This is an my first column published in Ningbo Focus magazine.
“Madam Toastmaster, Ladies and Gentlemen…”, is how many speeches start at a Toastmasters club meeting. Two years ago when I arrived in Ningbo there was only one club with 5 guests. In 2015 there are five Toastmasters clubs, who meet regularly, from Book City to Ningbo University to University of Nottingham Ningbo China.
Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. Members deliver speeches to enhance their Communication. They take roles in the club e.g. president, treasurer, or meeting roles like Timer or Ah-Counter, to enhance their Leadership skills. Worldwide there are over 14,000 clubs and in China the rate of growth has been tremendous since launching in 1999.
Ningbo is a prime example of this growth with over 100 people who regularly attend meetings. Some clubs focus on Chinese Mandarin, some are English only, and many are bilingual. So why do people join Toastmasters in Ningbo besides the obvious learning environment?
“What we learn in Toastmasters is really useful in our life. With all the presentation and communication skills I’ve learned in Toastmasters, I managed to enter one of the largest private companies in Ningbo and then start my own business. Toastmasters has helped me find my passion.” says Weiwei Yang, former president of Ningbo #1 Toastmasters club.
Many of my Chinese friends are not from Ningbo or Zhejiang. Some like Nina are from Hunan, and others like Lillian are from Gansu province in the north West of China. Toastmasters allows them to make high quality friends, sometimes with foreigners like me. The members of the clubs are all interested in personal development, they are confident and lead by example.
In fact the most popular phrase we use is “learn by doing” and every activity in a Toastmasters meeting reminds you of this. It’s a safe place where you can make mistakes and correct them easily. There are no teachers and everyone may provide some form of feedback either verbal, on the stage, or in a written form. The agenda for the meetings are followed closely because “time” is one of the most important values in our meetings. By being on time, it shows respect to your audience.
It turns out Toastmasters helped me to reduce my culture shock after moving to China. The people I’ve met have become my best friends. The activities are always fun and my confidence around Chinese people has improved tremendously. The value of this group increases over time.
To join one of the next meetings, simple email add me on Wechat: rjthomas