Building Excellence through Cycle of Improvement

Building Excellence through Cycle of Improvement

The story went that Rabbit and Turtle had a race… felt over-confident with an early lead and fell asleep under the cosy tree, and Turtle won the race.  That was the part that everybody heard and everybody knew. But do you know how bad rabbit felt after the race?

Rabbit was the top athlete of the animal world, but he was defeated, disrepute and disgraced. He repented,  learnt from his mistake and challenged turtle for a rematch. This time round, he didn’t stop.  Like Usain Bolt, Rabbit sped all the way, never looked back, never stopped, and all the way to the finish line. Turtle didn’t have a chance

Turtle being forever wise and patient, start to think, think and think, and he thought of a strategy. He invited Rabbit for a rematch. Rabbit ran like a bullet until he reached the river. He couldn’t swim! So all he could only stood there and watch Turtle slowly crawled… and swam and crawled to the finish line. Turtle too learnt from his mistake, improved his edge and has created the first aquathlon in the animal world. And so the saga continues between the two.

You see, excellence requires continuous effort to do better. Like Rabbit and Turtle, they build upon their past experience, learn from mistakes and boost their performance one step at a time.

And you can do it too. Regardless of your goal and destination, there is a tried and tested way to make cycle of improvement.  There are 4 steps –  PLAN, DO, CHECK, ACT



Plan is about knowing what you want, then plan how to get there.

When I first joined Toastmasters Club, Eng Lye told me that I need to plan in advance, because the speech slots got snatched up early. Being a greedy person, I thought, since I paid $218 per year for membership – 2 practices per year means $100 per practice, 4 practices per year means $50 per practice… 8 practices per year means ……$25 per practice! If I make 24 practices per year  then it will be peanuts!!!

So I planned for 1 speech a month, alternate with appointment slots. Book all the way, 6 months in advance. With that I completed my CTM within 1 year.

Is it possible to achieve our goal without planning? It is still possible, but it is leaving things to chance. If I do my speech depending on mood, then I may not have the mood, or when I have the mood but Susi has no slots, or before I have the mood, my wife ask me out for movie. Success becomes then a random affair.

Plan for it if you truly want success. Don’t leave things to chance.


Next step is do.  It is about bringing what is on your mind, and on paper, into the reality.   Just like this paper airplane in my hand, can it be created if no one does the folding? 

Can there be a swimmer, who has never done the swimming? Or  a good trainer who has never done the training?  Or a successful farmer, who has never done the farming?

The turtle carried out his strategy, making it a reality and out-matched Rabbit. He tasted victory.

Likewise, you can also carry out your plan, and achieve success.

Reserving speech slots without actually doing the speech will not bring you anywhere. We need to prepare, rehearse, and deliver the speech. We need to grow from the tears, toil and sweat. We need to overcome the fear by  facing the fear straight on. If there is no doing, there is no progress, and there will be no fruit.


After doing, it will be time to check the results.  What was done right? What was done wrong? Are you on-track? It is we, looking at ourselves in the mirror.

In Toastmasters club, you could receive feedback from evaluator, the feedback form and we can also ask our peers for their comments. 

At work, you can look at the Key Performance Indicators.  You can ask the subject matters experts for opinions. Or you can also ask your boss, customers, participants for feedback. 

There are always ways to find out how well we are doing.

Seek and you will find; ask and you will get; measure and you will know the figure.


After knowing, it is time for action. It will be your choice, of whether you want to make changes to improve, or you want to stay status quo.

In the Toastmasters arena, there are Toastmasters who always speak at the same level of proficiency, repeating the same mistakes. And there are those who take each feedback seriously and you notice progress at each project. It is a personal choice.

If progress is what you want, then identify the problem or the weakness, and set-out to plan for change.  If vocal variety is the issue, practice on the voice – there are many resources out there that teach you how to do it.

The cycle of improvement continues in a PDCA fashion, creating a spiral of progress until you arrive at your destination.


Plan-Do-Check-Act is the formula for cycle of improvement which Rabbit and Turtle applied in their competition to great effect. Successful companies like Toyota, Honda and many others use it to improve their performance. And you too, can apply in your personal life, in toastmasters at work to realize success.  Is there a goal that you want to achieve?

Go ahead! Use Plan-Do-Check-Act to help you  build excellence through cycle of improvement


P9: Stay Away From Soft Drinks

Look at this soft drink. It looks colourful, tastes zesty, and appears glamorous. Many of us fall in love with it. I say, we fall victim to it, because it is a money-robbing tool to our wallet; it is an enchantment to our mind; and it is an enemy to our health. And if you want to stay safe and sound, hale and hearty, stay away from soft drinks.

