Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Stay in the United States of America - Prelude

Sweltering Summer Sweating Sweating
Awesome Autumn Falling Foliage
White Winter Wishing Wishing
Splendid Spring Blooming Blooming

The above is a little poem that I have written at the end of my one-year stay in the states. It encapsulates what I have experienced.

On a personal level, it is amazing to realise that I can write. I used to think that I am no good with the words and only with numbers. I thought that I am hopeless when it comes to public speaking but I have recently proved myself wrong. Now, I know that human is capable of infinite abilities if we give ourselves space and time to discover our hidden potential.

Singapore is a very fast-paced country. In the pursuit of success, wealth and work take precedence. No one has the time to take stock of when he or she is. Everyone is busy to get another piece of paper to emerge as the victor in the rat race. Sometimes, someone will occassionally drop out of the race to look for the right way to lead his or her life.

I was that someone a few years ago. The decision to pack my bags and leave for a foreign land with my family, was not an easy one. Given the focus on wealth and work in this little island, one year could result in a gulf of difference when one compares the progression that a fellow co-worker has made. Now I realise that to measure progression using career as a single dimension is so limited. Life is more than work, it is about your family, your friends and more importantly, yourself.

I am in awe of how much I have progressed by simply allowing time to come to a standstill. Just like a water in a mud, if we were to constantly stir it, it will remain murky. On the other hand, if we were to allow it time for the mud to settle, crystal-clear water will surface. I realise that I was not able to write well in the past as I did not allow myself to focus on writing. In the same manner. if I want to be a better speaker, I just need to practise more. There is no two way about this.

I will like to chronicle my unforgetable experience in my next few blogposts using each season as my lamp post.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Practice Makes Perfect

To win a trophy is an affirmation of one's hardwork, an achievement of sorts, and most importantly of all, to spur one to greater heights.

Readers would have read in my earlier post that I have taken more challenge in my journey to improve to be a better public speaker. I found that the shortest time to do so is to take part in competition. And this I did at my club's humorous speech and evaluation contest held just yesterday. It was a lot of work, a lot of stress and a lot of unexpected. I was busy with my work. I was stressed as I was juggling so many things. There were unexpected work that came along the way. But this was life and this was reality. While I could jolly well raise a white flag, I refused to do so without a fight.

I was glad I did as along the way, my mentor chipped in and sent me so much information on how to prepare and deliver a humorous speech, how to do a good evalution. Yetti, if you are reading this, a very BIG thank you.

It was in my wildest dream that I could do a presentation without my quavering voice. Now the unthinkable has become a pleasant reality. To add icing onto the cake, I was actually the first-runner up for the humorous speech and lo and behold, the champion for speech evaluation. Being the champion for speech evaluation also means that I am in the coveted position to represent my club and compete at the next level in Sep 09. I will be spending more time reading and doing how to evaluate a speech.

No words can adequately express my gratitude. But I shall try. Thank you Toastmasters' Clubs and the many friends whom I have made, you are such superb people that make such a stupendous change in me. As action speaks louder than words, I shall work hard to prepare for the contest next month. Wish me luck :)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Babies are wonderful, but...

I can still fondly remember what a bundle of joy my first born was. My mother was excited to be grandmother for the first time. My husband and I were overjoyed as we finally had an offspring after 5 long years of marriage. But slowly but surely, the initial euphoria waned as the reality of taking care of a newborn baby hit home and hard.

Gone was the carefree days of a lovey-dovey couple who could decide on a romantic night out on a whim. "Ring, ring." My handphone would buzz when the clock struck 6 pm. There was no need for caller-ID for I knew on the other side of the line was my mother, weary from taking care of the baby and reminded me to pick up my boy on time. As my husband was usually busy at work - at times, I marvelled at my own efficiacy at work - I ended up being the nanny on graveyard shift.

When my second pregnancy came, my mother raised a white flag. "Get a confinement nanny and a maid." she advised. And a confinement nanny stayed for not just a month but two months, I would want her to stay on longer if not for the high charges - it was around $1,700 per month - enough to pay my maid for half a year, and that was not inclusive of the maid levy.

But unfortunately, the maid only stayed for not a day longer than half a year. I would call that emotional blackmail - be it psychological or not. The first thing, we told her was that taking care of my two children was to be her top priority. Housework and the rest was to take a backseat. Little did I know that she followed the instructions a little to zealous. In the end, she carried my baby while I struggled with the shopping bags outside. When I spotted a coat of dust on my window grille, she told nonchalently that my mother told her not to do so - which my mother denied. I supposed in a way my mother and I suffered from a severe form of middle-income guilt. Being just so-so in economic status, we did not have the supercilious ease of the filthy rich. What made it worst was that the memories of being poor remained vivid in our minds. My mother used to be a part-time home cleaner and both of us empathised with the maid having to do the strenuous housework so much so that we were taken for a ride. Then there was my husband who decidedly steered clear from domestic affair from Day 1, loudly advocating that the reports in the papers on errant maids were just the tip of an iceberg.

