk and say, “Hey, I might like this. I might learn from this. I think I will come back.” Here are my 3 points: 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. Socrates said in the 4th century BC (now that was even before I joined Toastmaster!) 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 our effort to look around at our lives and to seek meaning in our lives. Through joining Toastmasters, we are given the opportunity to speak on a semi-regular basis. I have looked at what’s important to me, what gives my life meaning, happiness, and sadness. 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 recent manuals and I’ve talked about social networking, being green, gay rights, my trip to China, a trip to Japan, personal stories from my car accident in Taiwan, how I bounced back from my divorce, and the short stories I’ve written. One thing you should know about me...I’m a writer. I’m not only a technical writer in my career, 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. Gosh, I gushed. 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 as easily. I’ve taught college (5 years part-time as an adjunct lecturer at De Anza, 4 years part- time at Santa Clara University). Somewhere along the way, I became a manager. I started out as a writer at 3 companies, Oracle, i2 Technologies, and Sun and I’ve been promoted 3 times to manager. Will you get promoted? I cannot say, my promotions came at a time of high growth in Silicon Valley so that probably helped. In 2007/2008, I got 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 previously visited China many times. 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 and we got such great interest I ended up doing two classes concurrently! I solicited help from the local Shanghai Toastmasters clubs and got to meet many members of the international Shanghai Toastmasters community. If you’re wondering, I was in Shanghai for 6 weeks in a company-paid apartment and I bought along my husband and son (at my own expense, of course). I’ve gained a community of friends. My Toastmaster friends are many. I’ve talked about speaking at Toastmasters but the other part of the equation is listening. I’ve listened to my fellow members speak about their passions, what makes their lives meaningful and we’ve influenced each other and become friends. 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...At any rate, we caught up with each other, shared laughs and tears. Some of your fellow members may become your dear friends. I feel enriched by the community of Toastmasters, many of whom are close friends. Let me recap...Why Toastmasters? For me, it comes to 3 points: 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 recommend Toastmasters to you with my whole heart and an open mind. And may your Toastmasters story be rich in meaning, full of career growth, and blessed with a community of friends.

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