From the last episode, my guest co-host – multi medalist at WCOPA 2013 and Restaurant Owner of Pho Real-, Kevin Lo and I sat down with Dr Chris Woo – A Senior Lecturer and Graduate Officer by day and an amazing public speaker and actor by night. He recently competed in the World Championship Public Speaking Competition in Kuala Lumpur and was ranked in the Top 8 in the world.
Liz: A little bit about Chris before we begin. He’s currently the Senior Lecturer and Graduate Officer at the Faculty of Arts and Social Science at University Brunei Darussalam (UBD). That’s his day job. But he pursues his passion for public speaking at night. Chris, tell us more about your passion for public speaking.
Chris: Like you and Kevin, I have many years of acting experience from Australia. However, I only started public speaking about four years ago. Many people assume that going on stage is similar to doing public speaking but these two roles are very different.
Liz: Chris, can you tell us what Toastmasters is all about?
Chris: Toastmasters is a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. From its inception until today, Toastmasters has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. You know how people say that individuals fear public speaking more than they fear dying. When you do go up to speak in front of people, things just start working abnormally. So public speaking and Toastmasters help you to control that fear or illusion of fear when you are on stage.
Kevin: Congratulations on reaching the finals. Can you tell us what it was like to reach the semifinals?
Chris: The last time I had a competition before Toastmasters was 24 years ago when I was 10 years old. At that time, I was in a Judo competition which scarred me for life because I lost and I was the only one in the team that did not win a medal. Since then, I told myself that I would never involve myself in a competition. So it took 24 years to get out of that and the journey has been spiritual.
Kevin: I heard that your speech left most people in tears because it was so inspirational. Could you tell us how you prepared for it?
Chris: The title of the competition was ‘Listen’. My inspiration was drawn from my mother who had schizophrenia from a young age. At that time when I was a kid, I was extremely talkative and you could not shut me up. When my mother had schizophrenia, I talked to her out of a lot of things but then eventually, I realised that more talking drove her crazy. My speech was about how we failed to help her because we were just constantly talking rather than listening.
Kevin: So what happened during the finals?
Chris: By the time I got to the finals, I had no story since I never expected to be in the finals. You were meant to prepare two speeches but I only had one. So when I won the semi-finals, half of me was excited but the other half of me was terrified. So the night before the finals, I wrote seven different scripts but I flushed them down the toilet because I did not feel the speech at all. At 3.30am in the hotel room, my friends tried to support me by telling me that I could do it but I did not want to go on stage. They persuaded me to just get up on stage and say something. And then I broke down after that.
The next day, I went up on stage and I told the truth -I did not prepare to tell everyone how sorry I was, especially to those who sacrificed to be there with me. Being a public speaker is not about crafting some magical story, it comes from the heart.
Kevin: And I heard that the audience was crying at his honesty so even if he did not win the world title, he had won the people’s hearts.
Dr. Chris is working as a part time Training Consultant and is contemplating on sharing his public speaking experiences in a book. So look out for him (and his book) in the near future. Good Luck Chris!
Time Out with Liz is a monthly live event hosted by Elizabeth Sim with inspiring personalities in Brunei. The program is a light hearted conversation with them about their cool projects, different perspectives and stories. You can find out more this by emailing Liz on firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 882 6013.