Grow Your Confidence with Toastmasters in Ningbo

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.

Chuck Tidiane Ndiaye Toastmaster in NingboNingbo 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.

Ningbo University Toastmasters club China District 85It 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


Toastmasters Speech: 50 Shades of Love

There are only four questions of value in life, Don Octavio. What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same: only love.” Don Juan Demarco
Good evening Madam Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, Ladies and Gentleman
Who here has ever been in love? Ah yes, I see most of you…
The greatest joy you can possibly experience is falling in love. I’m sure you would all agree unless you were single on Valentine’s Day 😉 This is a story for those of you who may have lost hope in love. So follow me on this journey…
Don Juan Demarco Johnny Depp Marlon BrandoOur story starts with a mysterious young man determined to end his life. Wearing a consume reminiscent of Zorro including the mask, before he kills himself, he first wants to have one last conquest. So he makes his way to a nearby hotel, and proceeds to seduce the first woman sitting alone. He claims no woman has ever left his arms unsatisfied. Later we find him on top of a very large street sign with a model wearing the same mask, where he is supposedly going to jump to his death.
The police calls in a psychiatrist, Dr Mickler, to talk him into coming down. Before the psychiatrist can even begin to talk, the mystery man almost stabs him with his fencing sword demanding to know where his opponent is. Dr Mickler assumes the identity of a aristocratic Spanish nobleman, Don Octavio Del Flores, to gain the confidence of the young Don Juan. He is asks, “Thee Don Juan?” with great surprise as to the identify of his soon-to-be patient. After gaining his confidence, Don Juan agrees to go with Dr Mickler.
Even though the Dr Mickler has been married to his beautiful wife for decades, it’s clearly devoid of passion. As he gets to know Don Juan, he realises he is getting old and does not want to extinguished the flame of love. While Don Juan is having a distracting influence on the female staff at the hospital, he is also rejuvenating the romance and passion in his Doctor’s marriage. It’s like a love transfusion from the young man to the old man.
Dr Mickler’s wife is shocked by the sudden increase in libido of her husband, who a week from retirement. He’s sessions with Don Juan leads him to question how he looks at his wife, how he deeply he really knows her. At one point he takes her on a date, gives her diamond earnings, flowers, and serenades her with guitar music. He’s wife is not exactly intimated but being a realist she tries to calm down her husband, so he may retire gracefully.
Back to Don Juan story…
After his first love affair with a married woman, he is accidentally sold into slavery with an Arabian Sultan. The Sultan’s 4th wife takes him as a lover. To make sure he is not discovered, she hides him among 1,500 concubines. I will leave it to your imagination what happened until he’s forced to escape yet again.
This time his journey ends up stranded and meets the love of his life, Dona Ana. They fall deeply and passionately in love. And after some time they commit to spend the rest of their lives with each other. Dona Ana innocently asks Don Juan if he will be wearing a mask for the rest of their lives. He recounts the story of his first love, Dona Julia and how to swore to wear the mask because he’s father died, defending him and he’s mother’s honour.
When she asks him how many other’s there’s been. He says, “Including you, there’s been exactly 1,502.” A sum substantially bigger than she anticipated. He removed his mark as a sign of his remorse. Dona Ana mocks him by taking the mask, and leaving him on the island.
Dr Mickler believes Don Juan’s story, helps him gain release from the mental hospital. Instead of watching 50 Shades of Grey, remember 50 Shades of Love this year.

Why MBA Students need Toastmasters

RJ Thomas with Dananjaya Hettiarachchi, World Champion in Public Speaking 2014 ToastmastersMBA Students are notoriously busy people. Either they are taking many classes or running a business on the side. In China we also have to learn Chinese language (Mandarin), the Putonghua or common language of the people in the world’s second largest economy. To truly have an advantage after graduating from MBA school, you need to have superior communications skills.