Soft drink is a money-robbing tool to our wallet for businessmen to rob our money easily and quietly. Do you know how much a can of coca-cola actually costs? According to this article at Newsweek, “Belching Out the Devil” by Mark Thomas,  the syrup to make a single cup of Coca-Cola costs $0.0052. How much do we pay for it? 80 cents? $1.5?  $2.5? Well, the price depends on where we buy it. The price we pay is usually a few hundred times the cost of the goods sold. What do we get on earth? Sugar, colourings, preservatives, calories! How much does a proper meal cost in a hawker centre? 3 dollars or 4 dollars? That means, one soft drink actually costs one third, sometimes even more, the price of a proper meal. We are not happy about the chicken rice uncles raising the price of a plate of chicken rice by fifty cents, but we are never reluctant to pay a few dollars for a soft drink that is actually worth only a few cents. More ironically, many people can afford to drive a posh car, can afford to drink plenty of fancy, savoury, fizzy soft drinks but assiduously complain about the one-dollar or two-dollar ERP. Furthermore, how many people bother to offer a one-dollar coin or a two-dollar note to a disabled person in the street?  We complain about the inflation of chicken rice; we hate ERP; we ignore the physically challenged poor people around us; but we never hesitate to pass our hard earned money to soft drinks businessmen who are commanding a huge profit margin quietly!  What a big irony!

Soft drink is also an enchantment to our mind. Do you know how much sugar a can of coca-Cola contains? Let me read out the number for you. The nutrition fact on the can says per 100ml the sugar amount is 10.6 gram. So a can containing 330ml like this contains 30 plus gram of sugar. If we put sugar, artificial sweeteners or flavours or colourings or preservatives separately on a plate, how many of us will eat them voluntarily and happily? I bet nobody. Many of us are actively reducing the intake of sugar or avoiding colourings and preservatives in our diet. Excessive intake will cause health problems. We all know that too well. Can we differentiate sugar and a can of soft drink? Certainly. Can we tell the sugar inside a can of soft drink? We can but more often than not, we lose the awareness when it is camouflaged inside a soft drink.  Isn’t it clear that soft drinks contain sugar, artificial sweeteners, flavours, colourings, and preservatives? Then why do we still voluntarily and happily pay for soft drinks and pour them into our mouth? The answer is simple – in front of a small enchantment like soft drink, we lose our mind to temptation.

More dangerously, soft drink is an insidious enemy to our health. As early as in 1998, the centre for science in the public interest published a research paper titled Liquid Candy: How Soft Drinks are Harming Americans’ Health. The research paper reported scientific evidence between soft drinks and health problems such as obesity, bone loss, tooth decay, diabetes, heart disease, and many others. Imagine, after drinking soft drinks for a period of time, you suddenly find your face bigger, body rounder; you doctor tells you that you are unfortunately going through something called degeneration of bone mass and you are at the high risk of fracture; or your dentist suggests you pay a bigger bill to do something to your teeth because your teeth enamel is being eroded away; or you have to inject insulin on your tummy because you are suffering from diabetes …How will you feel? Do you want a bigger face and a rounder body? Do you want to suffer bone loss? Do you want to experience toothache? Do you want to get connected with diabetes or heart disease? When you shake your head in disbelief and denial, do you know that the culprit for the series of mishaps may be soft drinks?

I am not the only one lobbying against soft drinks. According to Wikipedia, in Jan 2013, a British lobby group called for the price of sugary fizzy drinks to be increased; in March 2013, New York City‘s mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed to ban the sale of non-diet soft drinks larger than 16 ounces.

Ladies and gentlemen, next time when you want to buy soft drinks, think twice and think why. Is it because of the flavour, color, or glamour associated with soft drinks? Is flavour, color and glamour more important than money, mind, and health? Do you want a bigger face and a rounder body? Do you want to get bone loss and toothache? Do you want to contract diseases such as obesity, hypertension, and stroke? If your answer is no to any of the questions, stay away from soft drinks. It is your choice and for your own good!

P2: Good Employees Make Mistakes. Great Leaders Allow Them To

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”  – Meg Cabot


We all make mistakes. Every one of us. Don’t we?

If we are not making mistakes, then likely we are not trying enough new things outside our comfort zone, and that itself is a mistake. That process is the best way to learn and grow as a person. 

Mistakes are the pathway to great ideas and innovation. Mistakes are the stepping stones to moving outside the comfort zone to the growing zone where new discoveries are made and great lessons are learned. Mistakes are not failures, they are simply the process of eliminating ways that won’t work in order to come closer to the ways that will.

As a business leader, I found that one of the scariest things to do was to give your people the freedom to make mistakes. While mistakes allow individuals to learn and grow, they can also be very costly to any company. Scared as I was, I knew that truly great leaders found ways to allow their people to take these risks, and I genuinely wanted to be a great leader. I wanted to help my employees to grow. So I set out to discover how to accomplish this without placing my company in jeopardy.


I quickly discovered that the first step was to determine the areas of the business where a mistake could take place without causing too much damage. I took careful attention to make sure that any areas where we would damage our clients and the trust they had placed in us were off limits for significant risk without serious executive involvement and oversight. I identified other areas where I could feel more comfortable allowing people the freedom to experiment on new and better ways of doing things.

