8 Leadership Lessons From Serving As President of NTU Toastmasters Club

NTU Toastmasters Club is a club that plays a huge role in my university life. If I were to put Toastmasters side by side with my NTU academic studies, then I have to say that my time in NTU TMC gave me an education I can use 100% in my life, while I can only use 50% of what I learned in my academic courses. (Actually lower than 50%… cos even now after 3 months I graduated, I still don’t know where I can use all the maths formula I memorized for exams!)

In my final year of studies (2012-2013), I served as the Club President of NTU Toastmasters Club. Prior to that, I’m in the club for 3 years, and the highest post I hold is the Treasurer. Ya. That one that ‘guards the reserves’. When I’m asked to run for the post, I pondered for a very long time.

Will it take up too much of my time?

What if it affects my academic results?

Will I have enough time for myself to plan for my career after graduation?

People says Year 4 students are the busiest people, as they have so many things to do. Like go for attend career talks, job interviews, do final year projects, clear modules, internships…etc. That was all in my mind, but again, I’m not a typical year 4 student.

Fortunately I didn’t have to do most stuffs, and I only left 7 modules to clear for entire year! Furthermore, I can still use my final year to serve as a Club President of a club which has helped me a lot in public speaking and communications. I took on the challenge, and probably call this my own ‘Final Year Project’.

One year later, I did not regret taking up this position.

In fact, I do enjoy my time holding the highest position in a club, that I kind of missed it when I’ve graduated. Anyway, it’s time for the junior ones to rise up for the challenge!

The past one year of holding position has also taught me many leadership lessons, which school doesn’t teach, but which I believe are important life lessons one should have. Since I have learnt so much, I’ll just share it here with you. It also helps to recollect all the fun and meaningful memories as the club president.

 

1. Serve others

You see me use the word ‘serve’ a lot of times above. Because to me, holding a leadership position is all about serving others. People hold leadership positions for different reasons. Some want to look good high up, some want to show it off in a resume, some want control.

Nearing the end of my term, a member came and asked me “how can I be a good leader?” I tell him, there are many traits that make a good leader, but the most important one, is to now how to serve others. Very Cliche?

Probably, but serving others means putting other people’s needs first. During my time, I heard exco members say they cannot do their job if they don’t have CCA points. I was so surprised! Because I also don’t have CCA point, plus I don’t stay in hall! My house and school are on the opposite ends of Singapore. If CCA points are so important, then sometimes I wonder why there are members serving in the exco of non-school toastmasters clubs (who don’t award CCA points), even when they are not paid to do so.

CCA points to a exco position, is like money to a job. If CCA points is the main motivation to join the exco, then I can assure you the person will not love what he does. Because he will gauge whatever he does based on the CCA points he’s awarded, and if he’ll not be happy if he’s asked to do something outside his exco role, because he’s not awarded CCA points for that role! He will probably more focused on serving yourself with CCA points, than to serve the members our the club.

CCA points are definitely awarded to my exco, but I’m just so glad none of them are so hard-up on it. Oh, below is my group of exco who serve the club, did all sorts of projects with me that you will find out later.

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We did many things for the club, and we enjoyed it! What did we do? Read on and you will find out more!

 

2. Inspire and grow others

During my year, we recruited a total of 58 new members. It’s quite an amazing feat! We never had such a huge enrollment, and we never want our club to grow too big. So many people came forward and joined as a paid member. Maybe it’s because of my marketing skills? :P

When there’s 58 new members who are new to speaking, my job is to get them started. From my experience, if we don’t start them right and fast, they will drop out of the whole learning process. Some will feel dejected, some lack confidence, some just give up altogether. So my job is to inspire and grow them!

That’s the trait of a leader. You always want to grow people in your team. The whole club is my team. When my club members grow, we all grow together. The worst team you want to be in, is a team where you are the smartest. You want your people to grow with you, and even better, to be better than you!