Toastmasters International is the leading organisation worldwide offering structured training through regular meetings in communication and leadership. Many complete only the basic level of Competent Communicator (CC), which is 10 prepared speeches with feedback, to ensure they have a foundation in public speaking and delivering presentations in a confident manner.

MBA students enter the business world with high expectations from their colleagues and hiring managers. You are almost certainly on a fast track to management and eventually CEO with some hard work. However, most business schools do not directly offer training in sales, persuasion or public speaking. Enter the Toastmasters Communications track:

After receiving CC recognition, you can work in the Advanced Communication Series. There are 15 manuals, each containing five speech projects. Many of the manuals are career-oriented. You choose the manuals you want to complete and the skills you want to learn. Working in the advanced manuals, you’ll refine and enhance your speaking skills and become eligible for several awards:

As an MBA student at Ningbo University (NBU) in Zhejiang province, China, I’ve been thrilled by the impact the new Toastmasters club has had in bringing together both foreign and Chinese students on a regular basis for a shared learning experience.

The Business College at NBU has sponsored for chartering of the Toastmasters club. Membership is limited to students, teachers and graduates. Of course guests from other clubs and the community are always welcome. We decided on this to ensure a feeling of fraternity among members. Students get to meet graduates, many of whom have started their own businesses. They have opportunities to practise and prepare for class presentations, oral examination through Table Topics and much more.
MBA students may apply some of theoretical ideas in a practical ways by sharing business ideas or case studies from class. Certainly entrepreneurs do pitches to investors when they start new businesses; on the other hand you may enter sales areas where you need to persuade the audience to your point of view. And when you’re the CEO you need to inspire and lead your team. All in-all is available for an investment of only $36 per 6 months.
What are you waiting for to join?


China Toastmasters and My First Speech Competition

Toastmasters International logoIn September I moved to China to do my MBA degree at Ningbo University. Before I left South Africa I wanted to make sure there is an active China Toastmasters community. I was not disappointed after participating in my first Speech competition last Sunday.


Toastmasters International is a worldwide organisations that teaches communication and leadership in weekly group meetings. The environment allows people to become comfortable with public speaking as well as leading group activities. You can find a Toastmasters club in most big cities in the world by searching online.

Anyway after being a member of two clubs in South Africa, CIS Toastmasters in Houghton, Johannesburg and uSpeak Toastmasters in Port Elizabeth, I found only one club in Ningbo: Ningbo Nr. 1 Toastmasters, which holds it’s meetings at Nottingham University in Ningbo.


After attending only one club meeting I was invited to the Area Speech Competition in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province in Eastern China. I was in for a big surprise on the morning of the competition when I discovered it was the humours speech competition. My speech title was “Passport to Mars” and I prepared a persuasive speech, to inspire and convince the audience, we should go to Mars in the 21st century.

After some quick thinking and thanks to Evernote, I adapted my speech into a tirade on Hollywood Alien-invasion movies, and how they mostly designed to scare people. Whenever you watch a movie about aliens, or going to another planet, unless it was E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, you would walk away with a sense of trepidation.

My second challenge was how to adapt my South African humour for a Chinese audience. In the end, this was the most difficult. My only cancellation was the warm reception from some individual Chinese people before and especially after my speech. In one day I met two Chinese people who visited South Africa, so I was very optimistic about the next two years on mainland China.


Jabulani Mangena wins International English Speaking Contest

Recently I attended the annual Toastmasters Maxicon conference. The theme in 2013 was Leadership, hence the name Leadercon.

Congratulations to Jabulani Mangena of Midrand Toastmasters Club for being placed first at the District 74 International Speech contest held recently at Indaba Hotel & Conference centre. Winner of the District 74 humourous contest in 2010, Jabulani came first again – this time for the International contest with his speech titled “Garbage Bin Boy.”

OAP Editor, Abisha Gowere spoke to Jabulani on the day he won the contest and below was their conversation.