The second step was to communicate to the employees that we were setting an official company policy:  Making any mistake once was OK, so long as it was an honest mistake made while attempting to do what they felt was the right thing. Making any mistake once was OK, but repeating that same mistake a second time was NOT OK. The hard, fast rule was that if you made any mistake for the first time the entire team would have your back in fixing that mistake if anything went wrong. However, if you ever repeated the mistake a second time, then you were 100 percent on your own to face the consequences.  This rule applied for every first-time occurrence of each new mistake you made.

Great leaders allow their people the freedom to make mistakes. But good employees are those who when mistakes are made 1. Learn from them, 2. Own them, 3. Fix them, and 4. Put safeguards in place to ensure the same mistake will never be repeated again.

1.       Learn from them:  Good employees recognize that they have, in fact, made an honest mistake.  They do not get defensive about it, rather they are willing to look objectively at their mistake, recognize what they did wrong, and understand why their choice or actions were the wrong thing to do.

2.       Own them:  Good employees take accountability for their mistakes. They admit them readily.  They don’t make excuses for their mistake, rather they acknowledge that yes, they made a mistake and they express openly what lesson they have learned from that mistake. They go on to express steps 3 and 4 below.

3.       Fix them: Good employees do what it takes to rectify their wrongs. They are willing to do whatever they can to fix the problem and make it right. Certainly there are times when the damage is done and recompense cannot be made, but good employees do their very best to repair whatever damage has been done to the best of their ability. They always establish a timeline with follow up for when the problem will be fixed and make sure that progress is communicated throughout the process so everyone feels the urgency and care with which they are correcting the problem.

4.       Put safeguards in place to ensure the same mistake will never be repeated again: This is the most critical step in the learning process. When a mistake has clearly been made, the most important thing anyone can do is figure out what safety nets and roadblocks can be carefully established to ensure that this same mistake will never take place again. Document this step so the lessons learned and the safeguards setup can always go beyond you. Do everything in your power to help others learn from your mistake so they don’t have to experience them on their own to gain the lesson you’ve learned.

The steps to correcting mistakes apply to any area of life. Whether it’s business life or home life or personal life, the principles of apologizing remain the same. Good employees make a lot of mistakes, and truly great employees are those have mastered the art of apologizing for those mistakes:

Great People Practice The Six A’s of a Proper Apology:

  • Admit
  • Apologize
  • Acknowledge
  • Attest – I plan to do the following to fix the mistake on this specific timeline.
  • Assure
  • Abstain

People who implement the Six A’s will find that the level of trust and respect others have for them will grow tenfold. People who implement the Six A’s will find that others will be quicker to forgive them and more likely to extend a second chance. It’s not the making of a mistake that is generally the problem; it’s what you do with it afterward that really counts.


So fellow toastmasters, we all make mistakes. Every one of us. If we are not making mistakes, then likely we are not trying enough new things outside our comfort zone, and that itself is a mistake.


AP5: Of Snails and Purple Dye

25 Feb 2012

“Do you smell something burning?”

This question sounded in an empty chemistry lab 150 years ago in 1856.

2 English chemists were trying to find the cure for malaria, one of the world’s most widespread diseases at that time. Hoffman, the older of the 2, was leading the research while his student William Perkin helped out.




William was a chemistry prodigy; he entered university at 15, much earlier than the most of us! Now, he is part of Hoffman’s prestigious team of university researchers, on a breakthrough study that can save the world!


[low-pitched, gruff voice] “When something’s burning, it usually means the experiment had FAILED. Clean up while I find out what went wrong.” Hoffman commanded. William thought: “oh man, another test-tube to clean!”

That day’s experiment was a particularly bad failure. As he looked down into the test tube, he saw a disgusting black gooey substance, like mucus from a smoker’s lung, coloured black with tar.

He started rinsing with water, it did not budge. He tried scrubbing but it still did not move! It was as stubborn as super glue!

At last, William gave up and used his teacher’s expensive alcohol. “I really hope this works!” I want to invent the medicine for malaria and save the world, not be stuck here washing test-tubes!

At last, the black thing got smaller when it was washed with alcohol! William was elated as he looked at the alcohol flowing down the drain, it was as bright and brilliantly purple as the freshest violets, and most importantly took some of the black sludge away with it. “Good riddance!”

Hoffman, his teacher came back rubbing his hands “William! finished washing? GOOD!” The 2 of them continued their next experiment, after all Hoffman always says “If you try and fail, try again!”

(move to stage left)

At home that night, William was telling Thomas, his younger brother about the black sludge and purple dye it caused. Thomas immediately piped up [high voice] “I’ve never seen purple so close. Only the King can afford to wear it.” (pause) “William do you think, just think, that we can dye purple cloth from it? Imagine, purple cloth!”

Purple dyes were collected from the mucus of snails at that time, and each snail only had so much mucus. So, only the incredibly rich, like the King, can afford to wear it. Thomas was excited!

To think of all the purple cloth they can make! They can wrap their entire house in purple, not even the King does that! But William said “No, I am finding the cure for malaria, not some sort of colouring! I’m a chemist! I must help the world!” [in Thomas’s high-pitched voice] “But since you already have it, can you please try, please please? It is an opportunity too, why don’t we grab it?”

