The voice of victory
By Ong Juat Heng
You’re never too old to discover new talents, as Sim Bock San has found. At 52, he joined a Toastmasters club to pick up some public speaking tips; nine months later, he was crowned champion at the national Toastmasters contest, beating over 1,000 far more experienced competitors. That was in 2013 and since then, he had competed in two more Toastmasters national contests and decidedly won.
As the national champion, he represented Malaysia at the world contest, competing with the crème de la crème of the world’s top public speakers. A totally unassuming man who stands out in the crowd with his stark bald egg-shaped head, Sim has been coaching other Toastmasters to improve their game. He’s also been seeking opportunities to serve his fellow Christians with his gift. He’s still seeking.
“There are always areas we can use our talents to bring Him glory and further His kingdom,” he told Asian Beacon. “Once, my friend, a Malay Muslim, asked me, ‘Sim, how are you using this talent God has given you?’ Well, I’m still looking for avenues to serve God with this gift He’s given me,” Sim said.
Perhaps he can help train our local preachers to enhance their preaching skill? At this suggestion, Sim’s face lighted up and he sat up. “Yes, that will be good.”
STUMBLED ON HIS GIFT
A human resource development consultant, Sim only addresses small-group discussions of 16-25 people. With no opportunity to speak to large crowds, he decided to take up public speaking to learn a new skill. He promptly joined a Toastmasters club, “just for self-development”. Competing was the last thing on his mind.
“I only had one goal when I joined Toastmasters – to complete my 10 speeches and get the Competent Communicator certificate. But one month after joining, the club president persuaded me to take part in the club’s humourous speech contest. I wasn’t keen. Look, I’m not funny, not the clown of the class, but after much persuasion, I joined. And won,” he laughed.
Sim’s winning streak continued as he competed in the other three levels to reach the national contest. Heady from his smooth ride to the top, he headed to the world contest in Cincinnati, USA, in 2013. There, he crashed.
“I didn’t win the top three places in my semi-final group. It was the first time in my public speaking journey that I failed. I felt so crushed and after the competition, I went straight to my hotel room, went into the toilet and sat on the toilet bowl for 45 minutes, feeling sorry for myself,” he recalled.
From this failure, Sim learned that he needed to embrace failure and carry himself well as a loser. So, after his long toilet call, he put on a brave face went back to the hall to congratulate the winners. He also learned to view losing as part of winning. “Losing helps you to empathise and relate with people who didn’t win and with those who did. This makes you a better person”.
From his bitter defeat, Sim steeled himself to do better at the next world contest. For the next two years, he studied the art and science of winning – how to craft winning speeches; how judges think and decide the winners, especially when the contestants are equally good; and what differentiate the winner from the rest of the pack.
This paid off when he won the national contest for the second time in 2016 and flew to Washington for the world contest. This time, he won second place in his semi-final group (there are 10 semi-final groups). Even though he didn’t get into the final round*, he was thrilled with his progress. (*Only the top winner of each semi-final group enters the final round.)
Last year, Sim won the national contest for the third time but couldn’t compete in the world contest in Canada due to visa problems. His singular goal now is to enter the final round of the world contest and become one of the top 10 public speakers in the world.
“Once you’re in the final round, you’ve made it; you’re among the top 10 in the world,” Sim glowed, as he pictured himself in that final round. “God willing, I’ll make it this time. I really want to make a name for Malaysia.”
But more important than achieving that goal, Sim now deeply desires to use this gift God has given him for the Kingdom. After all, earthly victories are temporal whereas work done for the Lord lasts forever.
Keep seeking, Sim.
POINTERS FOR PREACHERS
Preachers are like public speakers, and not every preacher has the natural ability to speak publicly but like any other skill, it can be honed. As a long-time Christian (27 years), Sim, who attends Acts Church, Subang Jaya, has sat through countless sermons and observes that generally, the sermons are “content-rich”.
“But sometimes, it’s not about how much you give, but how much the audience receive,” he said and added, “Less is more.” He offers some pointers for preachers to better engage the listeners.
ILLUSTRATE WITH STORIES
Stories are powerful; they bring the preacher’s points and the Word of God to life. And good stories touch the senses – they get the listeners to see, hear and feel.
WRITE AND RE-WRITE
Good sermons are well written, winning sermons are re-written. Sermons are ‘living’ things that grow, so preachers should re-write their drafts several times and let their sermons grow in abundance and power. For my world contest speech, I revised it 50 times.
LESS IS MORE
What’s a good length for a sermon? 45 minutes? In Toastmasters, we’re given seven minutes for our speech. During that seven minutes, we have to make our audience laugh, cry, feel and take home something meaningful. I’m not saying sermons should be seven minutes long but I do believe that less is more. It’s better to preach a short powerful sermon that cuts the heart than a long-winded one that is not heard. This said, there are preachers who can preach long sermons and keep their listeners engaged, but they are rare.
Sermons must conclude with an action call that tells me what to do for the rest of the week. So, even if I miss the message, I know what to do when I walk out.
After putting in so much to prepare your sermon, you should spend time to rehearse. Not just mental rehearsal, but live rehearsals. The more times you rehearse, the more your sermon will grow on you. And your nervousness will dissipate too.
RECORD YOUR REHEARSALS
People usually hold back when giving feedback on your preaching but videos won’t lie. So, record yourself rehearsing. Imagine the video camera as your congregation and preach to it. Then play back and see how you can do better.
I’ll never forget that speaker who said, “I’m so happy to see you here”, in a flat, dull voice. I don’t doubt his sincerity but his tone and facial expression said otherwise. Was he really happy to see us? I was confused. Preach with passion. You are preaching God’s Word and if you’re not excited about God’s word, how can you expect your listeners to be excited. You have to connect at the emotional level, not just intellectual level. Of course, the spiritual level too and that’s where prayer comes in.
Get honest feedback and accept it humbly, even if you don’t agree. They are the ones listening to your sermon, not you. And ask a variety of people to get a better sampling of your congregation.
Asian Beacon: Apr – Jun 2018 (Vol 50 #2, p28-29)