The worst thing a leader can do, is to suppress the growth of a team member, fearing that this person will be better than them and may overrule the team one day. That’s not the way to lead. If you do that, you come from a mindset of lack, a mindset of scarcity. You should come from a mindset of abundance, that if the person grows more, he will be able to contribute more!

Inspire others to be better than you. That’s what a great leader does.

 

3. Empower, not manage

Ok. Let’s talk about my exco! I cannot do everything myself, that’s why the exco is there. Maybe it is my leadership style. I never like to manage them. I make sure everyone of them know what their roles are, what I expect from them, and leave it to them to do the rest. I empower them to do the job well. Plus, micro-managing is tiring.

When we first took over, we were all new to our new positions. I was never a club president before, so were others. Hence, there are many times my exco are not confident of their jobs. Instead of micro managing them and pin-pointing all the mistakes they do, I keep on assuring them to do their best, and my other exco and I will come and help out whenever we can. By giving assurance and instilling confidence in them, they have the opportunity to grow, and that’s why we can complete so many successful projects together as a team.

Managing is the work of a manager who always coming down to tell you what to do. That’s not efficient leadership. I believe in creating the space for people to explore things themselves. Instead of telling them what to do, allow them to think what they want to do, and how to do it. If the plan is feasible, empower them to make the plan happen, by assuring them that any help that is required will be provided.

To lead well, empower, not manage your people.

 

4. Shining limelight on others

When you hold the highest position in the club, almost every time the limelight is on you. Hence, it is thus important to shine the limelight on to others too! Don’t hold all the credits to yourself!

Remember I mentioned about us organizing special events? In March 2013, our club decide to organize a huge special event. This is our plan:

My friend and then-business manager, Peter Fu, suggested that we invite the HR Recruitment and Talent Development Team from Citibank down to NTU to give a talk to undergraduates on how to ace their job interviews. March is the time where most final year graduates are going for interviews and securing jobs. Hence, that’s the best time for the event.

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We thought it is a great plan, and we went ahead with it. But I told Peter, he will be in charge of this whole project, and I will be his assistant. He will show himself as the organizer of this project, while me, even though as the Club President, will not show any face. All the credits will go to him and his organizing team (which I’ll be in).

The event turned out to be a success! Almost 200 people registered, and 150 people turned up! Filling up almost 80% of the lecture hall!  (You never see this happening in NTU lectures, unless the professors is giving out final exam tips!)

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I’m happy, Peter is happy, everyone is happy. And I think he fully deserved it!

Don’t hog all the limelight to yourself. Give credits to others when due!

And you know what’s the amazing thing when you shine limelight on others? People will want to shine it back onto you. That’s better than you hogging the limelight and shining it yourself.

 

5. Always be present

If you want to be a successful leader, then you must always be there for your people.

During my time, I make an effort to always be there for my members, be it they are giving their first ever speech, competing in speech contest, or giving a speech outside of toastmasters. And most of the time, it is not just me who will be there. I will always bring a long a group of members to support them. In the worst circumstance, I still make sure I will be there if I say so.

Many people thought a person’s presence doesn’t matter much, since there are so many people. One person less doesn’t make any difference. NO! It is important because a leader’s presence can means a lot… A LOT to his people! Just by being present, the invisible moral boost can just help someone to perform better and boost the confidence by 100 times.

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By being present, you are also showing your people that you care for their success. You form a strong support group that when you need support from your people, they will be there for you too. If you have a group that always help and support each other, isn’t that wonderful?

That’s what I have achieved in my own toastmasters club.

Till today when most of us are not in the exco anymore, we are still really good friends who help and support each other when someone is in need.

 

6. Don’t just build a club, build a community.

Building on from my previous point, yes. With such a strong and supportive group, I have not only built a club, but a community. A community of people who help and support one another.

I have to thank our dear Uncle William, who is also my mentor who coach me all the way to District humorous contest in 2012, and generously opened up his condo for club BBQ gathering. :) .