(pause, freezing in Thomas’s action of hands outstretched)

(move to stage right)

The next day, William went to Mr. Hoffman, telling him about the possibility of making a dye, from the black sludge of yesterday. “No, we are here to cure malaria, I have too much to do to help you. if you want to be silly, do it yourself. But you would have to leave my research team. Choose yours own path.”

(move to stage center)

What should William do? Should he continue with the prestigious research team at the university? Or should he take his chances with the unknown purple substance?


3 years and many experiments later, William and Thomas are the proud owners of a dye factory in Scotland, using mauvine to produce purple clothes for the whole of England. Everyone could now wear purple and the poor snails were no longer needed.

When he discovered mauvine, which is the purple dye made from the black sludge, William Henry Perkin was just 18. He went to become an established chemist, but he never discovered the cure for malaria. Instead, he found other dyes, like Britannia Violet and Perkin’s Green. William Perkin directly contributed all the coloured clothes we are wearing today. Because of him, we can have many colourful fabrics, whether cotton or silk, to wear any colour whenever we want. Can you imagine if we still had to use snail mucus and leaves to colour our clothes?

William’s teacher, wanted to leave his impact on the world by persevering on one thing. And he did, although he never discovered the cure for malaria, he is well known for many breakthroughs in his field of research.

William had decisively jumped at something he thought was an opportunity and succeeded in bettering the life of others through chemistry. Hoffman had also led the way in chemistry research.

One of them succeeded with persistence, one with flexibility. Do we want to be William or Mr. Hoffman? But the most important thing is, they both tried and tried. Some people think that ‘fail and try again’ is the secret to success, but trying, failing and trying to make use of that failure may also lead to victory.

In any case, try and fail but don’t fail to try!

Toastmaster of the day.


This is a AP5 speech from the Storytelling Manual, Bringing History to Life.


Evaluation by Michael Chang

8 min 27 secs

There were two morals of the story,


  1. Can try and fail but do not fail to try
  2. We can succeed through persistence like Hoffman or flexibility like William
William was well developed as a character, with a background (chemistry prodigy) but Hoffman could be better characterized.
Effective use of description and dialogue in the story. Vocal variety observed during the dialogues and gestures were natural and appropriate.
A commendable speech. Keep up the good efforts and well done!



AP3: The Great Leap


Yes, all mice leap towards the cheese on the mouse trap. Why do they do that? No one really knows. Maybe this behaviour is instinctual. Maybe it’s culturally conditioned. Among mice, this behaviour is considered normal.

Take for example, the annual “Great Mouse Leap” in Town Mousey where young mice would leap at the rows of mouse traps outside the confectionary near Christmas.


Emmy grew up fuss free and carefree. However, as Emmy becomes older, she, like all others, began to feel the strange pull towards the mouse trap.


All other mice chattered excitedly about the coming “Great Mice Leap” and many of Emmy’s young friends were even planning to participate this year.

Emmy was troubled. One day, she decided to talk to the wise elder.

“Why do we leap towards to mouse trap?” Emmy asked him.

“What do you mean, why? We are mice. It’s what we are supposed to do, silly.”

“Yes, but what happens after we leap?” she pressed.

“Something good.”


“Err… we don’t know,” came the hesitant reply.

“Then how do you know it’s good?” Emmy insisted, noting a hint of doubt in his voice.

“It must be good because no one ever comes back. Now, shut up and go along, young mouse.”

That evening, she was to the very edge of the town and sat there. “What’s wrong with me that I can’t be satisfied with leaping towards the mouse trap like all the others?” she wondered. “Am I weird for asking so many questions, and for wanting something else?”

All of a sudden, she had a new question to ask: “What do you think is on the other side of the confectionary, behind the door?”

She thought hard over it and then she knew what she had to do.

It was night, the evening of the Great Leap. As the moon rose higher into the sky, the town began bursting with energy.

“I’m gonna do a swan dive!” called one mouse.

“I’m gonna do a cannonball!” laughed another.

Emmy followed the young cohort of inspired mice towards the confectionary.

Outside the confectionary, Emmy was in awe. In front of her were rows and rows of mousetraps. Atop them were tantalising looking cheese of all shape and sizes.

She hesitated. (pause)

Taking a deep breath, she calmed her instinct and tiptoed passed the traps. All the rest of the mice stared at her in disbelief. She insisted and braved on.

Finally, she reached the door, entered the confectionary and was treated to the greatest feast she had in her whole life.

A year later, it’s again time of the Great leap. Despite Emmy bringing back lots of cakes and pastries, the elder refused to end ”The Great Leap”, maintaining it was too important to their heritage and their identity as a group So every year, many mice continued to leap to their death.

Still with help from Emmy, many more mice began to ask “why” and to consider their actions.

Have you asked “why” today?

Toastmaster of the day.



This is an AP3 from the storytelling manual

AP1: What is a Hurricane

14 Jan 2012

We often hear news like ‘Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Ophelia is attacking the shoreline!’. how many people are dead and how many places are flooded.

