Profile: From Toast to Host
Brian Hodgson realizes a life-long
dream thanks to Toastmasters.
By Julie Bawden Davis
Photo Caption: Brian Hodgson (right) interviews Toastmasters 2000 World Champion of Public Speaking Ed Tate on his show in Hong Kong, November 2006.
Brian Hodgson: Olivia, I remember you in “Grease.” You were young and beautiful, and now, some years later, you still look young and beautiful. What’s your secret?
Olivia Newton-John: You are nice!
The night Brian Hodgson interviewed singer and actress Olivia Newton-John on his show, What’s Up After 8?, proved a milestone for the British-born talk show host. The dream of having his own television show had finally come true.
Hodgson, who lives in Hong Kong and has been a Toastmaster for 27 years, broke into TV a little over a year ago.
“During a Rotary convention, I interviewed a variety of Rotary celebrities on stage,” says Hodg-son, a member and past president of the Victoria Toastmasters Club in Hong Kong. “I styled myself as an English version of David Letterman and took on a relaxed, jolly approach. The interviews went really well. So well, in fact, that many people approached me afterward and said I should be on TV.”
Sufficiently motivated after that experience to pursue his life-long dream of appearing on television, Hodgson e-mailed TV producer Robert Chua, who is famous for having started Enjoy Yourself Tonight on TVB in Hong Kong. “In one of those ‘only in Hong Kong experiences,’ I got a call from Mr. Chua the next day, asking to meet for afternoon tea to discuss the possibility of a show,” says Hodgson.
While Chua was impressed by Hodgson’s spunk and fearlessness, he was also swayed by the fact that Hodgson had 27 years of public speaking experience – thanks in large part to his involvement in Toastmasters.
“I am sure that being a Toastmaster has helped Brian,” says Chua, a pioneer in broadcasting throughout Asia. “I was impressed when I met him. He is very enthusiastic and has a lot of passion for what he does. That passion comes out in his presentation and it’s what I – and viewers – like about him. He is also warm and likable, and always tries hard to improve.”
The award-winning What’s Up After 8? airs twice a week. With polished poise, Hodgson regularly interviews a wide variety of high-profile, notable personalities. For example, he recently had the musicians The Black-Eyed Peas, Meatloaf and Avril Lavigne on his show. He also has had guests such as a Chinese princess, a famous belly dancer, and even Toastmasters’ own World Champion of Public Speaking Ed Tate.
When choosing his guests, who are often in the entertainment business, Hodgson looks for individuals who are interesting or involved in something special. “I look for literate guests who have a sense of humor,” says Hodgson. It’s become easier to get guests for his show as word about it spreads. “Some of the artists I interview also recommend their friends, and some of the big stars are brought to my attention by their record promoters,” he says.
“Every show I do is essentially a mini-version
of a regular Toastmasters meeting.”
Not only did Toastmasters help Hodgson gain entrance into the television world, it also helped him become a better talk show host. “I found the perfect training ground in Toastmasters,” says Hodgson. “Every show I do is essentially a mini-version of a regular Toastmaster meeting. As the host, I welcome guests, introduce them to the audience and make sure the show runs smoothly.”
In fact, Hodgson says he patterned his show after the Toastmaster program.
“All of the impromptu speaking I’ve done over the years has helped me tremendously,” says Hodgson. “The show is not scripted and I come up with questions on the fly. This adds to the freshness of the show and keeps my adrenaline pumping.”
Besides being a talk show host and public speaker and trainer, Hodgson is an auctioneer and managing director of Hong Kong Auctions. He is also founder of the U.S.-listed public company www.wwauctions.com, which is an auctioneer of industrial equipment around the world.
Although he doesn’t prepare any speeches, Hodgson thoroughly researches his guests and generally formulates an opening, middle and end to the interview. He listens carefully to each response and then replies with further questions, which piques interest from the audience. He also watches the show later and evaluates what he can do better in the future.
“Brian’s style is very dynamic,” says fellow Toastmaster Deborah Yu, who is District 80 Public Relations Officer (2006-2007). “When he is onstage, he immediately knows how to interact with the audience. After years of Toastmasters training, including actively participating in inter-club speech contests, it seems to be part of his basic instinct now. He is witty and full of energy and he knows how to capture the audience’s attention, create excitement and elicit a response from his guests.”
Another Toastmaster, Barnabas Cheung, agrees. “Brian interviewed me on his show regarding my humor and joke books, and I found him to be an excellent, professional interviewer,” says Cheung, who is past president of the Victoria Toastmasters Club. “He [is] quick-witted, full of vocal variety and tactful, and he is always solicitous of his guests.”
Most of Hodgson’s guests are lively, forthcoming participants, but he once had an English guest on the show who clammed up and wouldn’t respond to him.
“That particular guest wouldn’t talk when the show first started, but I kept up the conversation and he came to life about 10 minutes into the show,” says Hodgson. “Other guests tend to go off on tangents, and I try to redirect them because my intent is always to get a message across and give people a reason to watch the show.”
What’s Up After 8? is a family show, so Hodgson focuses on non-controversial issues, such as what’s going on in his guests’ lives. Like all good talk show hosts, he makes himself accessible by throwing in a little information about his own life. He is married to Jane, who is Chinese, and they have two daughters, Louise, 11, and Charlotte, 8. His girls are already taking after him. “Louise has won some speech contests and has appeared on film,” says Hodgson. “Charlotte is a little bit more shy, but I’m coaching her.”
Hodgson decided to join an English version of Toastmasters known as Rostrum when he was 16. “I was a wallflower and had to give a presentation in my high school class, which proved very difficult for me,” he says. “After that experience I decided to do something about my shyness. I joined Rostrum and then Toastmasters, and I never looked back. I immediately got hooked on public speaking. Within a year I was asked to make a speech to the mayor.”
Besides presentation skills, Hodgson has also gained valuable confidence in Toastmasters.
“Toastmasters helps you step outside your comfort zone and attempt things you might not otherwise – like getting your own TV show,” says Hodgson. “I encourage everyone I see to join because it’s the best way to fulfill your dreams.”
Julie Bawden Davis is a freelance writer based in Southern California. Reach her at Julie@Juliebawdendavis.com
Editor’s Note: Do you have an inspiring story of how the Toastmasters program has helped you? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.