Our Story: Toastmasters Made Our Love Stronger Than Ever!

By Aster Lim

While newlyweds and Toastmasters powerhouses, former Area C4 Director Ivan Chow and ex-club president Ng Lai Leng may not have met through Toastmasters, they found common ground through the organisation that helped feed and foster a love that grew so strong, it eventually led to marriage.

Ivan and Lai Leng are the epitome of young love – demonstrative with each other and engrossed in their own world. On the day of the interview, the loving couple breezed in through the glass doors of the Craftsmen Cafe in Aman Suria emanating radiance and that special aura of happiness only newly married couples exude.

They had stopped by the cafe on the way to visit a relative in Ara Damansara. While we got comfortable over coffee and apple cider, the blissful couple proceeded to share how they met.

TM: How did both of you meet? Was it through Toastmasters?

Ivan: Lai Leng came to my company (British American Tobacco) to audit the firm (FYI: Ivan is still working at British American Tobacco (BAT) and has been working there for over 10 years). One of my colleagues asked Lai Leng to join us for lunch one day and when we chatted, we discovered we were both in Toastmasters.

That’s why the story I always tell the others (friends) is that I sacrificed myself so that my company could pass the audit.

TM: Ivan, when you found out that Lai Leng was also from Toastmasters, how did you feel? 

Ivan: Well, I thought that we would have a common topic. That’s why we could click and become friends.  We actually didn’t start the relationship immediately. We were friends for about a year before starting the relationship. At the time I liked to network and wanted to know more people – men and women.

TM: When did you realise that you would like a deeper relationship with Lai Leng?

Ivan: We hung out a few times, especially on weekends, and we had more conversations. She likes to talk and there’s a great deal of substance in what she says – she’s very wise…intelligent.

Lai Leng: …because I’m an auditor (laughs), I like to ask questions. I can talk about a lot of things given that’s the nature of my job, so probably he felt he had never met such a talkative girl before.

Ivan: Yeah, more and more, we realised we had things in common. We like to grow together in terms of personal development and we attended courses together (some of them Toastmasters workshops)

TM: Did Toastmasters bring both of you closer together?

Lai Leng: Back then, I had just become the president of my club (Friendship Toastmasters Club in Dataran Prima, PJ). I was very new to Toastmasters. Meanwhile, Ivan had been a club member for quite some time. He’s very knowledgeable (about Toastmasters). He taught me a lot about how to manage the club.

When we were still friends (in that one-year period), I was giving my CC7 speech at an external club (the School of Hard Knocks) and I met him there. I didn’t know (he would be there)! It was a surprise that he turned out to be my evaluator.  And when I delivered by ‘graduation speech’…CC10. Again, he surprised me. He came to my club without telling me.

Ivan: I like to surprise.

Lai Leng: He’s always surprising me. There were a few instances where he would suddenly turn up at club meetings and I was very unprepared.

Ivan: That was on purpose… (laughs)

Lai Leng: I think I would have presented better if Ivan was not there…

Ivan: Then she surprised me! There was a time when I was in my club and was giving a speech and then she turned up. I didn’t know that she would attend.

Lai Leng: Once, he was talking about our relationship (in a speech) and at the evaluation, someone said, “Ivan, I think it would be better if you can introduce the main actress to us.”

Lai Leng: Hui Jen. Hui Jen said that.

TM: Did the public speaking skills you picked up at Toastmasters help your relationship? 

Lai Leng: Communication…it’s really about how you communicate with each other. Understanding and listening skills. Ivan has very good listening skills, I think that’s really important. At that time I was contemplating a career change as I was very busy (in my auditing job).

He’s a very good listener and that has made him a very good observer. He’s very analytical and he could tell me the pros and cons of leaving my job.

Ivan: …she’s getting advice from someone who’s never changed his job (laughs).

TM: Can you share, what did you have in common, in Toastmasters?

Ivan: Lai Leng was pursuing the leadership path (in Toastmasters) at the time. She took up the VPPR role in the first and second year (of her joining Toastmasters). She was willing to then take on the president’s role and she received a lot of feedback and when she took up the role, I gave her a lot of advice. She…capitalised on my network.

Lai Leng: Yeah, there was a time when I helped him organise his speech count so I recycled the speakers…the materials…and that was really beneficial to our club.

Ivan: Through me she got to know more of our members, so quite a lot of our members (from Sunway) were being invited to her club for roles – maybe not the new members (but the senior ones) like Reuben, Ben…

TM: It’s really interesting to see how your relationship has grown through Toastmasters and made it better. Do you agree?