Every time when I hear this news, the first thought that comes into my mind is: I must do a research, why do Hurricanes has so many different names!



My dear fellow toastmasters, I am presenting today: what is a hurricane, where do hurricanes take place and how are they named?


What is a hurricane?

Hurricane is a huge storm! It can blow for up to 965 kilometres and have strong winds spiralling inward and upward at speeds of 119 to 320 or more kilometres per hour.

Hurricanes gather heat and energy when it passes over warm ocean waters.

Hurricanes rotate counter-clockwise around an “eye.”  It usually happens from 1 June to 30 November and often lasts for over a week.

They are classified into five categories. Category 1 is the smallest, at 119-153 km/hour, however, Category 5 is the greatest one at the speeds of 251 km/hour or up.


Where do Hurricanes happen?

Hurricanes form in the Western North Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Places like Cuba, Haiti and Florida etc.

You may like to ask how about the Typhoon and Cyclone?  Are they the same as Hurricanes?

Actually they are similar. Different places just use different names. The same storm occurring over the NW Pacific Ocean near places like Philippines, Taiwan is called a typhoon; “Taiwan – Typhoon” ,  Is it easier to remember?

Another one over Australia or the Indian Ocean is called a tropical cyclone, but the winds rotate clockwise.


How is a hurricane named?

On the Atlantic Ocean, tropical storms which reach a sustained wind speed of 63 kilometres per hour are given a name, e.i. “Tropical Storm Katrina”.  If that storm’s wind speed increases to 119 kilometres per hour or above, then, the name will change to “Hurricane Katrina”

Last year, in 2011, there were 19 tropical storms took place around the Atlantic Ocean.  e.i. Arlene, Bret, Cindy and so on.

All these names are assigned in advance, in six-year lists by the World Meteorological Organization.  It is reused every six years, and there are only 21 names per year.

The names are given in alphabetical order, but the characters Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used.

So, the names in 2005 are the same as 2011.

Also, in odd-numbered years, the first name is female and the second is male. The third name will be female again.

However, in even-numbered years, the first name is male, the second is female. For example in 2012 the first name is Alberto, Beryl, Chris and then Debby. So on and so forth till ‘W’.

What happen, If more than 21 tropical storms took place in one year, what shall we do? We use the Greek Alphabet instead, like Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

If the hurricane is too drastic and cause serious damages, then that name will be removed and replaced by another name.  For example, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States.

So, Katrina was replaced by Katia so that it will not bring back sad memories in the future.      In 2005, there were total 5 names replaced.


Hurricane is a natural disaster, we really can’t do much about it, but we can save the planet by cutting less trees, producing less pollution and making less destruction of the environment. In the way, it could help to slow down the global warming.

If one day, when you travel to this areas, especially during 1 June to 30 Nov, there are some things you can do to protect yourself if a hurricane happens.

Stay indoors, basement is the best. Get a disaster supply kit nearby,  don’t forget the flashlights and batteries. Please don’t use your hand phone’s flashlight and make long calls, because you may have no electric supply to charge your hand phone.

Finally, stay calm and relax to welcome the Hurricane.




Evaluation by John Liew, ACS ALB

1. Topic relevant and engaging to the audience

The audience, who live, work and travel in the tropics, were drawn to the topic ‘Hurricane’ which is a kind of tropical storm that affects their daily lives.

2. Speech very informative, educational and interesting

Categories of tropical storm or cyclone.

Definition, characteristics and negative consequences of ‘Hurricane’ and different names in different parts of the world.

Lessons and helpful suggestions to handle situation of tropical storm or ‘Hurricane’.

3. Presentation organized and smooth, complemented by power-point slides and displaying confidence and ease of public speaking.


1.  ‘Typhoon’ would be a more appropriate speech title as it is the name of tropical storm in North-Western Pacific Basin and more familiar to the Asian audience. ‘Hurricane’ is the name of tropical storm in North-Eastern Pacific Basin and Atlantic Basin.

2. More emphasis on the relevance to and measures for the audience  e.g. lying low or take shelter to avoid lightning strike outdoor, be alert to news broadcast when going outdoor or abroad.

3. Do away with certain power-point slides that were (a) unnecessary with details not relevant to the audience, and (b) hardly legible or readable with too small prints. This would have helped to keep the speech within the time allotted.


P1: My Past, My Present, My Future

14 Jan 2012

Has anyone here been to Vietnam?

That is where I am from. Fellow toastmasters and guests, today I want to share with you something about me, how I struggle with English language and that’s one of the reasons why I join toastmaster.


I was born in a small town in Vietnam, about 300km from the capital city.

That is a poor area of the country. We were not very poor but certainly not rich – at the time, only rich people in Vietnam were government officials. Since both of my parents are teachers, they truly believe education would help me and my sisters have a better future so we focus a lot on study when we were younger. And to have a better education, I went to a boarding school before I turned 14 and only came home once in every month or two. I had a tough time away from home at such a young age. But I survived the school and for better or worse, those years helped me to grow up and learned how to survive in life. I guess it is like what you guys here go to national service but just a few year younger.