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I also have to thank my scottish friend, Vernon Davis, that guy who went to Taiwan early 2013 with me. He opened us his hostel room twice for me to stay overnight so that I don’t have to travel across the island for the next morning’s 8am quiz. Wow Wow.

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When I had my graduation trip to Germany, I also met up with my fellow German exchange friend Dani, who joined the club when he’s in Singapore. He’s one handsome and helpful dude. He brought us around his hometown in Stuttgart, and to some amazing castle and palaces up the hill. I really have to thank him for that!

You see Xinyue in that pic below too. She was in Germany for exchange. Ya. We had a mini-Toastmasters gathering over there! Stuttgart-castle-group-pic

There are many more stories of members helping out each other whenever someone is in need. The bond among the members is so strong that it is hard to break. And also, I hardly see people play politics in my club. If there is, it is usually positive politics, people gossiping about good news or actions done by fellow members.

If you ever want to lead a group of people, don’t just build a club. Don’t focus on the physical aspects – such as the numbers or results. Focus on the emotional aspects. Build a community and culture where people love and care for one another.

 

7. Take 100% responsibility

To be a successful leader, you have to take 100% responsibility for everything that is happening to the club. Because you are the leader, the one who holds highest position in the club, and if you don’t take 100% responsibility, then no one will.

By taking 100% responsibility, you gain the power to do things. With the power, you can control any situation you are in. This tip is one of the first ever tips I learned when I started my journey in personal development. And it has helped me a lot in toastmasters! Here’s some of the results of taking 100% responsibility.

1. At the start of every school year, our toastmasters club always have a problem attracting new members. We have a problem to promoting our club to the freshies and getting them to join. Furthermore, joining our club requires a membership fee, while many other NTU clubs doesn’t! What can we do?

Take 100% responsibility!

Instead of saying we can’t reach the masses, we say we will market ourselves well to the reach out to the freshies and the school population. As I possess some marketing knowledge, I applied all the strategies I know to help the club.

I created the Facebook Fan Page to reach out to NTU students via Facebook.

I used Mailchimp (the free email marketing software) to collect emails of all interested NTU students.

I wrote email newsletters to educate the students about public speaking, and invite them to toastmasters.

I update our Facebook Fan Page regularly with photos, posts and event updates to keep interested students updated of the latest events.

After I started all these, I then went on to teach my exco members how to use Facebook fan page, how to access mailchimp, and even how to write convincing email newsletters to invite the list to our regular meetings or special events.

Below is the first ever email newsletter I wrote to invite students to our NTU Welcome Tea. May not look that nice. But still, we manage to get about 150 over members to the Welcome Tea! Not a bad start for a email campaign!

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Results of starting this marketing campaigns?

1. Recruit 58 new members (previously only 30 plus…)

2. Regular meeting attendance of at least 25-40 people. (which is almost 50% more than most other TMC clubs)

3. Never had any worries marketing any special events (hey, we have that list of interested people!)

4. All year round, we have people interested to join our club! (Previously, people only know of our club at the start of the year CCA Exhibition. Now with Facebook, people finds us easily! Of course, you must know how to do Facebook marketing well also!)

5. All this are duplicable! Even I have left the exco, my new exco has learned and are applying the same marketing strategies now.

That’s the thing about 100% responsibility. You flip the situation around and do something about it. You make wonders.

On the flip side, there are people who blame external factors of their failures. If they can’t get members to their club, it must be because other clubs are stealing their members, other clubs are using dirty tricks, nobody teach them how to do marketing, and so on. Whatever it is, it’s never their own fault.

 

2. Making Meetings Exciting

When regular meetings get boring, we tried new stuffs! Even though every meeting has a different set of speakers delivering speeches, it is the routine that is boring. So our exco came our with the idea of organizing the first ever ‘NTU TMC Pecha Kucha Night!”