Interview with the District 74 International Speech Contest winner 2013: Jabulani Mangena

1. How are you feeling about coming first in the District Contest?

Very excited, I prayed about this and I knew God is faithful, he would answer my prayers.

2. What inspired you to keep going through out the stages from Club to District level?

The inspiration from my 10 year old daughter, she believed so much in me.

3. What advice would you give to future speech contestants?

Be yourself, tell your story and speak from your heart, and be careful of what has put you down in the past.

4. Your speech was about you as the “Garbage Bin Boy,” what inspired you to choose this topic ?

What I said was my true story. I had always been waiting to get an opportunity to tell my story.

The winning was not without competition. Louis Nigrini of The Sages, who came first in the Evaluation contest was placed second after Jabulani with his speech was “Time travel” Rudo Bingepinge-Dzenga of Bedfordview was placed third with her speech titled “Make some lemonade”

Well-done to the rest of the participants listed below and in alphabetical order of Division:
• Christijan Schoeman – Centurion – Area A2 – My eulogy
• John Hambleton – Cape Town – Area D2 – Attitude leads to altitude
• Marianah Lourens – Algoa – Area E1 – THe dream
• Andrew McGregor – Pietermaritzburg – Area F2 – You choose
• Graham Shirley – Bacon & Egg – Area S3 – The talons of time

Jabulani Mangena is vying for one of nine spots in the World Championship of Public Speaking to be held Saturday, Aug. 24 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and we wish him all the best. He can be contacted at


John Wooden on true success

With profound simplicity, Coach John Wooden redefines success and urges us all to pursue the best in ourselves. In this inspiring talk he shares the advice he gave his players at UCLA, quotes poetry and remembers his father’s wisdom. He first came to my attention via the monthly Toastmasters International magazine. In this talk poetically about true success, hard work and also basic principles for leadership.

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. Featured speakers have included Al Gore on climate change, Philippe Starck on design, Jill Bolte Taylor on observing her own stroke, Nicholas Negroponte on One Laptop per Child, Jane Goodall on chimpanzees, Bill Gates on malaria and mosquitoes and “Lost” producer JJ Abrams on the allure of mystery. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and TEDTalks cover these topics as well as science, business, development and the arts. Watch the Top 10 TEDTalks on,

Here’s some excellent motivational qoutes by coach Jon Wooden:

Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.


I’d rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.


Material possessions, winning scores, and great reputations are meaningless in the eyes of the Lord, because He knows what we really are and that is all that matters.


Never mistake activity for achievement.


Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.


If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.


Be more concerned with your character than your reputation
because your character is what you really are, while your
reputation is merely what others think you are.


Be prepared and be honest.


Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.


Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character.


Don’t let what u cannot do interfere with what you can do.


Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man given Be grateful. Conceit is self given. Be careful.


Ability may get u to the top, but it takes character to keep u there.


If u don’t have time to do it right, when will u have time to do it over?


It’s what u learn after u know it all that counts.


A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.


It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.


Ability iz a poor man’s wealth.


A man may make mistakes, but he isn’t a failure until he starts blaming someone else.


Be prepared & be honest.


It’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.


Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.


You cannot live a perfect day without doing something 4 someone who will never be able to repay you.


Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.


Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.


Be Like Water, my final Toastmasters speech for 2007

This was my final Toastmasters speech for the year and my 10th, which I passed. It is also the final speech in the first level: Competent Communicator:

Madam Toastmaster, Ladies and Gentlemen…

For the longest time I did not understand the difference between motivation and inspiration. However, as I kept studying and learning I believe the key difference is that motivation is when some external force is required to move you forward, while in inspiration, there is an inner force that directs you. And so if you consider for a moment how much of your ambitions, dreams or goals never materialise its likely due to the fact that you lost motivation or lost steam along the way. This is the opposite of what I want to share with you tonight.

