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.