Work In Progress

Work In Progress

Last week, I did an ice-breaker speech for Women L.E.A.D Toastmasters demo meeting. The Ice Breaker speech is a speech to introduce yourself – something about your life, your job, your hobbies, your unique interests, your family, or any combination of these. I used my ice-breaker to talk about my hobby, career, and toastmasters journey, and hope to drive home the message that “We are all a work in progress. Be patient and enjoy the journey.”

Here’s my speech:

How many of you are at a crossroads right now, having tough decisions to make?

Hi toastmasters and dear guests, my name is Renee, which means “reborn.” As my name indicates, I was reborn many times in my life. From picking my hobbies, to selecting my career path, to starting this toastmasters club, I went through a process of jumping in with curiosity, to figuring out the complexity, to landing with the clarity that I’m always a work in progress.  Be patient and enjoy the journey. That’s the best part.

Ballroom Dancing

I’ve been a competitive ballroom dancer for 9 years. I was curious how partner dancing is different from other types of dancing I was exposed to. My dance partner, who is a woman, and I recently won state championships and were the first ones to challenge the status quo of being a same-sex couple on the floor, which drew some glowering in that very traditional ballroom dance world. After months of practicing 5-6 times a week with my partner, one of the leading judges marked us last place for all dances, despite all other judges giving us first place. It was discouraging and upsetting to see how tradition is used to disguise the complexity of sexism behind those discriminated marks.

My Partner and I competing in action

After that competition, we practiced even more diligently, because we know that the only way to win all judges’ votes is to be the best in technique, musicality, and unity. Whenever we are frustrated with a complex figure, we remind ourselves that our passion was why we were doing this in the first place. We are still very much a work in progress, but we will use our dance moves to convince this ballroom community that beauty should be based on dancers’ ability, and not based on traditional gender roles.

Professional Career

Like dancing, my career path went on a similar journey. My curiosity led me to posting the first social media tweet on Android products, to building bundled big data solutions on servers, to enabling ecosystem partners to build reference architectures for self-driving cars and telecom industries, to now managing more than 1000 healthcare artificial intelligence startups globally. Every day, I’m learning and empowering leading innovators to detect disease, monitor patients, and  potentially prevent the next pandemic.

For those who don’t know me, you might be wondering, “how did she go from a social media intern to leading global healthcare AI startups today?” The answer lies in continuous learning, which is a key monthly themes of this toastmasters club. From searching the benchmark on memory, to figuring out what big data means, to learning about the interoperability of medical imaging, all complex concepts were simplified and clarified by one search and one definition at the time. Overtime, I realized that change is the constant in my life. I will always be a work in progress. All I need is to be patient and enjoy the learning process.

Women LEAD Toastmasters:

And I want to thank many of you who are here today, because you are witnessing yet another work-in-progress. I have been in toastmasters for six years. Because English is not my first language, I joined Cupertino Morning masters out of curiosity of what public speaking is all about.  After months of silence, one day, I finally stood up and gave a speech. Within the 2 minutes Table Topic, which is the impromptu speech portion of the meeting, I blurted out 20+ filter words, went over time, stuttered, and went off topic. You name it. What could possibly go wrong went wrong that day. Yet this supportive community welcomed me with smiles, paired me up with strong mentors, and encouraged me to keep delivering speeches for years to come. Over the years, I was bewildered as to why some of the most polished speakers were still practicing their speeches in local clubs. That answer was clarified this year.

Because I was able to successfully present in front of 500 people at an AI conference, among leading executives, I thought I was ready to part ways from Toastmasters. I no longer need the training wheels! Abhijeet, who is currently in the audience, reached out and asked if I’d like to start this club to help build the community. That was the best “yes” I’ve said in a long time.

I learned that Toastmasters is not just about public speaking, understanding superlatives, overcoming crutch words, or delivering a strong key message. Don’t get me wrong, those are all very important. For me, Toastmasters is more about you guys, the community, the people, the selfless leadership along with the mission that I believe in.

I officially welcome you guys to join our Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters club. L.E.A.D. stands for “Leadership. Empowerment. Advancement, and Diversity.”

We are here to support your dreams and we will all be work in progress together. Be patient with us, with yourself, and enjoy this journey.

If you’d like to hear more prepared speeches or deliver one yourself, join us in our future meetings! See you there this coming Wednesday Oct 28th 7-8pm PST.

Written by: Renee Yao (Women L.E.A.D Toastmasters President)