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24/04 Wednesday 05:43PM

From chatterbox to champion

By Leo Kasim

When he was growing up, Dr Chris Woo refers to himself as quite the chatterbox but that seems to work out quite well for him especially when you look at his recent achievements with Toastmasters International. The Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) lecturer was recently selected to represent Brunei, parts of Indonesia and East Malaysia (otherwise known as District 87 Toastmasters) after beating out contestants in a public speaking content in Surabaya, Indonesia.

As the representative for District 87, Dr Chris will be up against the best speakers in the world at Toastmasters International 83rd Annual International Convention which will take place in late August in  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

As competition day nears, Dr Chris shares with Bruneions on his journey as a public speaker.

Did you have much training or practice for public speaking before you joined Toastmasters?

I have always been a chatterbox since I was a kid. My teachers used to use cellophane tape to plaster my mouth during class because I refused to shut-up during lessons. So, if I must date my public speaking practices, it must go back to my primary school years. But if we speak about professionally honing my public speaking abilities, it would be in my 20s when I joined the fringe theatre in Australia and also when I started researching about Kinesics and Paralinguistics as a hobby.

How did you feel about yourself when you were up against some of the best speakers in District 87 (Brunei, East Malaysia and parts of Indonesia) during the competition in Surabaya?

This is my first competition in 22 years. I have always hated competitions. The feeling is oppressive and frightening so I avoid competitions like a plague. There are no bodily functions that work normally at the moment of the competition. Your heart hammers away like a madman, your mind is on standby to shut down and you're constantly asking yourself if you remember the words to the script even though youíve rehearsed it a million times and finally, I get weird bowel disorder syndromes which I'll share another time maybe...

Now, you're the District 87 representative and will up against the best of the best from around the world. How do you feel about that?

I feel honoured and privileged. To compete with the best is to finally have a platform to test our own strengths and weaknesses even though it is a frightening experience. Our capabilities cannot be tested otherwise. If I may give an example: One cannot test the speed and power of a sports car with an urban hatchback. The capabilities of the car are also limited if we drive it only on the city roads. To truly know what a sports car is capable of, it must have the right context and conditions.
Thus, only when we pit our abilities against others can we be better and improve our selves. Winning and losing are merely emotional attributes to the effort we made. It is, in itself, a fleeting thing and not important.

Are there any mentors/role models who are public speakers that inspire you and help you progress?

For this competition, Stuart Lee was my main mentor and he gave me a lot of helpful advices on the structure of Toastmaster competitions and what makes a winning speech. Then there are also the members of The Brunei Speakers Club who each, in their own way, gave me advices that I took to heart.

Any advice you would like to give to others?

No one is born a public speaker. It is a skill and just like any other, it needs to be refined. So the next time you say you're a poor speaker ask yourself this question "What would you advise a kid who says that he/she can't do maths?"

The Toastmasters International 83rd Annual International Convention will take place in 20-23 August 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

There are currently four Toastmasters clubs namely the Brunei Speakers Club, the Brunei Advanced Speakers Club, HSBC Speakers Group and the Oil Town Talkers or OTTERS which is based in Seria.

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