A Toastmaster Speaks In China (Part 1)

This is a three-part interview of speaker Darren LaCroix, Toastmasters 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking, on his speaking trip to China

It was a typical day for two Toastmasters in Las Vegas.  We played Frisbee Golf in the morning.  We did the interview over Pizza for lunch.  And we attended a Toastmasters meeting in the evening.  And never once set foot in a casino.

What was it like speaking in China?  Was it your first time?

It was not my first time to Asia.  But it was my first time to mainland China.  I’ve spoken in Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore before.  And I’ve spoken in the Middle-East, Oman.  It was very different speaking in Asian countries than speaking in the USA.  I found that they laughed in places where I never had laugh lines before. And they wouldn’t laugh at my biggest laugh lines.  I had to stay in the moment and also not be shaken by they fact that they didn’t laugh where I always get laughs.  Sometimes we can feel, as a speaker, that you’re bombing, or it’s not working or that you’re not connected.  One of my big battles was to let go of the thought that I was bombing or that they didn’t like me; even though sometimes the laughs just weren’t there. 

How are audiences different in China? 

I noticed that they are like sponges, they’re leaning in.  A general audience in the United States, and I’m not picking on any particular organization, about 10-20 percent are really connected and really want to learn.  Most people are just sitting back and enjoying, and some are just concerned with their own problems or they’re there just because they have to be there…casual listeners.  In Asia, I find it’s just the opposite where 80 percent are intensely listening to you and really there to absorb anything they can learn.

I think back to when I won the Toastmasters world championship, the following year I spoke at a Regional Conference.  And here I am, the gentleman who won the contest the year before, and I was doing a workshop.  There were eight contestants in that region who were competing in the International Contest that year.  Three of the eight approached me for help.  The other five I never heard anything from.  It was widely publicized that I would be at that conference, but only three approached me for help.  One of them asked me to watch him at his club two or three times.  I was able to fit it into my schedule and was happy to go.  Another one had a 20-minute phone conversation with me.  The third one sent me an email with two quick questions. 

Now I remember when I was competing the year before, Mark Brown, the 1995 champion, was speaking at a convention I was attending.  And I’m in the front row, leaning over, taking notes, sopping up everything that I can.  Mark said that I stood out because I was so eager, and I don’t know if he even knew that I was a contestant at that point.  But what blew my mind was that I never even saw any of the other five contestants.  They weren’t even in my session.  And yet they were competing later that day.  Now it’s not like you should make a lot of changes the day of the contest, however wouldn’t you want to hear or be inspired by someone who won the contest you’re about to compete in? It just blows my mind.  Now I know there are people who have family priorities.  And I understand that, but I don’t think five of them did. I think more of them could have been there.  I think it goes back to a mindset.  Now going back to the results of that contest, I said there was one gentleman who I personally coached at a couple of his clubs, a woman I spoke to on the phone for 20 minutes and a man who sent me a couple of questions on email.  Ironically, they finished first, second and third.  The gentleman I coached came in first.  The woman who called me came in second and the guy who emailed me came in third.  Now it’s not an ego thing.  It had nothing to do with ME.  It had to do with their mindset, because I know we can extrapolate the work that they did with me to everything else that they did. 

The reason I bring that story up is that every time I’ve spoken in Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and China…most people had that mindset.  Not all, but at least 80 to 90 percent were leaning in and sponging everything they could.  So I would take an Asian audience any day even if they don’t laugh at some of my jokes. [laughs]  It’s so much easier speaking to an audience that is just leaning in and dieing to connect with you.

Part TwoPart Three