After high school, I had a chance to study overseas when I started university and I chose to go to Australia. That’s when I started learning English – it would be hard to believe, but my first English lesson was only after I finished high school. I spent a year to learn English. But because the objective was to get admitted to University, the focus was actually more on the exam than to learn the language itself. I was pretty good at exam, so I passed my English exam even though my command of English was pretty poor. I still don’t understand how I could survive in an Australian university with that level of English but I guess I did a degree in Computer Science that basically involved in computer programing, mathematics and engineering in general so you did not have to talk much.

My poor communication skill continues to my work life where I started working in banks here in Singapore. I then went back to Australia after working for 4 years in Singapore and it was more challenging to work in Australia with my level of English even though I did improve along the way. I had to read books and learned more English by myself but then luckily, I rarely gave any presentation at those jobs.

Then I joined my current company – where I require to do some presentations; meeting clients so I know that I need to improve my presentation skills, and my friend recommended me to join a Toastmaster club but I kept delaying until now. But this time, I determine to get over my fear, throw away excuses and work on English speaking.

So here I am – and what a better way than to start a new year, first meeting of 2012 with my first project speech. I know it is not something I can complete overnight, not even in a year but rather it is a long journey. That’s what I believe in life – know what you want; take one step at a time; and if I am on the right track, I will get there one day.


Evaluation by Albert Anto, CC


A fabulous afternoon fellow toastmasters, visiting toastmasters, guests and to you Tri! Congratulations for defeating the fear and stepping forward to join the toastmasters and delivering you are maiden speech, “My past, My present and My English”. You have such a wonderful command of language, I could hardly spot any errors in your English!

Your speech followed

  1. An interesting and involved opening, where you described your background.
  2. A strong body, describing your struggle with the English, how you overcame the challenges you faced, the put offs and excuses and the inspiration you got from your kid’s Kindergarten concert.


Strong points of your speech are

  1. You have a sweet and melodious voice that attracts the attention of the audience. The delivery was very smooth, without any show of nervousness, if you had any.
  2. You used a question to open the speech, which is a good technique to get the audience involved.
  3. You did not use any notes, a brave effort!
  4. Your English was almost flawless, except for minor pronunciation errors, which I am sure could be fine-tuned over this toastmasters ‘s journey.


Overall, a very interesting and informative speech, well done!

I look forward to your next speech!

P10: You can do it if you really want

14 Jan 2012

(music and Zainal singing ‘You can do it if you really want’)

To be successful in this life is not easy but not impossible. First you must have a dream which you must believe in, because a dream is born from an idea, a simple idea conceived in the mind, and with a combination of determination, enthusiasm,

perserverence, diligence and patience, you need to step out from your comfort zone and use your god given talent and abilities. God do not have time to make a nobody somebody, you can.


Let me share with you some true stories. When a friend of mine working as Administrative Officer was retrenched at the age of 47 he could not get another job after attending many interviews. He was determined to change vocation and decided to become a taxi driver. He do not have a vocational and driving license and start to enroll in driving classes. He took 21 times to pass his driving test. A true grit and determination.

In 1891 Samuel Langley had a dream to fly. He made model airplanes with whirling arms powered by steam engine. It crashed immediately after being launched. He was disappointed and gave up trying to fly. He died a broken man.

At the same time 2 school dropouts had the same dream. It also crashed after being launched, but every time it crashed they rise up and try again and again. About a dozen trial and error finally they taste sweet success. In 1903 the first plane ever to fly.

The next time you hear or see an airplane or travel on one remember where it all started. A simple idea conceived in the minds of 2 school dropouts who do not finish high school. They did not have a degree, aeronautical engineering, mathematics, physics or any other subjects. They were not scientist in the true sense of the word and yet 2 bicycle mechanics accomplish what they had believed in.

What idea or ideas are you working on. Have you said to yourself you cant do this or that because you are not a scientist. Have you limited yourself in saying you are not smart enough, or have you join the majority in saying that everything has already been invented or discovered.

There are 3 kinds of people in this world, those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happen. I leave it to you to decide which category of people you want to belong to. It is your birth right to have anything you want in this life. The choice is yours.


Evaluation by Teh Yun Ling, CTM


Here are the main points of the evaluation:


  1. A song as the opening was attention catching.
  2. Zainal maintained excellent eye contact with the audience.
  3. Loud and clear voice which is magnetic. Both points 2 and 3 displayed his sincerity.
  4. Humour was injected in the speech.
  5. Both positive and negative examples were given.




  1. Avoid swinging hands.
  2. Use one or two personal stories especially how the speaker overcame obstacles and eventually succeeded by beliveing in himself.





To V or Not To V?


DTM, Richard Sng, has yet again wowed us with his dazzling display of rhetorical devices in his Basic P7 speech on the 3 Vs of Communication. To find out what these 3 Vs are, read on……..


To V or Not To V.