Tonight I will share 3 principles with you by which I live my life:

Principle 1: Empty Your Mind

Now I’m sure you have all heard the old clich?d question: Is your glass half full or half empty? This is a common expression, used rhetorically to indicate that a particular situation could be a cause for optimism (half full), pessimism (half empty) or as a general litmus test to simply determine if an individual is an optimist or a pessimist.

A Zen master received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. The Master served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” the Master said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

How is this relevant to Toastmasters? It’s simply: If you do not empty your mind before coming to a Toastmasters meeting you will not learn anything. What is clear to me is that most people attending Toastmasters meeting indeed follow this way of thinking.

Principle 2: Letting Go (Accept Things As They Are)

Continue reading “Be Like Water, my final Toastmasters speech for 2007”


My Toastmasters speech on reducing technology stress friend Ronnie Apteker published a book 1999 called “Do you love IT in the morning?” and this was a great play on words because it could imply “it” as in perhaps sex or “IT” as in “Information Technology.” Sadly this book is now out of print and I remember picking up over 50 copies a few years ago for R5 each when CNA was clearing their old stock.

Anyway his central theme was called the progress paradox. What that means is the more technology we invent, the better it becomes, the more it supposedly improves our lives, and yet we find we have less time to do things than we’ve ever had before. Professor Barry Schwartz also confirmed this in his 2005 book, The Paradox of Choice.

Why am I reminding you of something you so inherently know to be true? Because I would like you to join me in my campaign called “Switch IT Off” – which advocates ONE, just ONE Technology FREE day per week. And I’m very, very serious when I mean that you switch off ALL technology that is based on computers from your cellphones, your iPod, your PC, your laptop and maybe even your television and your hifi. Perhaps you can imagine being on a camping trip for that one day where you only have access to the bare necessities.

In case you find this difficult and secretly suffer from an addiction to technology here’s my solution:

The 12-STEP programme to reducing Technology Stress:

  1. I admit I am powerless over my cellphones and without it my life becomes unmanageable.
  2. I believe that only a Power greater than Eskom could restore my sanity.
  3. I made a decision to turn my backups over to the care of Google.
  4. I made a searching and fearless moral inventory of downloaded TV shows.
  5. I admitted to myself and others the exact nature of my mp3 collection.
  6. I have Microsoft remove all these defects in my character.
  7. I humbly asked Bill Gates to remove my shortcomings.
  8. I made a list of all persons spammed, and I became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. I made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. I continue to take personal inventory and when I was wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. I sought through meditation to improve my conscious contact with Google, praying for knowledge for me and the power to carry that out.
  12. I am having an spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, an I forward this message to all my friends to practice these principles in all my affairs.

On a more serious note, research from the Journal of Marriage and Family in 2005 found that cellphones increasingly blurs the line between family time and work time for both men and women. So what typically happens is that work related stress spills over into family time and the opposite is also true for women, where family problems spill over into work time. This decreased family satisfaction and increased stress over a two-year period. The researchers said that as the use of cell phones becomes increasingly prevalent, the line between family and work life will continue to blur.

You know in life your parents likely taught you how to cross the road by looking left, right and left again. But think about it, nobody teaches us how to cross the information superhighway. This 12-step programme is my way to bring order to the chaos, and helping your choose between the ONE (True/Yes) and the ZERO (No/False). So which one will it be?


The Attention Age Doctrine

This is a speech I gave last night for my Toastmasters club

I only had my first girlfriend when I got to university, after high school. So I was a bit of slow starter back then. Every weekend I would rely on my best friend and neighbour to give me a lift to and from her because she lived in another city and his girlfriend lived there as well. So it almost became like a ritual that after he picked me up we would stop off at a garage shop and buy snacks and cool drinks. So while driving at 120 km/hour he held his cigarette in his right hand, conveniently close to the window for fresh air, controlled the steering wheel with the same hand. In between his legs he would keep his can of Coke and take the occasion sip. With his left hand he would change gears and every now and then grab some Niknaks or Simba chips. Now in retrospect this was in fact a very dangerous and stupid thing for him to do. This is taking multitasking to the the extreme.

