Friday, October 16, 2009

First Speech

Yesterday I did my first speech here in the USA at the Toastmaster meeting at my company. It was a good session and it was a different challenge from my previous experiences. The meeting was held in the auditorium which could easily sit 150-200 people and I had to stand in front of the large room without any props. In the past meetings in the Singapore were usually held in cozy rooms that could fit about 25-30 people and I used to stand behind a podium which allowed me to glance at my notes from time to time. I don’t have this buffer anymore and you have to stand right in front of everybody. So it was intimidating and I felt a bit naked and unprotected. But I realized early that one has to be open and sincere to establish rapport and be accepted here.

One sees the difference between the speeches here as compared to Asia. The speeches in Singapore where often grand and presumptuous but the goal was to achieve a certain professional feel though the attempt often falls short. Perhaps because English is not the first native language of these speakers and once one learns English, the temptation is to flaunt and grand stand. The first language often depends on one’s heritage like Chinese, Malay, Indonesian or Filipino. English is more the second language. During one’s daily life, one would shift from one language to another depending on the circumstances and the person spoken to. So making a speech in English is a significant effort so the result is often embellishments although there are quite good speakers who achieve a good balance.

On the other hand, English here is the first language so there is less temptation to embellish the speech. The meetings here are business like because it is held during lunch time at the company premises. Meetings are held 3 times a month so the goal is to do as many projects as possible. Speeches here are very down-to-earth with emphasis on sincerity and everyday occurrences. There are less abstract concepts being talked about so there maybe a tendency towards boring speeches. My challenge is to gain this ‘native fluency’ with English and to stick to every day matters. I don’t have the stature or gravitas to bluster my way like the great speakers here like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama.

My speech was about Toastmaster and how it has helped me in my career. I also spoke about my life in the company and how Toastmaster made me a better person to adapt to changes brought about by outsourcing. I got a good review and I think most people liked my speech judging from their smiles and faces. There are fewer members here as compared to the clubs in Singapore. But it is a diverse group and there was a good speech about walking yesterday which I liked. I realized that people here are poetic and there is a natural rhythm and cadence to their speech. I guess it is the normal American way of speaking which foreign speakers like me admire. I guess my main challenge is how to speak without notes, use my body effectively and without props and tailor my speech with the appropriate emphasis and focus on everyday matters though with an Asian flavor.

In the weekend, I will attend the Fall Conference of my local Toastmaster district. I understand it will be the first time it will be held here in the Upstate at Spartanburg. The Fall Conference is usually held at Columbia, the state capital. It will be a good experience for me to see the speakers here perform as compared to Singapore. I mentioned in my speech yesterday that attending Toastmaster club meeting helps newcomers like me acclimatize, adapt and learn the local culture. It’s a good chance to network and meet new people. It’s the major reason for me to continue with my Toastmaster experience aside from improving my speaking abilities. It gives a good picture of local Americana.

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