Entering Speech Contests in Toastmasters (Part 1)

As my Toastmasters journey continues, I have been reaping a lot of the benefits from being an active member. In my last post, I spoke about how taking a club officer role helped me in working on my leadership skills. In this post, I would like to share with you my experience from entering Club Level, Area Level and Division Level competitions. A few years ago, the idea of entering a speech contest would have terrified me since I was never comfortable speaking in front of people. Competing in a speech contest was a goal that I wanted to work towards but one that I felt was of my reach, however thanks to the confidence that I built in delivering speeches at my club and thanks to the warm support of my club members, I was able to finally reach this goal. 

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Crafting the Speech

I must say that this part was extremely hard; I communicated to my club’s Vice President of Education (VPE) in January 2022 that I wanted to enter the competition which gave me roughly a month to the club contest and a couple of months for the area contest. I spent a lot of days during the January holidays at my local café, staring out of the window and trying to think of the perfect idea. I tried hard in coming up with original ideas, but my brain refused to cooperate, days and weeks passed but all my ideas just felt lame and not worthy of a speech. I jotted down the following bullet points when I was brainstorming. I told myself that the speech should: 

  • Contain elements of humour (I was entering a humorous speech contest)
  • Have some elements unique to me and my background
  • Contain a powerful message
  • Allow me to use vocal variety and body language 

A few days before the first club speech contest club meeting, just when was thinking about giving up, the lightbulb in my head turned on. I was going to do my speech about this dessert that I had encountered recently in Japan. I will not go into too much detail, but this dessert allowed me to make some analogies with my background; this was my unique story that I wanted to share. I wrote my first draft but just like many first drafts, it required numerous edits. One big misconception that I had before writing speeches is that the perfect speech is written overnight. This could not be further away from the truth. The first draft had a lot of inconsistencies, points which I thought I was getting across but were not clear; with a fresh pair of eyes thanks to my wife’s help, I made some amendments and had my first draft for my club meeting. 

I was very lucky to have a supportive club and extremely competent VPE, he must have organised at least four club meetings prior to the area contest to help members deliver their contest speeches. Usually, at Toastmasters, a speech is evaluated during the General Evaluation session by the individual evaluator, however since a lot of club members were practising for the contest, after the speech we had a 5-minute feedback session for other club members to openly share improvement points. This session was extremely important in shaping up my speech; getting direct feedback from many experienced Toastmasters really helped me add strong improvement points and cut weak points. If anyone is considering becoming a professional speaker or delivering speech at a competitive level, my advice is to get as much feedback from as many people and to act on it.

Some important suggestions for my speech were: 

  • xxx part of the speech was not clear. I know what I want to say but that does not mean that the message is easily understood.
  • Speech Length: a lot of times we need to be selective with the parts of the speech that we want to emphasise so being told what added or what detracted is very important.
  • Suggestions for using visual aids and adding more body gestures

In this post, I only focused on my preparation for drafting the speech however there is more that I would like to share. It is not enough to have a good speech to be successful at speech contests; one must also be able to deliver the speech, ensure that the speech is eligible for the competition (follows guidelines, is delivered within the time limit, etc). In my next post, I intend to focus more on the execution which naturally ties well with practice. In preparing for the contests, I received some very useful suggestions which I would like to share with you. Thank you for reading!

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Quantic: The Accounting Module

I have recently completed the Accounting module which is the EMBA’s first module so in this post I will share some thoughts about my learning experience. In past posts, I gave a general overview about the EMBA but now that I have taken and completed a course, I can share more concrete details which I hope readers find helpful.

What does the Accounting module cover?

As the module’s name suggests, the course covers general accounting concepts such as ledgers, credits and debits, key financial statements, ratios and some aspects of managerial accounting. The unit also covers some non-accounting concepts such as general explanations of financial instruments such as stocks and bonds. It is quite a lot of material to cover over five weeks, especially if you are new to these concepts. I did a management degree for my undergraduate studies and these are concepts you would normally cover in 1-2 semesters.

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Taking a Club Officer Role at Toastmasters

In a past post, I wrote about my experience in joining a Toastmasters Club. As I am writing this post, around a year and a half has passed since and there is a lot that I have gained from my involvement in Toastmasters. I have enjoyed it so much that I am now part of three clubs (yes, that’s a lot of time committed to Toastmasters). For those of you who have never heard about Toastmasters, you can refer to my previous post where I provide a general overview but to sum it up, it’s an organisation that helps its members develop their presentation and leadership skills.

What I would like to focus on in this post is the valuable experience that I have gained from taking the club officer role of president at one of my clubs. Every Toastmasters Club is managed by designated club officers who help in the running of the club by taking on core responsibilities that are essential for growing and maintaining a healthy club. These individuals are ordinary club members who put themselves forward at the start of an office term (more details can be found here) and are elected via the club’s officer election process.

While my first year at Toastmasters was focused on my presentation skills and on working on my speeches, my second year has been focused more on my club officer role. I have seen a lot of seasoned toastmasters who are just happy focusing on their speeches and avoid taking club officer roles due to several reasons (time commitment, additional responsibilities, etc.) but I think this is a big mistake as there is so much value from being a club officer. I believe that by taking on a club officer role, members can truly focus on harnessing their leadership skills. In this post I am summing up some of my key learnings:

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Two Months Into My Quantic Journey

Last month I posted about having enrolled for Quantic’s Executive MBA. While only a couple of months have passed, my experience so far has been very positive. Just to share some background, I decided to pursue this degree as a way to get a good general grasp of the business skills which are required in running a company. My education so far has been skewed towards Finance (specifically the area of financial engineering and risk) and I felt that I lacked a broader understanding of how companies operate, something which I believe is important, especially for senior managerial positions. The second appeal was purely a desire to expand my network and to build up connections outside of my industry. As I wrote in my first post, I was initially apprehensive in enrolling and turned my offer down as I considered $9,600 to be too expensive on a relatively new course which is mostly based on an app. I eventually decided to take a gamble as the degree has been gaining more and more momentum and having not found a suitable alternative, I enrolled. I did not want to give up my day job for a full-time MBA and I did not want to commit in paying the fees charged by traditional business schools.

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Are Quantic’s MBA and EMBA Worth it?

For those of you who are reading this post, chances are that you might have come across Quantic’s MBA programmes and that you are looking for what people are saying about it before you further consider it an option for boosting your career. This degree has been on my radar for over a year and despite still having some doubts, I recently decided to take a gamble and enrol onto their EMBA programme. I did a fair bit of research and I must say that the information that is available online is still limited and the quality of the reviews are poor. Most of the reviews that I came across were too one-sided; on one side people claiming that this is another degree mill, on the other side people advocating that the Quantic MBA was one of the best career decisions that they had ever made. In the following months, as I start my studies with this institution I am hoping to add my take on this programme.

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World Quant University (WQU)’s Financial Engineering Programme, my thoughts about the Course after 1 year.

A year ago I started studying the MSc in Financial Engineering offered by WQU and I wrote about the course here. As I am writing this post, I have now completed around 60% of the modules so I thought that an update would be helpful for prospective students.

These are the modules that I have completed:

(1) Financial Markets: this is a general introduction to financial markets and financial products. As the course caters towards students with different backgrounds, if you have studied for financial qualifications (such as CFA, FRM etc.) you will find this to be a gentle refresher. As it’s hard to test any maths skills, most of the assignments/essays will be theoretical.

(2) Econometrics: OK, you will finally get your hands dirty and start doing some work with time series. You will start with classic models such as GARCH, ARCH, ARIMA in analysing time series of end of day asset prices. Although you get the choice between R and Python, at least for this module, I strongly recommend sticking to R (lecture notes are better written for R).

(3) Discrete-time Stochastic Processes, (4) Continuous-time Stochastic Processes: these two courses in my opinion are at the heart of the programme; when it comes to asset pricing, having an understanding of stochastic processes and their properties is indispensable when deriving pricing equations of various claims. These two modules will be especially tough for candidates with a weak mathematical background. These concepts are quite abstract so they just require some time to sink in – I wouldn’t get discouraged if you see a massive knowledge gap. The assignments were focused on applying Monte Carlo methods and analytical pricing formulas on exotic derivatives. The projects from these modules were the most enjoyable so far.

(5) Computational Finance
This module builds on a lot of the concepts learned during the previous two modules by teaching students how to implement the concepts in python. It has an emphasis in applying Monte Carlo Methods in pricing exotic options and computing CVA. I found this module to be very practical.

(6) Machine Learning in Finance
They seem to cover a lot of the so called classic topics in ML: classifiers, supervised & unsupervised learning, etc. You will be using tensor-flow in training the various models, making predictions and assessing the model’s accuracy.

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Taking the Tableau Desktop Specialist Exam

Over the years, Tableau has become a very popular BI tool for companies. The software allows users to easily connect to a number of data sources and create a wide range of visualisations; it is very intuitive to use but also comes with a lot of features which allows users to create very cool looking dashboards.

Candidates can also get certified so they can show employers and clients that they have attained a certain level of mastery in using this product. In this post I will be writing about the Tableau Desktop Specialist exam which is the foundational exam. Details regarding this certification can be found here. The exam is aimed at candidates with at least 3 months of experience in using Tableau and it costs $100 to take which is relatively low. The certification also has no expiry (compared to the other Tableau exams). Taking into account the cost and preparation time, I think this certificate is a good investment and could be an added bonus to a candidate’s CV as more and more companies are starting to implement Tableau.

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World Quant University (WQU)’s Applied Data Science Module

So, you are interested in Data Science and you have come across this free course offered by WQU and you are evaluating whether this course might be worth your time. In this post I will share my experience from having taken this course six months ago. WQU shared a list of key skills which are used on this course which can be found here. At first, the course starts with basic concepts of programming such as: defining variables, data types, loops, functions, classes, etc. It then builds on these core concepts and introduces key packages such as NumPy and Pandas which have ready made modules to read in data. I would say that the rest of module 1 can be summarised in transforming this data and querying it; it’s no coincidence that WQU put ‘Data Wrangling’ at the top of the skills list.

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Re: Bloomberg Opinion Piece: “Wall Street’s CFA Program Is a Colossal Waste of Time”

On 17th August 2021, Bloomberg published an opinion piece titled “Wall Street’s CFA Program Is a Colossal Waste of Time ” and this post is a response to that article. The CFA Charter has very often been regarded as the gold standard when it comes to qualifications in the financial industry and this article has undoubtedly ignited some discussions, with subreddit threads such as this one being just one of the few examples. Calling the CFA program a “Colossal Waste of Time” seems to be a pretty bold statement and given that in the article the author (Jared Dillian) mentions that he passed level I but never completed the qualification, a lot of readers were quick to dismiss his opinion. The author also expressed his view that he favours MBAs over the CFA program which caused a slight digression towards the comparison of the two qualifications. However, some readers were eager to identify elements of truth in the article as they possibly mull over their options following the decrease in pass rates for the latest sittings.

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May 2021 CFA Level I Results at Historical Low, only 25% Pass

The May 2021 numbers for the level I exams have recently been made public, a result that saw only a quarter of test takers get a pass. This is an extremely low pass rate and to put this number into context, this is the lowest pass rate in the exam’s 58-year history. By looking at the historical pass rates published by CFAI, we can see that the percentage of candidates passing the exam is between 40-50%.

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