From the Club to World Championship of Public Speaking: The Tale of Josephine Lee
By: TM Mazin Hussain
Josephine Lee is a familiar name for many Toastmasters. At the 2016 World Championship of Public Speaking, she walked away with the prestigious trophy for 3rd place. With this victory, she entered into the halls of Toastmasters history as the first Korean American woman to join the ranks of the top 3 speakers in the world.
To achieve this mighty feat, she surpassed 30,000 contestants that took part in the competition across the world. And she’s yet to finish all the projects in her Competent Communicator manual.
However, the last time she participated, she didn’t progress beyond the club level. How did she go from losing at the club level to being placed at the World Championship of Public Speaking? This is the story of Josephine Lee.
The First Steps
Josephine found Toastmasters in 2011. She was fresh out of college, having graduated as a major in communication from the University of Southern California. However, she soon went into business after graduating. Business soon took over almost every aspect of Josephine’s life. And that’s when she found Toastmasters.
She walked into a Toastmasters meeting one day. Like many of us at our first meeting, Josephine too was intimidated at her first meeting. She couldn’t believe how the members stood up with so much confidence and spoke. Josephine simply introduced herself and sat down.
For the rest of the meeting, she was a silent observer. But Josephine would return. Toastmasters would become a place where she could continue learning how to be a communicator. Toastmasters would become a place, just for her, far away from the business.
It would be a few months and many meetings later that Josephine began speaking in front of her club. As with all new members, she had a mentor that guided her and the friendly members of her club encouraging her. And so Josephine began her speaking journey in Toastmasters.
Lessons from Years of Ballet
When she finally took the stage, Josephine found that some of the lessons she learned as a ballet dancer, also applied to public speaking. These lessons were:
1. Stage presence: Many of us, especially new Toastmasters are afraid of facing the audience when we take the stage. But for dancers and performers, the stage is home. Josephine found a sense of familiarity and comfort when she took the stage.
2. Connecting with the audience: In both dancing and public speaking, we are trying to communicate emotions to the audience. Sharing our stories with the audience, gaining their trust and inviting them to our emotional state can be scary. For Josephine, her ballet training taught her how to overcome this fear.
3. Work Ethic: Growing up, Josephine was constantly in ballet class. She was there everyday after school and even on her vacations. This Josephine says, gave her a strong work ethic. One Josephine argues is necessary for public speaking. This is because, at the higher levels, every gesture, tone, and pause are choreographed and staged.
Enter the Mentor
In 2015 Josephine decided to enter the International Speech Contest. Sadly, she didn’t even get past the first round and she knew exactly why. At the time, she didn’t know how to write, structure or deliver a championship speech.
After facing such defeats, many of us wouldn’t be willing to contest again. But Josephine was different. She returned and participated in the International Speech Contest this year. She returned a changed speaker.
This change was after taking the lessons from her defeat to heart. She reached out to an old friend she met at a Division Conference a few years back. His name was Munjen Ng. Munjen describes himself as a designer and doodler.
He was also the winner of the Founder’s District International Speech Contest in 2015. Josephine knew he was a great speaker and was a big fan of his writing style. She thought they would make a great fit. And so Josephine asked Munjen to be her coach when she was contesting this year. He accepted.
From Club to the World Championship of Public Speaking
With Munjen’s help, Josephine contested in the International Speech Contest once more. This year, she gave a speech at her club. This speech was completely different from her speeches at the semi-finals and the finals.
It centered on a personal story in her life, with the message of letting go of the expectations of others. Slowly, it evolved into adding more stories and humor. Last year, Josephine lost at the club level. This year was different.
She won at the club level. She won at the area level. She won at the division level. And now, she had won at the district level. Josephine couldn’t believe it. When she heard who had won 3rd place at the 2016 Founder's District International Speech Contest, Josephine thought that she wasn’t even placed. But it was all very real. In 2015, Josephine lost at the club. In 2016, she was going on to represent her district at the World Championship of Public Speaking.
But there was no time to waste. The Toastmasters International Convention was coming up. She had to get ready. Josephine started writing her speech for the finals. But then, a few months before the International Convention, she came across a video.
This video was one taken at the wedding of one of her childhood friends. Josephine wanted the speech to be about her friend. This was because she was one of the most significant friendships of Josephine’s life. And so Josephine’s iconic speech was born.
Of course, as all Toastmasters know, having an idea for a speech is only the first step. What matters next, is the content and the delivery of that content. This is why many of the contestants at the World Championship of Public Speaking, spend countless hours practicing. Josephine was no different.
“They say that you learn when you teach and that you grow when you take the time to grow others.” — Munjen Ng
She would spend countless hours practicing her speech. It didn’t matter where she was. She recorded herself giving the speech, gave it in front of clubs, and even recited it while driving. Josephine did everything she could to internalize the speech. After the first few dozen times, she lost count.
But one of the best forms of practice was with her coach, Munjen Ng. Throughout the six-month duration of the International Speech Contest, Munjen and Josephine would meet at least once a week. The purpose of these meetings was to help Josephine review, revise and practice her speeches. Sometimes, they’d record Josephine’s speeches to see how she could improve her delivery. At other times, they’d work on the content of the speech.
For a period of six months, both Munjen and Josephine put in a ton of work. Countless hours of practicing and refining. All for the sake of perfecting a speech that would inspire and blow the audience away. Their hard work paid off.
Josephine would go on to win 3rd place at the World Championship of Public Speaking. In doing so, Josephine also became the first Korean American women to join the ranks of the top three speakers in the world.
Toastmasters and Success
Today, Josephine is an entrepreneur running her own traveling pointe shoe fitting company called The Pointe Shop. She founded the business 2014 after recognizing a need for more accessible and knowledgeable pointe shoe fittings for ballet dancers. This involves a lot of traveling since The Pointe Shop offers group fittings at ballet studios along with individual fittings at its flagship store in Santa Ana, California.
Much of The Pointe Shop’s success comes from the convenience and expertise Josephine and her team brings to the table. And of course, the countless hours of hard work they’ve put in. But that’s not to say Toastmasters didn’t help.
A few weeks ago, Josephine was pitching The Pointe Shop to a few investors. Toastmasters taught her the fine art of preparing a speech, which also applied to preparing a pitch. Once the investors had heard her pitch, giving answers to their questions was like a Table Topics session.
When Josephine first walked into a Toastmasters meeting, she never expected that it would help build her business into what it is today. And this is one of the reasons why she keeps coming to meetings. You learn something new at every Toastmasters meeting.
Learning from Josephine’s story
Josephine’s story is one of the many unique stories one hears in Toastmasters. Her story shares many inspirational lessons for all of us. One of these lessons is the importance of defeat. A single defeat can teach you many things. But it’s up to you to take those lessons to heart and work tirelessly. If so one day, we shall all find success.
Another important lesson, we can all take from Josephine’s story is the importance of finding the right mentor. In Munjen Ng, Josephine found a great mentor. A great mentor that worked with her tirelessly. A great mentor that complimented her skills and helped her overcome the challenges she faced.
But arguably, the most important lesson Josephine taught us, would be the value of Toastmasters. To quote Josephine, “You learn something new at every meeting. That’s why I keep coming.” This applies to many of us as well.
We too keep coming for Toastmasters meetings not only because they’re fun, but because we hear countless unique stories. Each of these stories features many more inspirational lessons that help us become better people. The people that leave their marks in history.