FROM A CHICKEN TO AN EAGLE- I have never dreamt of being a Toastmaster, let alone a DTM! You may ask, “Then how did you manage to achieve the DTM award?” Fellow Toastmasters and friends, I wish to share with you how I finally became a Toastmaster, my journey towards achieving the DTM and what are the benefits that I have gained from being a Toastmaster.Before- I remembered back in school, I dared not speak up nor answer any question even though I had the correct answers. Towards the end of my Sixth Form, when I handed over the autograph happily to my classmate to be signed, she remarked, “I never knew you existed. Next time, speak up more!” Not only I was small in stature then, I was also inconspicuous or invisible! I loved to watch Elocution Contests and admired and envied my friends who could speak in front of an audience. I admired Toastmasters who could speak so eloquently. I told myself I could never do that because I was a chicken. Chickens do not speak up, chickens have no focus, chickens have wings but do not soar. Some of you may be going through or have gone through that same experience and will understand what I mean. My sister Margaret Chan, DTM and Past District Governor SL Liew, DTM were keen to form the Bayan Baru Toastmasters Club in Penang in February 1996. When my sister invited me to be a guest during the demonstration meeting, I told her, “I’ll attend but don’t ask me to speak”. She chartered the club and invited me to be a member. I said, “No way”. She said, “Got way, I’ll pay for you”. Then I told myself, “I’ll do it My Way. I will join just to enjoy the free refreshments. I will not speak!” For seven full months, I refused to speak. No one could make me speak, not even play a role as an Ah Counter, Timer nor Grammarian. The new exco was organizing an International Speech Contest and for any new club, the contestants are exempted to have done up to Project No. 6 from the Communication and Leadership Manual. Tell you what, the committee made it compulsory for ALL members to participate in the contest. I was cornered. I almost cried, I almost died because I knew this time I could not escape. I rehearsed my speech over and over again in the office, in my house, in the shower and even in my dreams. Imagine, my maiden speech was at a speech contest! The First Experience- The contest day came. Even before my name was called, I could hear my heart beating and I was sure the whole hall could hear it too. I stood there hoping the ground would give way and swallow me up! It didn’t! I had cold feet, my knees shook, my face was flushed BUT I managed to remember and deliver the whole script! I spoke quite softly but it did not matter. That was my first breakthrough and ‘Ice Breaker’ speech. Benefits- How have I benefited? Taking up leadership roles made me a better communicator and leader. As a President, I had to speak at least 48 times, that is, at all the 24 club meetings – at the President’s Opening and Closing Speech. Bayan Baru, being an active club, organized a grand club installation dinner at a 5-star hotel, joint meetings, Millennium meeting, speech contests, Assignment and Achiever’s night and Christmas party. I had to deliver speeches at every meeting. Socially I have benefited. I feel that the more I speak, the more confident I became. My audience of 20 plus people grew steadily to a hundred, two hundred and over 1,000 when I was invited to be the Master of Ceremonies for a dinner at the Shangri-la hotel in conjunction with the launching of the Penang Junior Orchestra by the Penang Symphony Society. My children were playing at the junior orchestra and when the Exco heard that I was a Toastmaster, they grabbed hold of this chicken! My first reaction was, “NO” but I could not let Toastmasters down. I took up the challenge and did a lot of preparation. His Excellency, the Governor of Penang was the Guest of Honor. That evening I managed from the beginning to the end of the dinner all alone. That was another breakthrough and proud moment for me. Career-wise I have benefited. I work as an Administrative Secretary in Malaysia Airlines at the Customer Services Department based at the Penang International Airport. After going through the Toastmasters training, I learn how to pacify irate passengers face-to-face with confidence although they may be twice my height. These passengers sometimes would march into the office demanding to see my manager who would be away at a meeting. At the end of the conversation, they always left satisfied that someone cared to listen to them. I find I can now converse with complaining passengers with confidence over the phone too. At the end of the conversation, they were always satisfied because someone on the other line takes the trouble to Listen to them, to Think before she Speaks and Communicated effectively. Leadership Training Taking up the position of an Area Governor not only helped me to achieve the Advanced Leader (AL) award, it also gave me great opportunity to understand the Toastmasters organization as a whole, to get to know the TI staff, great District Officers, Division Officers and Area members. I had many opportunities to organize speech contests, club officers training and speak at a lot of functions. The most challenging was dealing with people and to motivate them to achieve excellence – only Toastmasters gives us this opportunity. When I took over as Area Governor, I had to handle four clubs, that is, my own club Bayan Baru which is a community club and the top club in Division N and 3 weak in-house clubs, that is, Komag, Intel and PDC. When I took over, one in-house club ‘died’ and I had to work hard to revive it. Besides, I had to build new clubs. Dr Dilip Abayasekara, our 3rd Vice President, mentioned in his speech that the higher you go up in leadership, the more dependent you are on people. I fully agree with him. However, in my case, there were not many people to depend on. I told my clubs that I would help to lift them up a level or two higher than when they started. I learnt patience when I was the Area Governor as I had to constantly ‘push’ my clubs patiently and with a lot of tender loving care. At the end of my term, we added one more new club ie Penang Seagate into our area. The rest of the clubs either achieved Distinguished, Select Distinguished and President’s Distinguished status and Area N2 became a President’s Distinguished Area.
Conclusion- Dear Toastmasters, are you already a CTM? If not, go for it. Are you a CTM? Be an ATMB, ATMS and ATMG. If you are an ATM, be a DTM. If I can do it, all of YOU can do it. Last time I cannot last 1 minute in front of my audience, now I speak until I do not stop! Go for excellence in whatever you do, Go for the DTM and your life will never be the same again.