Q: Before we talk about Toastmasters, help us get to know Ia. Can you share a few interesting facts about yourself?
A: I am the third child of a big family of five sons and five daughters. I lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for 8 years before migrating to the U.S. in September of 1992. I actually wrote a story about my childhood experience in this refugee camp, “My Home on No Name Street.” I can speak, read and write fluently in my native language Hmong, and I have also taught others the language. I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2006 with a double major in Political Science and Legal Studies. Currently, I work as a Senior Legal Analyst at a risk management firm called Bickmore in Sacramento. I like to sing for fun and enjoy planning gatherings for my BIG family.
Q: How long you have been a member of your Toastmasters club and what was the original catalyst that prompted you to join?
A: I joined Pop-Up Toastmasters in July 2013. Although I consider myself a vocal and talkative person at home, other people (especially at work) always view me as a shy person. My managers have recommended that I speak up more at client meetings. Therefore, I decided to join Toastmasters to improve my confidence and speaking skills.
Q: How do you remember your first meeting experience? Was there anyone in particular who had a positive impact on you?
A: Everyone in the club was very nice and welcoming. After my first visit, some of the club members offered to help me with my membership application. I quickly decided to join. A mentor was assigned to me and I began my CC Manual journey. My mentor Jayne Nielsen is awesome! She offers to read my speech before I give it and she always gives me feedback after each speech. I know that sometimes we feel hesitant to ask for help because we don’t feel like bugging busy people, but it’s always better to ask then not. A small tip here and there really adds up in the end, so I take advantage of my mentor’s knowledge as well as that of the other more experienced members in my club. I could not have excelled in the speech contests without the support of this team. I’m thankful for all of their encouragement and time. Because of the difference it made for me, I’ve decided to become a mentor myself and hopefully I can make the same positive impact on newer members
Q: What are your proudest achievements in the club?
A: My participation in the Spring 2015 International Speech Contest. At first, I only wanted to put my skills to use by testing how good I’ve become since I joined Toastmasters, but then I placed first place at the Area Contest and went all the way to the District level. I realized that I was better and had more confidence than I thought. Additionally, I’m also proud that I held officer roles within my club. I was the VP of Education for six months and Treasurer for a year. I learned a lot from the other officers in the club through this participation.
Q: What would you recommend to other clubs looking to attract more Millennial members?
A: I recommend doing an Open House and having the more experienced or seasoned members give a speech. That was one thing that attracted me in the beginning… when I saw someone give a flawless and engaging speech, it made me want to be like that person. I’m sure other newcomers will feel the same way.
Q: What are the top personal benefits you’ve received from Toastmasters?
A: Confidence. Two years ago, I ended a long-term, but unhealthy, relationship and I wanted to look for ways to gain back my “self”…someone who’s known to be confident, independent and goal-oriented. I even made a goal to be “competitive” again in 2015. Fortunately, I gained all of that confidence back with the support of my club members as well as Toastmasters I met at conferences and contests. And good news on the relationship front… I not only achieved my personal goal of becoming competitive again, but I also attracted someone who sees this confidence in me. I’m now enjoying a new and healthier relationship with him.
Q: What key advice do you have for other younger members to get the most out of Toastmasters?
A: Attend the meetings regularly and learn from others in the club. Members share their stories through their speeches and everyone’s story is unique. Also be willing to share your story with them. Nobody will judge you. The more you share through your speeches, the more the members will get to know you. I think that’s what I like the most about Toastmasters. It gives me an avenue to share my story. And the best is yet to come!
Learn more about Pop-Up Toastmasters in Division D, District 39. (Meets every Wednesday from 12:05 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.)