That is not the question, not according to the bard, William Shakespeare, who said, “ To Be, or Not To Be.  That is the question.

V ……………. Victory ?   Vitality ?   Visibility ?  None of these.


To V or Not To V. To Vocalise and To Verbalise.


Do you know who created or coined the tagline ‘ The 3 Vs of Communication ‘ ?

Nobody knows ?  Neither do I.  Meanwhile, I’ll take credit for that.


According to studies and research conducted by psychologist Dr Albert Mehrabian of University of California, Los Angeles, 55% of communication is done visually, 38% vocally, and 7% verbally.  A hefty percentage is non-verbal communication, body language.


Are these statistics true ?   reliable ?   correct ?

I have long ago debunked this myth !

True enough, on the front cover of the January 2006 issue of The Toastmaster magazine, and the article on page 25, the headings read ‘ Debunking the 55%, 38%, 7% Rule ‘.

“ Words are more important than you may think. “


Do not believe everything we read and everything we hear.

Analyse for ourselves.  Question the statistics.  Give it some thought.


Within 2 seconds of given a topic to speak impromptu, this guy dropped to the floor, knelt and proposed to the Contest Chair, “ Will you marry ? “

He was dramatic, theatric and very visual.

Is the 55% enough for him ?  Perhaps, more !


The ratio and proportion of the 3Vs vary according to the individual’s character and personality.  To what degree and to what extent is the visual, vocal and verbal aspect.


To V or Not To V


Much of my research on ‘ Vocal & Verbal ‘ image came from attending numerous talks, workshops, presentations, seminars and conventions, observing and listening to the speakers and presenters.

I read books, magazines, newspapers and searched various websites.

Some of them include : “ What to Say & How to Say It “ by David Belson, “ Say It With Power & Confidence “ by Patrick Collins, “ Oxford Guide to Writing & Speaking “ by John Seely,  “ The Toastmaster “ magazine and



To V or Not To V

VISUAL Image :

It has been said that we do not have a second chance to make a first impression.

What first impression ?  The image we portray ?  Which image ?

The 3 Vs !  Visual !  Vocal !  Verbal !

The majority of us will focus on the visual.

We spend the most money and the most time on our dressing, our clothes, our grooming and the accessories, shoes, handbags, perfume ………. to look good, great, gorgeous.

Some would rather be like the wallpaper, the painting or the vase, to be seen, to be looked at, to be admired.


To V or Not To V

VOCAL Image :

It is not about the VPPR ( no, not the Vice President Public Relations ), the volume, pitch, pace or the rate of speaking.

It is about focusing on the 3Ps  …………  being energetic, enthusiastic and emphatic in the tone of our voice when speaking, adding life, and not a lifeless, listless or lethargic voice.


It is also about clarity and coherence in our enunciation.

Would you rather listen to someone at a talk, seminar or conference who speaks sloppily, slovenly or one who speaks succinctly ?

Who comes to  mind as some of the better speakers worth listening to, apart from the speech substance ?  Our local personalities and celebrities ?


To V or Not To V

VERBAL Image :

It is about word usage, the choice and selection, to add colour, flavour and glamour, even splendour or humour, to our message, our speech, our presentation.

It is to use rhetorical devices, language tools to enrich, enliven and enlighten what we say.

It is about using the right word.  Saying “ She is your ‘ protégé ‘, instead of ‘ prodigy ‘ “.

To ‘ alleviate ‘ the pain, instead of ‘ elevate ‘.


To V or not to V.


Remember :

“ The ability to communicate correctly, clearly and creatively, iscritical and crucial.





The F1 Ride


Wei You, one of our club members whom has several business assignments in Philippines and makes frequent trips to the country recently. He has previously shared with us about his gastronomic experience in Philippines. This time he is going to share another exhilarating experience in Manila.

Long Wait


I waited at the backstreet of the customer’s office building, as the front of the building was a main road where cars were not allowed to stop for pickup. The backstreet was not so well-lit. As it was in the evening, the sky was dark; I could not see the hotel car, a black Nissan car. I waited and waited and still the car did not arrive. I saw many cars come, pick up their passengers and speed up, while a few other vehicles, came and parked at the roadside seemingly waiting for someone. In the dark surroundings, I could not read the number plate of the car any further than the car waiting in front of me. Not to forget the glaring headlights from the waiting vehicles, one would even have the problem making out what the car model was. I waited patiently for the next 30 minutes. Finally I saw a car waiting at a distance away move up and Har! It is the hotel car, with the right number plate.


Angry Driver


I beckoned the car to stop and quickly jumped into the car. The driver was not very friendly this time. He is a man of about my age and he asked me with a smiling face but with a tinge of anger in his tone – “Sir, why are you standing there?  I have been waiting here for 10 minutes” As that was my first time in Manila, hearing about all the kidnapping stories and robberies warning, and feeling frustrated I continued to keep my patience and explained that it was very dark and I could not see his car plate. I was thinking, “ Why he could not drive up to the waiting area and check if his customer was there waiting for him, rather than expecting his customer to check every car that arrived and waiting along the long street. I apologised in order not to antagonize the driver further but deep inside I felt such a weakling.  I wondered if I should have stood firm and told him off.  He explained that he could not wait for long otherwise he would be fined and his salary would be gone. Feeling slightly sorry for the driver, I decided that I was probably right by not throwing up my flare with the rights of a customer – The customer is always right.