Ivan: Uh hmm… when you have two Toastmasters in the house, right, we’re always evaluating each other. Maybe less now…but at that point of time, especially after we had just completed a Toastmasters workshop, we would (subconsciously) apply those techniques with each other. Like, I would notice us using triads in our conversation, that kind of thing. Sometimes, I would say to Lai Leng, “Aaah, you’re evaluating me?” It’s part of the conversation.

Lai Leng: I remember when we used to talk on the phone, I would tell him a lot of things. He would then pause and ask, “Lai Leng, so what is your point?” Sometimes, you really don’t have a point. You just say what you want to say (laughs).

Ivan: This brings us back to Project Two (in the Competent Communicator manual): To inform, motivate and inspire… Now, you are on Pathways, right? But the old manual was about purpose (in a speech). You would need to determine the purpose of the project.

Lai Leng: So when I tell him something and he doesn’t understand, he’ll ask, “Can I clarify this. What is your purpose?”

TM: And in an argument, does Toastmasters help you as well? 

Lai Leng: It did. In the beginning, when we argued, I would ask, “Ivan, why are you raising your vocal variety?  I think that helped calm him down a little and he would start to think more rationally. Sometimes, as humans, we get frustrated, and we raise our voice and it shows in our body language. That happens to men…a lot.

Ivan: In terms of raising one’s voice, I think my usual volume is different from hers. What to me is a normal tone, she claims is raised. It made me realise that while I didn’t think that I had raised my voice, she thought that I had.

I feel we have not quarreled before from the start of our relationship until now, by my standards, but she (Lai Leng) disagrees. There were a few incidents when she felt that I had made her angry…I provoked her…so using this as an example, I feel she is more volatile.

TM: As both of you were so involved in Toastmasters, did you feel as though you didn’t have time for each other?

Lai Leng: Yes, when he became the Area Director. Occasionally, I would have dinner alone, because he needed to visit clubs, so in the end, I decided to join him as his back up.

Ivan: Part of my job was to help clubs find role players. At times when I couldn’t find anyone, she would be my back up, but she doesn’t always say yes.

TM: Is there life after Toastmasters?

Lai Leng: There was a time, we said, “I think we should stop talking about Toastmasters. We felt we should talk about other things because we were always talking about Toastmasters.

Ivan: We felt that was important because we decided to move in and live together in October 2017, after about one and a half years of being in a relationship.  The only quality time we have is when we have dinner together, otherwise, we would be at work or Toastmasters so it was important to strike that balance.








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OPINION: Here’s WHY You’re Having a Hard Time with Millennials!


Fellow millennial, experienced trainer and recent Area C3 Humorous Speech Contest Winner Seki Ng ponders the whys and a solution that could bridge the communication gap between the generations.

An adult once shouted at me, “Sei jing ba hao“. It literally translates to this, word for word: “Die leaving the mouth.” It is a rather common expression in the Cantonese language to depict a person who is only a talker without actions to back him or her up.

As a child, sei jing ba hao also felt like a term that the adults used to shut the youngsters up when they were losing an argument…

Parents, be careful of what you tell your child

Whether it was true of me at the time or not, what you hear as a child tends to turn into reality when it is said of you, one too many times (especially when you are young and impressionable). So from a young, chatty boy, I slowly became afraid of sharing my thoughts or inner feelings with others – even the ones deemed close to me.

It came to the point where I was imagining how it would look like to have every part of your body turn to dust except for the mouth after I passed on. Yes, it did not help that I also have a vivid imagination.

As a young boy, I envied my friends who would get the toys they fancied or wanted from the store. I did not even dare ask for 30 sen to get a popsicle. While my friends would boast about getting the latest Sega Saturn or Nintendo 64 for their birthdays, I was often presented with Enid Blyton story books, some of which I would not start reading until maybe three years later.

What I wanted vs what my parents wanted

Back then, I was not a big fan of reading, but I knew that was what my parents wanted me to like. So, I consoled myself, saying that I could always go to my friend’s house to play whatever video games they had. And if there was a power failure, I would still have my three year’s worth of unopened story books to keep me company. Of course, when there REALLY was a power failure, my books remained on the shelf unopened…

It may seem as though what I had experienced in my childhood was one that portrayed me as a victim, but my situation is rather common in most Malaysian households.

Here’s why millennials are turning to social media to express themselves

As I reminisced my childhood, I realised how it played a part in fashioning our social lives. As the saying goes, you will reap what you sow. If we think about it, the harvest is the evidence of why we are in this current state.