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Pecha Kucha is a really popular presentation event that only allows every speaker to deliver his/her presentation in 20 slides x 20 seconds each, with overall time given of 6 min 40 seconds. I heard about it, but not our club members. So I introduced the idea to the exco, and we all went ahead with it!

No one in our club ever tried Pecha Kucha style presentation before, so we have speakers who eagerly prepared and practiced it for the day. And our audience enjoyed it too. We introduced a fresh program idea to break the traditional routine, and everyone is happy!

On the flip side, we don’t have to do this. If members complain that our routine is getting boring, we can just point the complain back at them that they don’t know how to appreciate the speakers, they don’t know how to make the meetings enjoyable … does all these complaining help the club to become better? Definitely not!

 

3. Planning the overseas trip. 

You may have seen me talk about our Macau Trip in 2012 and Taiwan Trip in 2013. I wouldn’t elaborate more, but all I can say it is never easy organizing a trip. We never had a club exchange to overseas toastmasters club before, and to organize it, plus getting funding from the school, it requires a lot of work!

NTU TMC in Times Square

NTU Toastmasters to Taiwan 2013

But fortunately again, I have a committed group of members who take on all the responsibility to organize this trip! We don’t blame the Hong Kong and Macau hotels for being expensive and we can’t go. They are expensive, but we find ways to save accommodation costs. Whatever problems we have, we take it head on and find a way out.

Because of this, I have awesome memories of the club trips in NTU. If not, I have nothing to look back in year 2023.

Hence, if you want to be a leader, always take 100% responsibility!

 

8. Be a role model

A leader can say many things. But an great leader will do what he says.

During my years trying to encourage fellow toastmasters not to slack, but continue to give speeches to improve their speaking, I realized it is almost impossible if I didn’t show them I’m doing it myself. If I can’t even do what I say, how can I expect others to do what I say?

From there on, I made sure I work on my own progress first, before asking others to do the same.

When I do what I say, and then request them to do likewise, amazing things happen.

I don’t have to do any convincing to get them to take action. I don’t have to persuade them or tell them the reasons to do it. They just do it.

Being a role model to someone is a really strong persuasive force to get someone to do what you want, because it shows that you have done it at first.

(Warning: The following section can be a little bit of self-bragging)

One great advantage of being a toastmaster is the chance to participate in speech contests held annually. Since the first year I joined, I started contesting. How the annual speech contest works is that the winner of a club contest will proceed to the next round… all the way to the national level. However, for the first 3 years, i never come in first. Always 3rd, or nothing.

But in my 4th year, I compete all the way to the District (National) level. You can read the whole story here.

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Right now that I have made it all the way to the top myself, I went back to the club and encourage all of my members that it is possible for anyone, even for people with just 2-3 years of public speaking experience, to compete with the best people out there. Not to brag too much, but many people believed what I say!

Simply because I have shown them that is possible as I have did it myself.

I don’t have to convince the fellow contestants hard that it is possible that they can win contests and progress from stages to stages.

Are you currently a leader who is having difficulty getting your people to do what you want them to do?

Instead of convincing or forcing them to listen to you, why not see if you’re doing what you are telling them to do? You simply can’t expect others to do something that you haven’t do yourself. As the famous saying goes… ACTION speaks louder than Words!

 

That’s the 8 leadership lessons I learned during my one year as President of my club.

I have been reading leadership books before I entered university, but I can say that you can only be a real leader if you lead a group of real people. Only then you can say you have leadership skills.

Let me end it with a leadership quote I created:

When you read leadership, you learn to be a leader. But when you do leadership, you become one.

dn.

P.S. I took almost 2 weeks to finish this write up. I wrote in bits and pieces here and there and finally combine them altogether. Although I don’t really have to write this, I want to jot it down so to remind myself when I need it again. Hope you learn something today!

Since it’s a post to reminisce my good times in NTU TMC, I think I shall just post some more photos below:

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