Money Questions


He next asked where I was from. I said, “ Singapore” and the next question that came made me speechless for several seconds.  “Sir, how much are you earning?” “Errr …hmmm…” I mumbled, wondering what to say next. But the driver could not wait for my reply and started guessing, 50,000, 60,000, 70,000 …not sure what to reply, wondering what he was up to … feeling nervous …and also starting to do my mental sums in converting pesos to Singapore dollars using the rate of 1 Singapore dollar to 32 pesos. In the midst of all these confusion, the mentally chaotic me, mysteriously uttered “ehmm”. The driver immediately responded with astonishment – 90,000 pesos a year?!!! “Since when he said 90,000”, I asked myself …but well it is too late then to correct myself, as that would make me lose credibility. For your information, 90,000 pesos is roughly about 2800 Singapore dollars. He stared at me through the rear mirror in seemingly great disbelief.


Oops! I must have made the wrong claims. I did not know that he was referring to an annual salary. He probably could not believe a Singaporean who was chauffeured around in hotel taxi (though he probably not know it was paid by the company) only earns 2800 Singapore dollars a YEAR. So in order to keep my driver happy and my journey safe, I decided to make it sound more believable by saying “per month”.


“What??? Per month! Sir I only earn 200 pesos a day and that is only 6000 pesos if I drive everyday for a month!” You are earning so much!!!” I have three kids and a wife to support and I am only making so little!!!”


Oh No! I regretted making the clarification. I should have stuck to the claim of 2800 Singapore dollars a year. “Oh no… I hope he does not plan to kidnap me.”


He then started asking if I was married, who was I staying with and how old I was. Finding out that I was the same age as him, he got even more vocal about his frustrations of life. “There is no future as a driver.” He complained and started to give more and more complaints about his life as a driver and life in Philippines. The intensity of disgruntlement and dissatisfaction about his life started to reinforce the image of a robber ***** kidnapper, driving his victim into a deserted place, rob him and then ask his family member for a sky-high amount of ransom began to form in my mind.


Traffic Jam


“Bbbbbbaaaaaaa ..…” A car horned loudly and I could almost feel the driver’s anger.

It seemed that my driver has cut into the lane of the other driver. There was more horning, left and right, and soon I realised it was everywhere. There was a traffic jam and that made me regret further for taking his taxi. I should not have asked for a taxi at that rush hour in the first place.  The cars could hardly move. That means that I have to stay longer in the taxi and answer more questions L


F1 Driver


“Sir, this is a bad traffic jam. But I am not going to let you be late. I felt bad and pressured when I could not send my customer back on time.” Before I could respond, he started swerving in and out to fill whatever gaps he could find on the road. Miraculously, he managed to make several metres of progress amidst the heavy traffic.  He continued to make manoeuvres and at one point he actually cut into the lane of opposite direction. Yeekeess… I saw a car heading towards us …oh no! Instead of slowing down, my driver quickly stepped up his accelerator and charged towards the head-on vehicle. I thought we were going to collide this time! Dying in a car accident in a foreign country on the first visit was not exactly the best form of death. Just when I thought everything was over, my driver swerved back to our lane and cut into the path of a vehicle that was slowing down to fill up the space. Phew! What a narrow escape!


My driver then turned and smiled at me gleefully and said “Sir, don’t worry I will be your Schumacher.” In case if you do not know who Schumacher is or rather Michael Schumacher to be exact. He was widely touted as the most successful Formula 1 Racing Driver – an F1 world champion for 7 times! I tried hard to give a smile. The image of a kidnapper started to turn into a suicidal driver. Immediately my hands reached for the safety belts. But I soon realised that not every car has safety belts in the back seats.




Just when I was wondering how to secure myself in the car, the car started to slow down and then came to a complete stop. I looked around, that was not my hotel!  It did not look familiar. “Sir”, the driver turned and looked at me. At that point, I thought the suicidal driver has decided to point a knife at me. “Sir this is your hotel!” “My hotel, I …”

I wanted to stand firm that time and insisted that that was not my hotel, “Sir, this is the backdoor of your hotel. The main road is too jammed. I have to come by the back.” “My hotel?!” I was too happy to hear that. I thanked him and at the same time took out 200 pesos and gave it to him. That was about 6 dollars. He was stunned and said “Sir, this is not necessary. You do not have to give tips” I insisted and shoved the money to him. He thanked me profusely and a look of gratitude filled his face.


To be honest, I gave the tips not because I was thankful that he sent me back in one piece but the thought that he has my name and room number that the hotel had given him earlier on, he could easily locate me. I hope that by sharing some of my wealth, he would not bear a grudge against me which otherwise could result in me to be on his hit list.