I think my first Toastmasters speech went fairly well, last night. The first speech is supposed to be introducing yourself and letting people get to know you a little. So I themed it on my three names: how I got my English and Hebrew (actually Yiddish) names after my great-grandmother, with a bit about how and when my family emigrated to the US; and how I got my Chinese name, talking about living as an expat in Europe and then here.

I was afraid that the early part would seem like too much talking about my family history rather than myself, but I think here talking about your famliy is equivalent to talking about yourself. And I thought it would be interesting, to discuss what practices are similar and different: for instance here it’s unlucky to name a baby after a dead person, but Ashkenazic Jews do exactly that to perpetuate the memory of someone we love. I did forget one bit, though: I was going to say that, whereas here you go to temple to ask for a name for a baby, in my tradition you go to temple (well, synagogue, since my family is Conservative) with a baby girl, to bestow and celebrate her name.

I was fairly proud of the technical bit, too: the first speech is supposed to be 4-6 minutes, with 30 seconds margin either way, and they count the number of Ahs. (That is, the times you say ah, er, um, so, well…) I brought it in at 6 minute exactly with only 3 Ahs.

As my husband reminds me, I still have room to improve in speech-making. Obama has nothing to worry about from me. But I have two major advantages over everyone else here: I speak English at a native level, whereas almost everyone else there is still trying to improve; and I’m fairly comfortable in front of an audience (All those hours training Honeywell engineers in Six Sigma were good for that) whereas most people are very nervous. Of course there are still all the story-telling skills, that I need to work on as much as anyone else here. IWhen I help other people with their speeches, I’ve been telling them that keeping your audience interested is much more important than getting your language perfect – I say that to reassure them but also because it’s perfectly true.

Someone else actually got chosen as best prepared (vs impromptu) speaker of the night, but I don’t know whether the people voting considered that I had unfair advantages and didn’t pick me or if they just felt he had a very compelling speech (he did).

One interesting bit: at the end of the night, the person acting as Language Evaluator asked me to explain the word “Holocaust”! I’d used the word in mentioning that the communities my family came from aren’t there any more, one reason I don’t know anything about family before my great-grandparents. (Another difference: some people here can track their families 800 years back.) I thought everyone would know about the HOlocaust, but apparently not, or at least not under that name. Also, of course, the Rape of Nanking probably seems more like the pivotal WWII atrocity on this side of the world.