In the end, we decided that home affairs - as in housework - was easily to manage than human affairs. Having a first hand taste of having a maid, my mother also relented and agreed to be the main caregiver of my second baby while my elder boy was put in the full-day childcare. However, this was not after my valiant attempt to stay home as a full-time mother failed. I was constantly calling her for advice on what to do next with my wailing baby. I must admit that I was then silently revering in joy.

It was with these rich experiences that I coined the term "burden of joy" in place of "bundle of joy" when I wrote a congratulatory note to a friend. I had to apologise that it was not intentionally but my subsciousness getting the better of me. Hey, did Malcolm Gladwell not say in his book "Blink" that our instinct was often true then not?

Having written all these, I must admit that my two boys are such joy to be with especially during my one-year stay in the United States. They have taught me so much to ask questions again and not to be set in my mould of thinking. Being a full-time mother away from home made me stronger. As I knew that my mother would not be able to rush here - she was illiterate and there was no way she could fly to the States alone - I just learnt to be independent.

There was so much family bonding especially when my husband was then a full-time student again, he would be home early - not the usual long after dinner in his working life. He could also help out on a more consistent basis with the floor vacuuming, laundry and grocery shopping. Long weekends meant a short getaway in the nearby states. The longer termbreaks were spent in well-planned driving holidays - the most memorable one was when we drove all the way from Pennsylvannia to California.

I am not surprised that our baby bonus has little impact so far. For one, I value my freedom more than the perks that come with the baby. What I am looking for is my husband to help out more. But he is always so busy with his work. For me, I have made the choice to balance both my family and work. In the case of my husband, his work. Even with my balancing stance, work still spills over to after office hours and into the weekends.

That guilt of not being to spend enough time with my boys especially in the case of my younger son is constantly haunting me. I know I can make a difference after I coach my elder boy in phonics during our one-year in the States. He is a much better English speaker and learner compared to my younger boy.

Yes, babies are wonderful but the demands of being a good parent entail a lot of short-term sleepless nights, long-term sacrifice. And hopefully, also long-term love and care from my children when my husband and I grow old.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Love-and-Hate Relationship with Golf

I believe that you will agree with me that for ordinary working folks like us, we look forward to non-working day. A day that we are free to decide when to wake up and not at the command of the alarm clock. A day for us to catch up on sleep. In short, a wonderful day on the snuggily comfortable bed in an air-conditioned room.

Alas, this is usually not the case for me. Allow me to do a re-play of what happened a few months ago where Singapore's skyline was often shrouded by haze.

At the break of dawn, I was rudely awaken from my slumber by my husband's deep voice. As I sluggishly dragged myself out of bed, my nose caught a whiff of the burnt smell of the haze from the Indonesia fire. My not-fully-functioning head miraculously stirred to life to find an excuse not to go to the golf course. Next, my suddenly newfound keen sense of hearing attested to the grumbling and rumbling sound of thunder. But my single-minded husband would not tolerate any of my excuses. A promise was a promise, he reminded me. Yes, I had agreed to accompany him to a game of bent sticks. Sigh, in an instance, I was whisked out of the home and off to the golf course.

This is my typical response whenever my husband suggests for us to go for a golfing trip together. I want my beauty sleep. The thought of lugging the few kilograms golf bag into the car boot and 5 to 6 hours under the harsh tropical sun is another deterrent. But it is also almost the only time when my husband is most relaxed and able to hold a decent conversation with me. So this is the reason, I play golf.

I love golf for it allows me timeout with my husband. Yet, it is such a difficult game to pick up. Sigh, I wish life could be easier....

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Humorous Speech Contest - Style, Substance and Sourness

Whenever I saw pretty girls on stage giving a good speech, my inner voice could not but screamed "got style, no substance". Afterall, I believe that our creator is fair and just. Since the girls are pretty, they cannot be smart. And if they are smart, they are not pretty. Just like me. But strangely, I do not have that vernemous thought when it comes to guys.

A very good afternoon, Contest chair, district officers, fellow toastmasters, friends and guests. For more than a decade, I was never called upon to do a briefing to management or to my fellow colleagues. The reason is simple, I am not pretty enough. Then suddenly, my boss asked me to do a short presentation. Surely, he must be nuts. But of course, I would lose my job if I were to say that.

