Master Your Toast

Stand up and get in front of the crowd. It’s time to tell your story, to give a speech. But first, take a deep breath…

Five years ago, a group of friends got together and realized they had always wanted to do something different. They wanted to take on new challenges, to find something that would define who they really were. It was that spark of motivation that led to the establishment of the Saigon Toastmasters Club in May 2010. Part of Toastmasters International, Saigon Toastmasters Club is the first community-based Toastmasters Club in Vietnam. The club aims to develop self-confidence and personal growth for its members by equipping them with public speaking and leadership skills.

“Our typical meetings, which are currently only available in English, consist of three main sessions: prepared speech, table topics and evaluation,” says Linh Phan, the club’s Vice President of Public Relations. “The members usually choose their desired topics two weeks in advance. The choices of topics are up to them, but they will need to stick to guidelines and objectives proposed in the manual given to them from Toastmasters International.”

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According to Linh, these objectives vary from making good use of body language and eye-contact, to making the audience laugh with a short speech in six minutes. “Of course the further the members progress through the levels as instructed in the manual, the more difficult it will be to achieve the objectives,” adds Lan Anh, the Director of Toastmasters Vietnam’s Area A3. “But it is the second session that often terrifies our members the most.”

In this “terrifying” session, certain members are picked randomly to give a speech about a random topic being raised. “This is a great chance to further strengthen your ability to arrange information and convey ideas,” explains Lan Anh. “The pressure is real, really. It’s normal to be scared of speaking in front of so many unfamiliar faces, unprepared. But after a while, you will be used to it, and will be so grateful to see how much all these needed skills can actually help with improving your current working experience.”

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Last but not least, the evaluation is carried out by senior toastmasters who have signed up for the role. “They would give us feedback on what we did well and what could have been better,” raises her. “No one will criticize you for your mistakes, literally. Criticism is not allowed. It has never been and will never be,” says Linh.

Lan Anh further points out that it is through these activities that one can nurture and develop their leadership as well. “It’s not just simply public speaking. It’s also critical thinking, effective listening, taking responsibility, organizing events and working in teams.”

Members also have the opportunity to join the Executive Club Officer Team (EXCO Team) with only one requirement: be an active and committed member. “Being a member of EXCO is even more challenging than working at a corporation,” says Lan Anh with a smile. “But it’s definitely worth it, as you will be surprise to see how much you have grown throughout that one-year term.”

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Hot Cold Milk

The club has around 70 members at its peak. The members are mostly young Vietnamese, aged 22 to 30, who want to improve not only their English and public speaking skills, but also their self-confidence. Other members include foreigners who were already members in their native countries and wish to continue with the club when they moved to Vietnam. With membership enrollment more than they can manage, the Hot Cool Milk (HCM) Toastmasters Club was established earlier this year to cater to half of the current members from the Saigon Toastmasters Club. According to Lan Anh, who is also the President of HCM, both clubs follow the standard guidelines of Toastmasters International, but it is the culture of each club that sets it apart from its sibling. Where Saigon Toastmasters Club is more exclusive, with higher standards and adheres strictly to rules, HCM is simply young, fresh and dynamic.

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“It has never been easy, you know,” confesses Linh. “Sometimes I just want to give up because it’s too difficult to maintain the balance between being an EXCO member and my job. But I keep hanging in there as I could see how much I have changed ever since that day when I made my first speech. The best part of all this is that I’ve got to know more about myself than ever before.”

Lan Anh nods and agrees as joining the club has allowed her to realize her career path. “I love it so much when I get to stand in front of an audience, witnessing them being inspired by my speech. It made me realize that I’ve always wanted to work in the training sectors, it’s like I’ve finally found the destination of my life.”

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The club is looking forward to a promising 2016 with the establishment of the Distinguished Toastmasters Club – a place for senior toastmasters to continue pushing themselves further; as well as preparing for The Championship of Public Speaking international contest.

Membership is open to anyone 18 and older and fee is USD6 a month. Alternatively, guests can sit-in on a session for a “drink fee” of VND30,000 every second and fourth Saturday at ERC Institute (88 Huynh Van Banh, Phu Nhuan) with the Saigon Toastmasters Club. Or every first and third Saturday at Alcove Library Hotel (133A Nguyen Dinh Chinh, Phu Nhuan) with the HCM Toastmasters Club.

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