Having relocated to Zhengzhou two years ago, I had seldom contact with foreigners or fluent English speakers. When I looked for websites online to enlighten me in this experience, one person asked, "Why don’t you visit Toastmasters?”
I thought: What? What is that? Fired up bread?
When I heard the name, Toastmasters, nothing really came to mind, but maybe some toast???Little did I know that this organization had been growing many years earlier. I researched their website, toastmasters.com, and found that they had their first meeting in the USA in 1905, and have been growing worldwide ever since! Wow!
And, they even have a video of what a Toastmaster’s meeting might be like. I thought: This is my opportunity to meet Chinese that speak English! And, maybe even some foreigners!
I pleasantly found it had 5 meeting places even in Zhengzhou! Fabulous!
The idea of Toastmasters is to learn professional speaking in front of a group. But, that is not all: There are introductions of visitors, new members, introduction to the rules, a joke, impromptu and prepared speeches, and reports. All of these are timed, so really, the only ones that speak a longer time period are those with prepared speeches, who are also required to be members.
Their website is quite easy to find, and they have directions to each location on their website. When searching for a location, some meeting places have different days; in fact, the meeting places in Zhengzhou varies the days of the week for people who might not be available certain days. The meeting hours are usually from 7-9 PM.
At the first meeting at the English school, the location was quite easy to find because Zhengzhou has two subway lines and this meeting place just happened to be across the street from Yanzhuang Subway Stop on the Red Line, on the third floor in the Shenglong Building.
We were pleasantly greeted professionally. The next two hours spent with these Chinese people, we were all speaking in English—such a change from normal activities in Zhengzhou—one can actually understand everybody speaking! .
My wife and I visited two of these meeting places: One, the Middle Kingdom—first Toastmastersmeeting place built in 2007--was in an English school while the other was at a business. For those learning English, it is a great place to practice and to perfect English speaking, and in the meantime, perfect professional speaking skills, and time your performance. Listening skills are also highly encouraged. In fact, when one attends, the activities move so fast that no-one really gets bored of hearing only one person. The opposite is true: Visitors hear everyone speak at fast rates of speed, insomuch that one wonders where the time had gone. And, then, they call on you, yes, even as a visitor, to introduce yourself, and maybe speak again to talk about a Table Topic (an impromptu speech). At the Middle Kingdom Toastmaster’s Club, I was asked what Chinese food I liked and at On the Way Toastmaster’s Club, I was asked about how long I thought it would take to bicycle from Zhengzhou to Xian. I had to think about these two answers, and to tell you the truth, these two unscripted questions, put me into a thinking mode in front of onlookers. Unpremeditated speeches in front of a group is horrific when your mind goes blank (My mind never goes blank when it is premeditated speeches—I always have the right words—but a spontaneous speech without any preparation was like trying to hop onto a bus and drive it with no experience of ever having driven one before. It just hits you like a hammer).
Granted, I know speaking in front of the public—I teach—but doing so on the spur of the moment about a topic one is unfamiliar with, yes, riding bikes from one city to another, how long would it take? The fact is, one has two minutes to speak. I knew that, so what was I supposed to say, two days? And, then, meander back to my seat? But, the answer did not come to me immediately. It was like trying to teach a teacher how to draw like an architect, one has to know mathematics and distance, when the teacher deals on a daily basis with English only, speaking and listening, and has nothing to do with these mathematical equations in front of a group, and not to lose face, either.
So, my first answer was, about 22 hours. But, I asked if they thought that was right. Ms. Alice Wang, almost like a founder to the Toastmaster’s movement in Zhengzhou, immediately perked up and said, "That ain’t right!” No, she really did not say ain’t, because you probably would only hear that word in America, but now that I’m writing about it, that is what comes to mind, like my unprofessional mind in front of a group, trying to figure out math. It ain’t going to work!
But, to be honest folks, visiting Toastmastersin Zhengzhou was a phenomenal experience! My wife and I really enjoyed the occasion of meeting all the wonderful people! Like the pictures, it’s a thumbs up deal!