So carefully, I treaded, trying to "siam" ("Siam" is Singlish, meaning trying to avoid doing more work.) "Boss, boss, you, you do not expect a smart alec like me to address to commoners, right? I mean they would not be able to understand me."

"You either go for it or go for the door. You understand?" My boss's stern voice reverberated in the four walls of the office and also in my head. I looked at him sheepishly. Of course, I understood. I was a smart alec.

I dropped my head and shoulder and resigned - not resigned from my work - I am still need to eat, you know, what I meant was to resign to my fate.

I was to research on how to speak in public and share my findings to a group of senior staff who have been speaking to well, the public. Mind you, I was not a toastmaster then. I guess my not-so-pretty face somehow found its way to my boss's stack of bad books. Alright, a bookworm I was so doing research was a piece of cake for me and this was what I have shared with my colleagues on that fateful day.

Hello, everyone, today I am indeed very honored to share with you my experience in public speaking. Thump!!!

[Narrator's mode] No it was not my heart beating. Though it was thumping fast and furious. I was so nervous that I missed a step and fell.

"Hello, any questions from the floor?" I grimaced as I tried to salvage the situation. "Thinking on our feet is very important as a speaker." I continued.

One very effective way to brush up our public speaking skills so is to be a toastmaster. Toastmaster is not a master in making toast bread. It is more like a ghostbuster, we get rid of the ghosts in public speaking.

Just like when we buy a property, analysts will tell you that it is all about "location, location and location." In being a good public speaker, it is all about "preparation, preparation and preparation."

So what are the things which we should look out for when we are giving a speech. Organise your speech, and practise. Also have a script in hand. A script is like a plank for not just for beginner swimmers but also for all. Whenever we feel insecure in front of an auditorium full of audience, we could quickly refer to our script. But please, do not be over-reliant on the script. No one likes to feel neglected, especially when you only have style.

[Narrator's mode]: I could feel tension mounting in the room as forty pairs of eyes stared at me when I said that. A smart alec I was, I moved quickly to defuse the tension. So I used my script and fanned myself and the audience of course. Phew, that was a close one.

Erm, I mean when you not only have style but also substance. Next I will move on to what to look out for when we prepare our script. Words are our good friends and we need to know our audience and use their language. When we do public speaking, we are not merely reading from our script. Otherwise, you will lose them halfway in your presentation. According to research, most people will be able to remember the most information in the beginning and slowly this attention span declines. I believe that the attention span will remain high if we can keep entertaining them.

We do so by making use of our gesture, body language and vocal variety. RAISE YOUR VOICE, whenever we need to.

"Thump!!!" Another loud thump thundered again.

[Narrator's mode] Gosh, my louder than usual voice must have shaken someone from his or her slumber land. Not waiting to miss this opportunity to get my vengence, I suggested the audience to demonstrate what he or she would do after hearing my presentation.

"Angie, can you kindly come here to share with us what you have learnt." I ventured, trying to sound as kind as possible, while sniggering secretly in my heart.

"Sure." she replied. "I learnt what not to do in a presentation. Do not read from script as what you have been doing. And I also figure out that your children must be very well behaved."

"Oh, really?" I was pleasantly surprised and was unexpected at such a compliment. "How do you know?"

"'Cos whenever they make any mistake, you probably gave them a two-hour lecture."

The whole class burst out laughing. Gosh, I guess they do have style and substance. It was just me who was without style but with sourness. After that incident, I decided to walk my talk and join the Toastmasters Club.

And I discover that style and substance does mix. Our contest chair is a beautiful and articulate lady. Of course, our judges are also gorgeous and gregarious bunch. How can I forget our audience? You too are fantastic. All we need to do is just to scoop away the sourness.

Back to you Toastmaster of the Day.

New Challenges Coming Forth

The last few weeks have been a busy, hectic but fulfilling period. I was busy on work front. I needed to do presentation on a back-to-back basis. Work life has been geared towards doing briefing since I returned from the States about three years ago.

I must say that the Toastmasters Program has given me tremendous help to conquer the fear of public speaking. Through the 10 projects in the Competent Communicator module and volunteering in the club activities, I have become more confident and comfortable in speech delivery. Strangely, busy as I was, I actually looked forward to standing in the lectern and speak! It is an opportunity to give all that I have. There is also a great sense of achievement.

Just a few days ago, I agreed to take part in my club's coming humorous speech and evaluation contest. Today, I shall be scratching my head to think of what to talk and to prepare for both segments - humorous speech and evaluation. To those who want to conquer the fear of public speaking, look around for a nearby toastmaster club. It's the best gift that you can give to yourself! And wish me luck for my new challenges ahead :)