Ga Lok Chung, Toastmasters District 91 Evaluation Contest winner – 2016
It wasn’t a planned thing. Nearly eight years ago, I was having after work drinks with colleagues at the Shooting Star pub in London. Someone spotted a sign for “Toastmasters downstairs”. Intrigued, we went down to see what it was, and my Toastmasters journey began.
That evening I attempted my first ever Table Topic, ‘Your best employee has just won the lottery; how would you convince them to stay?’ Of course, my answer was a disaster, barely lasting 30 seconds and stumbling around the idea of offering them a pay rise. Yet rather than feeling humiliated, I was encouraged by the Topics Evaluator and the friendly members around the room; and I left the Shooting Star that night as a Toastmasters member.
My first few weeks started well – my icebreaker ‘OS 616171’, concerning my climbing adventures in Snowdonia, won best speaker. I felt elated, but like the speech, my journey quickly spiralled downhill. It was a combination of work travel, relationship distractions and lack of planning; I became known as the ‘phantom member’ – always on the renewal lists but rarely coming to an actual meeting. It would take me five years before I got round to completing my Competent Communicator manual.
Things would, I think, have continued like this, had it not been for the 2013 UK & Ireland District conference in Torquay, which totally changed my view of Toastmasters and motivated me to become more involved.
During one of my rare appearances, the club had become even bigger and more sociable. The plan was to organise a large group of members to have a get away from London and turn it into a seaside adventure. So I signed up; a three-day weekend of tea and scones, crazy golf and some dodgy fancy dress costumes; and of course seeing fellow members from clubs all over the UK and Ireland coming together to witness the best speakers.
As an engineer working as a management consultant, analysing what someone was saying and feeding back what I heard in a concise summary came naturally to me. I delivered speech evaluations which were good but never great. It was only after attending Lynn Cantor’s ‘A Speakers Best Friend – Excellent Evaluations’ workshop in Torquay that I really understood how you can deliver a powerful and effective evaluation – it was then that I knew I wanted to win the Evaluation contest one day.
Ramping up my Toastmasters commitment, I started regularly attending meetings again, completing my CC and CL manuals over the next six months. I started competing in contests, and studying what others were doing.
In 2014, I took second place at the Division K Evaluation contest; the DivK winner Jenny Crossley would then win second place at the District Finals in Dublin, narrowly losing to the legendary Simon Bucknall.
In 2015, I took second place again at the Division K finals; consoled by my friends and fellow members I felt I needed to push myself in order to break through. I started setting myself mini challenges, my most ambitious was to confidently deliver a General Evaluation without any notes. Evaluate 11 people at short notice without notes? It was difficult at first, yet I eventually visited more 20 clubs across London getting confident each time that I hadn’t got someone’s name wrong. What I learned doing this wasn’t just that my evaluation skills were improving, it was showing even more respect to the functionaries because I paid so much attention to them; and I had some feedback that it inspired others to give it a go, it wasn’t until they saw a fellow member do it that they believed it was possible and they could do it too.
In 2016, after winning my Club and Area 58 contests for the third consecutive year, I finally broke through and won the Division K contest. I was up against tremendous competitors.
At the District 91 conference, I went in wanting to feel that the pressure was finally off; I’d already hit my target and anything else would be a bonus. However, as the penultimate event across two days approached, receiving hints and tips from fellow well-wishers, my heart was pounding. During the contestants’ lunch, we gingerly pushed our food around our plates. My palms were sweaty, my suit and tie felt too tight on me, and my friends noting that I’ve never been so quiet before.
This year’s contest had a stunning lineup, in the last four years I’ve been attending conferences I don’t think I’ve been so impressed. However the warm comradery and banter between us helped in easing the pressure – this was it; the District Final.
To be honest, the moment between the test speaker starting and when my name was announced as the winner is a blur. The adrenaline rush was carrying me forward to lift the trophy, the numerous handshakes and congratulations.
If I was to get my first table topic again, ‘what would I do with an employee who won the lottery?’, I would tell them to join me at Toastmasters. My journey might have started with a lucky stumble into a meeting at the Shooting Star, but it’s been built on hard work and perseverance. That feeling of accomplishment, whether that’s standing up and speaking for the first time, completing your education award or stepping into a contest; that feeling of hard work joined up with the cheering and clapping from your friends and peers – that will always feel better than getting superficially lucky.
Picture, left to right: Samir Malak (DTM), Jean Gamester (District 91 Director). On the podium Ga Lok Chung (1st Place), Chris Boden (2nd Place), Meenakshi Nayar (3rd Place)
Ga Lok is a member of the City of London Toastmasters club and Kings Cross Speakers Toastmasters club. He runs sessions to help people succeed in public speaking.
Contact Ga Lok to find out more