Saturday August 18, 2012
It’s all about determination
By M. RAJAH
In his early years they laughed at his Foochow English but today, as Toastmasters International president, John Lau has got to have the last laugh.
WHO would have thought the local boy who speaks English with a Foochow accent would become the first Malaysian, and the second Asian ever, to be the president of Toastmasters International.
I met John Lau in the early 80s in Sibu when he came to the printing press/newspaper company where I was working to monitor the printing staff preparing pamphlets for his training programmes.
He was one of few local trainers who impressed me then.
Lau was a shy lad growing up in Bintangor. As an adult, he worked with a multi-national company in the areas of marketing and human capital development which required him to meet and communicate with people.
In 1990, he joined Toastmasters and has since achieved the title of Distinguished Toastmaster 10 times — the highest award that a Toastmasters International member can achieve.
He was prompted to join the movement when he was in charge of sales and marketing for the multi-national company.
Lau had to carry out technical presentations and felt that his communication skills were not at the level where he could inspire audience and acquire business.
Many of his friends, non-Chinese and Chinese alike, would tease his pronunciation and his “Foochow English”.
To address the matter, he attended public speaking courses which did not help. He eventually joined the Toastmasters through a friend in Kuching.
The move certainly reaped results. Toastmasters taught him to listen effectively, think logically, and speak objectively. He also found that his confidence level and patience increased.
He later moved on to establish his own training and development consultancy.
Today, he is nowhere near being the shy and bashful young lad he was in Bintangor. He is an eloquent speaker, with a long list of achievements trailing him.
Other than being a locally renowned entrepreneur, Lau has also had years of experience as a change management consultant, a trainer for human capital development and strategic planning, a lecturer for MBA students, and an international speaker.
He has also published over 100 articles on management in management periodicals and regional magazines.
Just two years ago in 2010, John received letters of commendation from the US Senate, California Assembly, Mayor of the Los Angeles City Council, Mayor of the City of Artesia and Mayor of the City of Cerritos for his continuous efforts to promote oral communication and leadership development in the global community.
A humble, yet charismatic person, Lau believes that the key to lasting and cordial relationships is the ability to communicate well.
As a Toastmaster, he is always ready with a firm hand and an attentive ear to help members improve their public speaking skills.
He always has this advice to give, “Be yourself. Do not attempt to copy someone else’s style. The key to successful public speaking is to be natural.” It was his very own advice, speaking naturally without changing his Foochow accent, that got him places.
More importantly, his trait of thinking or doing things globally has brought him success.
Locally, Lau is a member of the Kuching Connections Toastmasters Club and Kuching Mandarin Toastmasters Club.
He was also the region’s Toastmasters international director (2005-2007) before becoming the first vice-president of Toastmasters International for the 2010-2011 term.
His contributions to the global community in promoting good communication skills have not gone unrewarded.
Last year, he was named president elect for Toastmasters International for the 2011-2012 term, the first Malaysian to hold the position.
His campaign for the distinguished post in Toastmasters International began in 2008 when he ran for the second vice-president’s post. He lost by four votes.
Undeterred, he ran again in 2009 and was elected as the second vice-president. Following that he progressed on to the post of vice-president. I recall him telling me that for him to be considered for the post, he had to fulfill several criteria, including being adept at strategic planning, developing policies and financial management.
Other than these criteria, there were other aspects that had to be considered: Does he have inside out knowledge of the Toastmasters and its vision? Does he have experience in strategic marketing in emerging and mature markets? Does he have experience in digital content delivery?
He obviously met all the criteria as today, Lau will be installed as Toastmasters International president at a ceremony in Orlando, Florida.
As president, Lau’s first task will be to lead Toastmasters International through a rebranding exercise aimed at creating consistency of messages and materials around the world.
This will not be an easy task given the fact that Toastmasters exists in 116 countries worldwide.
Nonetheless, Lau is positive in achieving this tall order which will include efforts to expand the organisation’s reach into new countries, garner more media coverage and recognition, and produce guidelines for creating materials for the organisation across borders and language divides.
He looks forward to learning diverse cultures of people around the world, and to talk and listen to them effectively.
His personal hope is for Toastmasters to grow, particularly in Africa and South America.
The organisation has seen the fastest growth in Malaysia where there are now 320 clubs. Kuching alone has 20 Toastmasters clubs.
Lau’s big task now is to ensure the success of the 83rd international convention in Kuala Lumpur in 2014, the first outside the US in the convention’s history.
He somehow managed to convince the Toastmasters International board to hold the convention outside the US.
It is indeed a privilege for this Bintangor- born man who eats, sleeps and talks Toastmasters to helm an internationally recognised position.
I hope his achievement will pave the way for many more young Malaysians to follow in his footsteps. It doesn’t matter if you talk Foochow, Malay, Indian, Iban or Bidayuh English. So long as there is a will there is a way to international success or recognition.
I say this, let’s do the John Lau way - the way of the humble Foochow man from Bintangor.