Thank God cellphones were not widely in use back then.

The word multitasking comes from the computer industry and is now considered a vital part of our everyday lexicon. The idea is simple – you do multiple things at the same time. For example you may iron while watching tv or drive you car while listing to a news broadcast on radio. It turns out that of multitasking does not increase our productivity. In 2001 CNN reported a study by researchers Rubinstein and Meyer that found “time costs” increased with the complexity of the chores: It took longer, say, for subjects to switch between more complicated tasks. Every time you switch tasks you loose between 20% and 40% of the potential efficiency. An example quoted was when you write a report and your phone rings – you experience temporary writer’s block when you have switch back into the mode of writing the report.

The science author James Gleick wrote a whole book about the acceleration of just about everything called Faster. However, the most vivid description of this problem we’re facing comes from Professor Barry Schwartz, author of the Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. The basic premise in his book is this: In the affluent Western world we have a greater selection, and a greater amount of choice than ever before in the history of mankind. The ability to choose is directly linked with concepts like freedom of speech and democracy. Nevertheless, we are more dissatisfied with our choices than ever before. So in economic terms we are experiencing a substantial increase in what’s called opportunity costs. And often we find ourselves paralysed when having to make choices. One examples from his book is where a study was performed in selling jam to customers. While presented with 30 flavours of jam at a gourmet store it attracted more interested parties who wants to sample the jam. When presented with only 6 flavours of jam, it attracted less people but increased sales. So there is a paradox is offering to much choice.

Rich Shefren, an online business coach, in his free ebook, the Attention Age Doctrine highlights the facts that we have now entered and era where Attention has become the most valuable resource. So how do you begin to reclaim your attention? Switch off your television, radio, computer and cellphone and give yourself a mental break. One final thought on this subject. In 2005, Glenn Wilson, Psychologist at King’s College in London, gave a group an IQ test who were to do nothing but take the test. He then gave them the same test while being distracted by emails and phone calls. Even though they were told to ignore these interruptions, the volunteers average IQ dropped by 10 points while being distracted. This is more than twice the effect of marijuana in a similar study.


Fake it till you make it when speaking in Durban

There is a very popular saying in the seduction community that you should fake it till you make it with women. What they mean is that you should pretend you have confidence until you develop real inner confidence. And the same goes for confident body language, etc.

This last week I’ve been giving talks on MXit and Blogging in Durban. This is one of the most beautiful cities in South Africa and especially the North Coast where I was staying in guest house, On the Beach.

Anyway this morning I presented a Blogging seminar for a paid audience organised by, a specialist e-business and web design company. The venue was excellent, the room was packed, the mic was there, and the projector was set-up. Just after I started my presentation we completely lost all electricity in the area. This took me by surprise for a brief moment. There has been so many power outages in South Africa for the last year or so it was not a complete shock to the audience.

I immediately continued to share some stories with the audience. Someone opened the windows so we could get some sun light. And so I proceeded, be it a bit shaken by the loss of my presentation. My instincts kicked in and I proceeded to talk. I know one thing that happened was that I spoke faster. And I ended the presentation with an hour instead of the agreed 1.5 hours. We took questions and there a good response from most the audience. The feedback I received afterwards was generally positive. In my own mind I tried my best to remain calm. There is something about fake till you make it that came into play here. Because I was really ensure how to proceed without my presentation. I think we in business have developed a unnatural reliance on visual presentations. So even though it can enhance the message being delivered, it should never be the primary source of stimulation for your audience.

The best comment I received was my Toastmasters club would be proud with how I handled the loss of electricity and smoothly moved on and continued to delivery my presentation on Blogging. So the last word here is to take it till you make it. Just continue talking as if nothing happened and your audience will follow your lead. Remember you set the tone of the engagement. And most people are going to look to you fo reassurance of some kind.