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Ginger Asks The Experts: Yang-May Ooi

Ginger Leadership Communications

Yang-May Ooi is an acclaimed storyteller working across cultures and genres.

Her books and theatre work explores personal empowerment beyond gender roles and cultural constraints. She is currently working on a new East Asian play in collaboration  with actor Julie Cheung-Inhin. The play, Butterfly in Blue Jeans, is an East Asian feminist take on Puccini’s Madama Butterfly – to find out more, go to

As a creative coach/ consultant, she helps talented invidivuals become more inspiring leaders, speakers and experts through applied storytelling and creativity techniques

Bound Feet Blues: A Life Told in Shoes

Yang-May’s  sell-out solo stage performance of her autobiographical story, Bound Feet Blues,  used the metaphor of shoes and bound feet as a way to explore female desirability and empowerment.

This innovative theatre piece has been described as “Stunning, moving, memorable and beautiful”, “A powerhouse performance” and  “Terrific… poignant… sexy”.

The book  of the same name is out now, published by Urbane Publications. The groundbreaking memoir combines family history, cultural commentary, social history, folk tales and a moving coming out story to investigate what it means to be a woman.

The stage performance – highlights from the Nov/ Dec 2015 full production:

You can watch the complete one hour show and find out more on the Bound Feet Blues website –

Yang-May Ooi’s  creative work extends across media – she is an acclaimed stage performer and has written in multiple genres (fiction, business, memoir and theatre).

An award-winning TEDx speaker, she has also appeared on the BBC and international media. She is invited regularly to speak at literary festivals, conferences and other events. Yang-May has combined her creative work successfully with a corporate career in the City of London where she has been responsible for £5bn worth of assets. She is also a professional Co-Active Coach.

Yang-May is a member of Tamasha Theatre’s Developing Artists Network and the Royal Court Theatre’s Intro to Playwriting Group. Other memberships include the Society of Authors, the Writers Guild of Great Britain, the Pan Asian Women’s Association and the Association for Coaching.

Whew. That’s quite a list of accomplishments. I may be biased (I don’t thin I am) but I adore Yang-May. Yes… she’s a Ginger graduate. Yes… I have the honor and privilege of knowing her well. Yes… I call her friend.

Putting all of that to the side… she is brilliance personified. Powerful, moving, intense, extremely talented – she’s what every public speaker should aspire to be. She graciously accepted when asked to be interviewed for our ‘Ask The Expert’ series. Truly honored Yang-May – thank you!

How did you get your first paid speaking gig?

After the showcase performance of my autobiographical one woman stage play Bound Feet Blues, an audience member gave my name to the organisers of the LSE Literary Festival and I was invited to be part of a panel discussion on Rebellion & Foundation in SE Asia. I spoke about my personal link to the Malaysian declaration of independence and of recognising the humanity in each other, whatever our individual differences.

What’s the most important habit of a brilliant public speaker?

To be a brilliant public speaker, forget about yourself. You are not important. It’s what you have to say that is fascinating – especially if you yourself find it fascinating. Let your fascination with your message show. That fascination will draw your audience in. They will forget you too and be enchanted by what you have to say.

 If I’ve got limited time to prepare a speech, what’s ONE thing I should do to make it work?

I have been asked to give speeches with only a few moments’ notice. I take a quiet moment to listen to my heart. I may not know exactly in words what I will say but by the time the audience falls silent, my heart speaks for me. The most important thing is to connect with your heart – whether you are giving a speech impromptu or with a long lead in time to prepare.

What’s your top tip for winning over a difficult audience?

Everyone comes at a situation with good in them, even though they may express it in a way that might seem to us to be “difficult”. See the light inside each person. Find the positive in each audience question or comment and respond to that.

What’s your top tip for engaging an audience?

This ties back to “forget about yourself”. Your audience are here for the content of your talk, not you, and the sooner they can engage and be fascinated by that, the more they will love you for it. It’s counter-intuitive but the more you focus on your talk and not on yourself, the more powerful, moving and authentic your impact on the audience. So don’t waste their time. Get straight into your talk. Speak from the heart. Say what you have to say, and when you’re done, stop.

Time and again we see that women are the most inspiring speakers in a room. Do you agree? If so, what makes women make the most inspiring speakers :-)?

Charismatic leaders have power, presence and warmth, according to leadership expert Olivia Fox Cabane. While both men and women may be powerful and exude presence, these qualities without warmth can make a speaker seem aloof, distant and arrogant. It may be that women are more naturally able to express warmth and speak from the heart. Still, nerves on stage can chill our natural warmth – if we can relax and let our personal warmth radiate to the audience, both men and women can be charismatic and inspiring speakers.

Why do you think leaders need to have great communications? What are the risks of bad communication and rewards of great communication?

If leaders cannot communicate their message or vision to others, they are just individuals talking to themselves. Great communication connects us to each other not as leaders and followers but as human beings. And when what we communicate inspires and moves others to action, we can create amazing change. .

Can you give an example of a great leader you’ve experienced and how they communicated? What did they do that was special?

Barack Obama combines passion, vision, power, gravitas and vulnerability with humour and a common touch. When he speaks, you are drawn not just to his words but his voice, tone, facial expression and body language. He is not afraid to let a tear show when he is moved. He has just the right note of humour. But you are never in doubt that he is the most powerful man in the world. He is always stylish, too!

Find out more about Yang-May:

Yang-May’s bestselling novel The Flame Tree outranked Ken Follet in the Malaysian bestseller charts. Her second novel Mindgame is probably the first and only Malaysian lesbian thriller with a James Bond ending. Both books subvert the thriller genre to explore deeper themes of environmental degradation, personal authenticity, female sexuality and race. Find out more about her books on the Books page. 

Tiger Spirit Coaching

Tiger Spirit Coaching offers unique one-to-one coaching for creative women with Yang-May, based on creative collaboration principles.

Find out about working with Yang-May via our flagship Tiger Spirit Coaching Programme.

Read the Tiger Spirit blog.

Ginger Leadership Communications

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