Toastmasters away

Having been a Toastmaster for all of five minutes (actually since August this year) I decided to visit a couple of clubs in Singapore while visiting my family . The first one I chose for this first week of my visit to the East holds its meeting at the Sheraton Towers, a smart hotel on Scott’s Road, not far off the famous Orchard Road shopping centres.

Sheraton Towers

As I expected, this chapter was a very busy and popular club. I understand it has around 150 members. I showed up at around 15 minutes before the appointed time and paid my visitor subscription. Not all clubs make such a charge, but it was worth it as an excellent supper was on offer. Since I had not managed to eat anything before the meeting this was very welcome. Fried rice, noodles, crab claws and spring rolls, followed by fruit. This club meets on the first three Mondays of every month.

The meeting was conducted rather differently to the way things are done in Worthing. True, the formality of the welcomes was present, the handshaking, the greetings to Toastmasters and guests. (Including myself there were around a dozen people there for the first time).

In Worthing we always have a warm-up session where everyone present (if they wish) talks for around 15 seconds on a subject chosen by the person doing the warm-up role that week. At Sheraton Towers, after an amusing welcome speech lasting a good five minutes from toastmaster Brandon, followed by a short address by President Leslie Lim, they pitched straight into the prepared speeches – eight of them. I was told later that since there are so many members it’s hard to book a slot. You have to be on your computer at 9pm on the dot of a Wednesday evening and book your slot before they are filled within five minutes.

The meeting lasted for three hours with just a fifteen minute break after 90 minutes.

Estelle talking of her cultural shock as a Chinese Singaporean, working for a Spanish company

We were treated to speeches embracing Lord Krishna and contentment with life, cross-cultural shock (Chinese to Spanish in this particular case). Faisal gave a great speech called ‘I never left my room’; it was about the joy and experience gained from reading. Another member showed us – with the aid of a slide or two – how to achieve happiness without chasing after possessions. Other contributions included an unprepared wedding speech, the art of listening (a lot of audience participation for this one). There was one ice-breaker, which, though a little too short, was very good, delivered without notes and with a lot of vocal variety.

And here’s the thing: Attendees get to vote for their favourite speech using a voting app. Very 21st century!

Finally (and in my view this should have been first, we were all urged to do vocal exercises with the last speaker. He explained that, just like singers, speakers need to warm up. So he had us doing trills, ees and aahs.

In the second half there were ten table topics and no shortage of volunteers. The man sitting next to me – a first time visitor – shot his hand up and delivered his homily on e-scooters without removing his hands from his pockets!

I stayed for the evaluations and enjoyed listening to the recommendations, but left before the meeting ended as I wanted to get back home before the household went to bed.

I spotted two ‘without further ados’ from the Toastmaster! Something our own grammarian would leap upon!

At the break, the President sought me and other visitors out to have a chat and I also chatted with some of the members. The club seemed to consist mainly of Singaporean Chinese and Indian. A smattering of European faces made for some accent variety.

Singaporean English is quite heavily accented so I missed one or two key phrases – especially if someone coughed. I concentrated hard and heard some very bright people delivering valuable knowledge from their own experiences.

The room was full. I didn’t count, but would estimate that at peak there were eighty in the room. I noted though that several had sloped off at the break.

I thoroughly enjoyed my evening and will make a point of going again in the New Year and when I am back in Singapore. Everyone made me feel very welcome.

Changkat Toastmasters in Tampines, Singapore

Later in the week I attended another chapter meeting out of town, not far from my son’s place.

Once again, I was warmly welcomed by the Sergeant at arms who was busy setting up the room ready for the meeting and who had hurried from the food court with enough takeaway food to feed an army. And this chapter at Changkat, Tampines, made no charge to guests. However, I had already eaten so I simply took a couple of bites (with chopsticks) to be polite.

I spent a happy half hour chatting with members and guests (we were five altogether) before the meeting was called to order and we began.

We started off with a request for the guests to introduce themselves, so I stood and explained why I was there, and was followed by the others. Their reasons ranged from a mission by an established toastmaster to visit all the clubs in Singapore, to someone who just wanted to see what it was all about.

As at the Sheraton, after the welcome and toastmaster’s introductory remarks the Club President took over and gave a 10 minute speech. He spoke about setting a macro goal and lots of micro goals to get there. I thought of my son during this speech. Years ago, he set himself the goal of owning his own business by 35. He made it, and was only out by a year or so. And along the way he passed many micro goals.

The evening proceeded with four prepared speeches, one of which was 20 minutes long. This was a question and answer session, like a short seminar with a Q and A to follow. It was actually very interesting.

Another speaker spoke of why he never speaks at the meeting – innate shyness. He was a very handsome 40-something man who – I later discovered – works in a bank.

The speeches were accompanied by quite a lot of audience participation – whooping, murmuring in agreement and so on, and the end of every offering was greeted by tumultuous applause.

The word of the day was meticulous. I noted that all the speech givers completely ignored Chang’s appeal to use it. Only the timekeeper managed to get the word into his report on timings, thus saving Distinguished Toastmaster Chong from a sleepless night!

I was impressed by the welcome given. In addition to the people holding roles who made it their business to welcome me and the other guests, there were people wearing ASK ME badges to help newcomers. And everyone came to shake my hand.

There was a very short five-minute break because we were running pretty late. We reassembled for the evaluations. As with all toastmaster sessions these were mostly positive with a couple of recommendations. Especially the shy guy whose speech had, quite naturally, been halting and nervous, had his spirits raised by the very excellent evaluator.

I am afraid I didn’t stay any longer so I missed table topics. It was getting late and the family was expecting me home, possibly slightly worried about me running around strange parts of Singapore on my own. In fact, my taxi driver home remarked on how odd he found it to find an elderly (he didn’t actually say that!) Caucasian lady in that part of town. I just smiled and said I had been to a meeting and I semi live here.

One thing I have noticed here in Singapore is that many of the speeches are about the speaker’s own job. For me it provided an insight into 21st century working in a high-tech city. I could almost put this down as CPD for my translation work.

All in all, while extremely interesting to observe, I find the Singapore meetings a little too long at 3 hours, plus overruns. Toastmasters like to be rigid on timings but it almost never seems to work.

But I am very happy I went to these two meetings and may well repeat the experience before I leave Singapore.

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