Here’s my speech:
14 speeches and six months later, here I am, my beautiful Toastmasters, to reflect on my path. I hope you’ll find this speech useful and insightful too. Here’s the agenda for my talk today. It includes three categories of my talks, what I’ve learned, common obstacles, and tips to overcome them.
I separate my 14 speeches into these three categories: friends and family, leadership, and professional work.
- In the first category, I had speeches on my passion for competitive ballroom dancing, six long years in Toastmasters, being the president of Women L.E.A.D Toastmasters, how selfless Abhijeet is, and how I negotiated my way out of my mom’s attempt to label me as a failure because I haven’t gotten married and have kids at this moment yet.
- In the second category, I delivered speeches on my leadership style, how to get the most out of a mentorship, and how to give an effective evaluation.
- In the third category, I leveraged Toastmasters to polish up on my speeches for work – an AI in drug discovery panel discussion, an AI in Healthcare keynote talk, and a genomics podcast.
During this journey, I have grown and learned a lot. First of all, I became a much deeper thinker. Instead of taking things for its face value, I asked more questions and thought deeper about what I’ve read before making a decision or forming an opinion. Deep reflection led me to give some of the most impactful talks thus far. I gave talks on:
- “Be A Good Follower First.” Being a good follower first is important to be a good leader. I mirrored what I learned as a follower in competitive ballroom dancing to how that translated in my daily work.
- “Lead in Any Situation.” Instead of blindly following Toastmasters’ Pathway 360-evaluation that my dominant leadership style is coaching, I combined my knowledge with a situational leadership workshop to put this talk together. There’s no one prominent leadership style, but being the right leader at the right time for the right followers.
- “Change is a Constant.” I used examples from leading an Enactus club in college to now leading Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters. Before when I sensed change, I tried to control, blame, and ignore it. Now when I see change, it’s a constant and it’s an opportunity to build a stronger team, to delegate important tasks, to empathize with teams, and to continue the legacy with succession plans.
Second of all, Toastmasters’ platform is truly a safe place for me to fail fast and get up faster. It’s a stepping stone to my success.
- When I was doing a genomics podcast, it frankly didn’t go so well in the meeting – it was boring and didn’t touch on the most important part of gene editing ethics. Solazar, a distinguished Toastmasters member, reached out and offered to help me re-do it again. It wasn’t for another Toastmasters project, but he just thought I’d benefit from the training. That had paved the foundation for many upcoming impromptu clubhouse panel discussions.
- Also, when I was giving my “AI in Healthcare” speech at IBM Toastmasters competition as a test speaker, I was given the feedback to use more personal examples to gain audience attention and make it more relatable. I adjusted my talking points and made the keynote speech for a healthcare summit a successful wrap.
- On top of that, one of the members gave feedback to one of the workshop organizers to include more interactions with the audience. Because of that feedback, I implemented that in a mentorship workshop and the attendees really love the engagement.
Last but not least, Toastmasters is a great platform to remind me to be appreciative of little things around me and live in the moment.
- I’m appreciative of my dance partner on our competitive Ballroom journey. Because of her, we became the first same-sex couple wining the state championship, challenging the status quo.
- I’m lucky to have someone like Abhijeet Joshi to be there for my ups and downs. Winning first place in the evaluation contest at district level last year couldn’t have been possible without him. Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters wouldn’t exist without him.
- I also felt renewed after empathizing with my mom, who came from a different perspective and only wants the best for me. I used negotiation tactics learned from a former FBI agent Chris Voss ’s book, Never Split the Difference, to better communicate with her, so she felt heard and loved. Both of us ended up reaching our goals.
Of course, this journey wasn’t all rosy. I endured my fair share of obstacles with great fortitude, like many of us.
- No Time. On top of the busy schedule, I constantly feel like I have no time to do a good speech for Toastmasters.
- No Topics. I struggle to find good topics – everything seems trashed and cliché.
- Lack of Motivation. I often lose motivation and don’t know why I’m doing this to myself to stay up till midnight to write and memorize this – mind my French – goddamn script.
- Nervous. And yes, I still get very nervous on stage, especially if I procrastinated the project. I’m afraid that I will forget about a line or mess up completely. Then my reputation would be ruined. I’m constantly disappointed in myself, “COME ON… You have been in Toastmasters for six years now, why are you still doing this to yourself?!”
- Lack Style. I’m the harshest critics of all time to myself. I constantly worry that I lack style. Do I sound lame? Do I sound forced? Do I sound fake? Am I too rehearsed? Do I sound like the typical Toastmasters’ stereotypes – strict hand gestures (i.e. let me give you a sandwich gesture) and trying too hard to check each best practices box for the sake of checking boxes?
Good news is I’m in the process of figuring out a system. Here’s what I have:
- No time? Schedule it! Every time when a speech time slot is allotted, I schedule three hours on my calendar to write the speech, another hour to memorize it. Of course, when I first started six years ago, that schedule looked more like a month before the speech, and 5 hours for memorization. It gets easier over time. You know yourself the best – put mechanisms in place to ensure your success.
- No topics? Write ideas down! I write down everything that could potentially be a topic. For example, in my notebook, you may find something like: a Korean face mask on the table, broken nails, and no forks in the kitchen. Not that any of them have made it into a speech yet, but you’d be surprised at how great your brain is good at connecting the dots. The more you can write down, the more you can connect them for future speeches.
- Lack of motivation? Ask 5 whys!
- Why are you doing it? Finish the Toastmasters pathway.
- Why do you want to finish the Toastmasters pathway? Good way to see progress.
- Why do you want to see progress? I want to improve public speaking.
- Why do you want to improve? I want to build a useful skill.
- Why do you pick this skill to build? I will be a CEO of a company in the future. My words will be placed under a magnifying glass. Concise communication within, across, and beyond teams is important. This is the time to perfect my thinking and word choices before it’s too late. There – that’s my true why. After going through this exercise a few times, you can quickly get to the answer deep down. Then you’d stop kidding yourself and put in the hard work.
- Nervous? Practice. Practice. Practice. There’s no shortcut to that. Write down the script. Memorize it or familiarize it. Then perform it. Record it. Watch it. Write down everything that gave you a goose bump. For me, there’s still a lot that bothers me: a fake eye contact glance, how little my mouth opens to enunciate certain words, and how a piece of my hair is stuck out. Then go fix them – fix one at a time. Be gentle with yourself.
- Lack of style? Train your eyes and ears. Watch a lot of TED Talks, write down what you like about the talks, what you don’t like, and how you’d improve the talk if you were to deliver it. Ask yourself: can I be that speaker? Do I want to be that speaker? Why or why not? Then practice. Right now, I have identified one of my favorite speakers, Brownyn Saglimbeni. She has this enthusiastic energy that I just want to bathe in her positive vibes. I’m ready to conquer the world every time after her speech. Here’s my first attempt to mimic her:
Alright – hope you find this talk useful! Now – your turn, you crazy diamonds!
Written by Renee Yao, President of Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters