When Chie Tamaki walked into one of Virginia’s Toastmasters speech clubs four years ago, a member asked her if she was interested in speaking.
She wasn’t. At least not yet.
After moving from Japan to Arlington 13 years ago, Tamaki was shy and lacked English speaking skills. She was so timid that even after one year with Toastmasters, she remained quiet, unable to overcome the language barrier. Now, four years after joining, the Arlington resident is winning public speaking competitions.
Last month, Tamaki defeated 200 local participants to win the district level of the largest speaking competition in the world: the Toastmasters International Speech Contest. On Aug. 21, Tamaki will travel to Cincinnati for the semifinals, representing District 27 — D.C., Southwest Maryland and Northern Virginia. If she qualifies, Tamaki will be one of nine people participating in the finals two days later.
Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through various events and conferences. During the competition, participants’ 5-7-minute speeches are judged on content, organization, gesture and style.
Tamaki, who works as a translator and as a bilingual paralegal, said she joined the Toastmaster organization to learn English. But she quickly learned that the only way to come out of her shell and improve these skills was to participate in other speech contests. She had been to conferences before and wanted to be like the people she saw on stage, but her poor language skills hindered her.
“But I did step by step and I did my best,” she said. “Sometimes, I have to work harder.”
When she won the district-level competition, she only thought one thing: It’s a miracle.
Samuel Ticha, public relations officer for District 27, said Tamaki has an exceptional storytelling capability.
“She speaks as if she was singing and dancing at the same time,” he said. “She is a phenomenon to watch on stage.”
As she prepares for the next step of her journey, Tamaki realizes she will be competing against top international speakers. But she said she has an abundance of close comrades — friends she’s met through her experiences and former champions she’s had as mentors — to help her prepare. It’s these people who have helped her relish the moment.
“That’s really, really priceless. It’s another kind of miracle that I get to see those great people,” she said.
Tamaki must also work on her time management skills in order to time the speeches perfectly. Since January, she’s been working on two speeches: the one she used to win districts and will use for the semifinals, and another she must prepare for the final round.
In the end, though, she said it’s all about her personal growth through organizations like Toastmasters.
“Anybody who is a little shy, who’s unsure about who you are,” she said, “Toastmasters is the place to go.”