My Turn: From China to the U.S.
Toastmasters helps bridge cultural and career gaps.
By Angie Palmer, ACS, ALB
“Huh? What is a Toastmaster again?” That was my response when I first heard about Toastmasters. This was four years ago, when I was living in Hong Kong. I am a Hong Kong Chinese and had never heard about Toastmasters from anyone in my circle of friends or networks. But now I was curious, and I e-mailed one of the local clubs, asking if I could visit.
At the club meeting, I was intrigued by how Toastmasters helped its members improve their public speaking skills. I was also amazed to find out there were as many as 40 clubs in Hong Kong using different languages. Being a corporate trainer at that time, I immediately knew that Toastmasters would help refine my speaking, facilitating and listening skills. I also thought it would be a great place to brush up on my Mandarin and English.
After my initial experience, my hobby became “club hopping”: I went from one Toastmasters club to the next, visiting a variety to see which one I should eventually join.
In the midst of this club hopping, I received a call from a friend in an event company. “Do you have time to be the emcee for the Banking and Finance Technology Forum next week?”he asked, telling me that his emcee backed out at the last minute. I paused for a while on the phone. I had done emcee work for corporate and personal events before, but I had never spoken in front of the Chief Information Officer of the Hong Kong Government or hundreds of professionals at a convention.
Before I could say anything, my friend said, “I know you can do it…We’ll pay you well. My assistant will call you soon.” Click.
Since this was a last-minute assignment, I didn’t have time to meet with the company or any of the speakers. All I could do was download the speakers’ biographies from their Web sites. It’s nerve-wracking when you feel that you aren’t well prepared. Things got even better: When the convention started and I introduced a speaker, the PowerPoint equipment didn’t work – his slides didn’t come up on the screen. The man was already on stage, but he simply refused to speak without the PowerPoint slides. There was an awkward silence. I had to go back to the podium and try to keep the audience entertained while the technical team fixed the problem….So much for being part of a technology forum when the technology doesn’t work.
At that moment, I wished I had been a Toastmaster for 20 years, and that my Table Topics skills were already perfected.
After my emcee experience, my desire to join Toastmasters became even stronger. However, because of my husband’s job in the military, we had to relocate to the United States – specifically, to Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, which is a very small town in New Mexico. I had a hard time finding a job where I could use my skills and education. Despite the difficulties I faced, I wanted to make the most of it in my new home. So I decided to begin graduate studies – and Toastmasters.
There is no better way to learn than to be actively engaged in the process. The Desert Basin Club in Alamogordo averages six meetings every month, and I took full advantage of such a surplus of opportunities. I finished my Competent Communicator award in less than three months, and completed Advanced Communicator Bronze, Advanced Communicator Silver, Competent Leader and Advanced Leader Bronze in another 12 months.
I have gained so much from Toastmasters that I decided to give back. Currently, I am the VP Public Relations and Webmaster for the Desert Basin club, as well as the Area Governor in District 23, promoting Toastmasters while learning some special skills that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn otherwise.
One of the promotional activities I did for the club was to appear on a local TV program talking about Toastmasters. After the TV interview, the production manager said he was impressed with what he saw; he asked if I would be interested in doing reporting for the TV station. Soon after, I started to write for the local newspaper, and a new Web company opened in Alamogordo and began using me as a freelance Web reporter and producer.
All of these things have been spinoffs from my experience with Toastmasters.
Before these recent developments, I had read an article in the Toastmaster magazine’s July 2007 issue called “From Toast to Host.” It talked about a Toastmasters member in Hong Kong named Brian Hodgson who became the host of his own TV show. I never thought that shortly after reading that article, I would have the chance to produce my own videos. Now I know that anything can happen as long as you have the appropriate support and training – like the kind you get with Toastmasters.
I cannot thank Toastmasters enough. It not only helped me improve my communication and presentation skills, but it also helped me advance in my career. Toastmasters is a life saver. What more can you ask for?
Angie Palmer, ACS, ALB, is a member of the Desert Basin Toastmasters club in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Reach her at at firstname.lastname@example.org.