My generation was brought up with the fear of voicing out or expressing thoughts. We still have many people in their thirties who hate their jobs because they are dictated to by their bosses instead of being allowed to suggest better ways to improve a system. They keep mum because they are afraid of supposedly making their superiors look stupid in front of others, and therefore stand a higher chance of being victimised at their workplace (or sacked, for that matter). And so, with all the pent-up frustrations, they seek a platform to express their thoughts… they turn to social media….

It is so accessible today. Anyone who owns a smartphone would have instant access to various social media platforms. It has become a lifestyle for some to keep updating their profiles or posting pictures, or even rant. It is like they are compensating for lost time (when they were oppressed by the elders and couldn’t express themselves). So much so that the current generation is not able to live a day without their beloved phones – they are glued to it. Take a stroll into any cafe, 70 percent of visitors are looking at their phones, even when lining up to order.

Are millennials dysfunctional or…?

It made me think on a deeper level: as human beings, we are creatures of emotion. Expressing our thoughts is a way for us to release (those emotions). Not being allowed to express ourselves is akin to having ’emotional constipation’. Once it reaches its limit, nothing beautiful can come out of it. Today, we hear the elderly complaining that the current generation has lost their ability to carry out a decent conversation. While that may be true, it is just scratching the surface of a more deep-rooted problem. It is always easier to place the blame elsewhere than to look inwards. As a trainer, I have conducted this exercise to try and get to the root of the problem. It is called the “five whys”. Let us take this situation as an example:

Problem : The current generation does not know how to carry out a decent conversation.

Why #1 : They are too pre-occupied with social media on the phone.

Why #2 : They feel the need to document their lives to let the world know their feelings.

Why #3 : They don’t have a place to express themselves freely.

Why #4 : They are afraid of being victimised or ridiculed.

Why #5 : They are told not to say anything at the risk of being wrong.

The power lies with YOU

The problem is often far from the one we see on the surface. Sometimes, the problem doesn’t even appear until a lot later, and in this case, it took a generation’s worth of time before it started to show. One of the previous World Champions of Public Speaking, Mohammed Qahtani, once said,

“Words have power, words are power, words could be your power. You can change a life, inspire your nation and make this world a beautiful place. Isn’t that what we all want? Isn’t that why we are all in this whole? Your mouth can spit venom or it can mend a broken soul.”

So, the next time we engage the younger ones in a conversation, let us not shut them up. Let them express their ideas. Let them express their feelings. Instead of lecturing them, find out more about what they have to say, why they said it, and how we can be guiding them encouragingly. Never think that they are ever wasting your time. They are talking to you because your input to them matters. Your input matters to them because YOU matter to them.

Enjoyed this heartfelt article? Read another story from the heart of a fellow Toastmaster: My Story: Here’s Why This Mat Salleh is LEARNING To Speak With Malaysians!

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This IMPORTANT Tip Could Help You WIN Your Speech Contest!


The area contests for C3 & C4 are just over. Fired up from his DOUBLE WIN, Sunway Toastmasters Club President and Area C4 Humorous Speech and Evaluation Contests Champion BENEDICT LEONG has this lesson to share about not just writing that speech, but WINNING it.

“What is the speech signifying beyond the speaker’s experience?”

1. Find an engaging theme and stick with it!

While this is not a mistake, many speakers tend to lack a strong theme which would by right give one’s speech an identity. We are taught that good structure equals to having three main points. However, the three main points should ideally be unified in advancing or developing the overall theme of a speech. This theme can be anything: a passion, an object, a spouse; as long as the idea is consistent and the identity of the speech is apparent.

2. Your theme needs to grow and develop as well; don’t just focus on developing your storyline

It is not just the narrative of events throughout the speech that should progress, but also the core concept of the speech itself. “What is the speech signifying beyond the speaker’s experience?” This question should be asked and resolved with the theme itself.

3. Each point of your speech needs to be tied with the THEME!

Hence, it is my humble opinion that the speech writer should focus not just on writing their main points for the body of their speech, but to also write them in such a way that it explores the theme of the speech. Find parallels with the moments of your life and gel these moments with a strong theme.

It is not just the identity of the speaker that stands out and is remembered, but the identity of the speech as well.

Area C4 Humorous Speech and Evaluation Contests winner Benedict Leong with Area C3 Humorous Speech contest winner Seki Ng and Area C3 Evaluation Contest winner Srinivas

Want more tips on winning at speech contests? Click here!

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