Vocally Muzzled

by Stephanie Chan, 19 January 2018

Whilst on holiday in Singapore I was prepared to be incommunicado with the world back home in Australia. A blissful 8 weeks away from the daily grind of emails and text messages. Well, not entirely reclusive from everyone. I wanted to be in the driver’s seat, in control of when or who I wished to communicate with. After all, Singapore is a techno-hub and it should be easy for me to connect world-wide anytime. Having bought a pre-paid mobile data plan and with tethering abilities, communication would be a cinch. That was until I tried to log into my favourite mobile chat App. For reasons known only to the universe, I could not log into the App on my data plan. It would take a 500m walk to the nearest shopping mall for a WiFi connection in order to send or receive chat messages. On a positive note, that daily trudge brought me a fortnight of free exercise to offset my intake of chicken rice, roast / barbecued meat and other local delights! With much wasted time, I finally managed to resolve the problem with a simple “enable local data” operation on my mobile and was once again ready to let my fingers do the talking.

This event brings to mind a poignant challenge – What if we are unable to communicate? Not because of technological road blocks but simply because we lack the clarity to make our messages understood. Verbal confusion is like trying to unravel a ball of tangled yarn.  Think of the ball of yarn as the million bits of thoughts criss-crossing in our minds. We have to unjumble the mess and pull out an unknotted string of wool (logical thoughts) in order to produce the desired knitted pattern (message).

Case in point, I was trying to order food at a hawker stall in Singapore. On the board was written $3.30 for pork congee with an egg. In my smattering Mandarin I uttered, “$3.30 takeaway”. The seller muttered back, “3-3?” Taking that to mean $3.30 I nodded in affirmation. When the food was ready, the seller started parcelling 3 separate packs. My mind flitted back to her question, “3-3?” which now could have meant “3 packets of $3 each”. In a panic, I asserted that I only wanted 1 packet! In the end, the seller did get my order right (the other packs were for another buyer) but I was told off for being too anxious and stressing them out!

Unless we are natural born elocutors, our disorganised thoughts and pronouncements usually fail to give us the podium or audience to express our thoughts in public. This brings home the importance of the Toastmasters program which gives us a grounding in getting to the point of our message, making the presentation interesting and easy to understand, recall and prompt for action.

Journeying through the Toastmasters education pathway, we are given a systematic blueprint for each contributing factor towards a purposeful speech. If we carefully follow the guidelines and examples spelt out in each of the speech projects, we will start to incorporate and habitualise these tips and strategies in our daily communication.

As a long standing Toastmaster going through the rigmarole of presenting one speech after another over the years, there is a tendency of glossing over the elaborations in each speech project.  We may get complacent and assume we know how to present off the cuff. Yet I have seen many Toastmasters trip up over the more and demanding projects. Are they unable to follow the objectives I wonder? Or have they become blasé in just making speeches and ignoring the project objectives and evaluations, as long as they did the speech and got it ticked off? After 7 years in Toastmasters, am I one of these culprits? This is a bad practice which I have to be conscious of. For me to continually improve, I will need to revisit the tips again and again. Lest I wonder why I have stalled or retrogressed in my presentations.

Let us put aside any temptation for shortcuts or complacency in our speechmaking. Instead, let us prepare each speech with purpose in order to gain higher ground in expressing our thoughts. The worst case scenario of not communicating ineffectively is akin to being vocally muzzled.

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