Saturday, August 24

Fear of ‘the unknown’ puts public speakers off


Deepak Menon

THE secret to public speaking is knowing that when you stand up to speak, nobody in the audience wants you to feel fearful or intimidated.

Rather, the audience will be wishing you well and rooting for you to succeed in your public speaking endeavour, according to Toastmasters International  (TI) first vice-president Deepak Menon, who hails from New Delhi, India.

“Once you do it (public speaking) with passion, it could be life changing.

“So would you feel a little better about it now? Would you feel a little more confident about speaking in public,” he asked in an interview with thesundaypost.

Public speaking is considered among the events that arouse the greatest fear. That’s why most people shun it.

Deepak believed this was due to fear of the unknown since the speaker would not know what kind of reaction he or she would get from the floor.

He himself has felt that fear, prompting him to turn to Toastmasters International to overcome it.

He joined the organisation 15 years ago after being persuaded by his mother’s cousin to attend a toastmasters meeting.

At first, he felt he had nothing to gain since as a chartered accountant, he believes he has always been a good communicator.

“When I attended that meeting, I was asked to speak to the audience, and I remember how fearful and nervous I was.

“Then I realised I needed to join the toastmasters to overcome the fear and nervousness I felt. These emotions are very common among people when they speak in public. It’s just that they do not recognise them – like me initially,” he admitted.

Deepak pointed out that most audiences were very supportive and would cheer for the speaker.

“Their support gives you a lift even when you are nervous. And that inspires confidence. Once you have the confidence, good communication skills will follow.”

Crucial skills

He stressed good communication skills are crucial to effective leadership. With the tagline —  Where Leaders Are Made – Toastmasters International, he said, focused on helping members to improve their communication skills, putting them on the path to effective leadership.

“No one can become a leader unless he or she can communicate well. I’m sure when you think of any effective leaders, you will always find they are good communicators.

“So it’s not by chance they become effective leaders  —  it has a lot to do with effective communication.”

According to him, a good communicator can deliver a critical message in an organised way, and inspire, motivate and persuade the audience in the shortest possible time.

Its founder, Ralph C Smedley, formed Toastmasters International in the US in 1924, largely based on this reason.

Since then, the organisation has spread across the world with over 360,000 members in 145 countries presently, attesting to the need for effective communication not only in the US but worldwide as well.

Today, 40 per cent of Toastmasters Clubs are outside North America.

“Everybody should try and acquire good communication skills —  to help them avoid misunderstanding due to a breakdown in communication.

“Moreover, it gives them the opportunity the tap their leadership potential,” Deepak explained.

Deepak arriving for the opening of the Toastmasters District 87 Semi-Annual Conference.

But who is a leader?

He also believes firmly that leaders are made, not born. His favourite quote on leadership (by John C Maxwell) is that “a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.”

For him, that’s what defines a leader.

“It means a leader must be knowledgeable enough to carry out  the tasks of his team and take his team in the direction it needs to move to achieve its objectives,” he said.

Essential attributes

Among the essential attributes of a leader are good communication skills, foresight, empathy and knowledge.

Deepak said TI has ways to achieve these, one being the “formal methodology” through its programme —  Pathway Guide —  that teaches members communication and leadership skills.

There is a second methodology which allows members to take up leadership roles and learn by doing. Here, members practise leadership skills in real life with volunteers.

“When you succeed in ensuring volunteers are willing to do what you want them in order to achieve the objective they are working towards, imagine how successful you can be as a leader in an organisation where everybody’s paid to do their job.

“It’s like a learning laboratory where we teach communication and leadership to our members,” he said, adding that members could also take a leadership role at meetings of Toastmasters clubs.

As first vice president, Deepak is also on the board of directors of Toastmasters International.

Apart from being responsible for TI’s assets and finances and serving as ambassador for the organisation, he is entrusted with developing strategies to fulfill the mission of toastmasters clubs around the world in making effective communication a global reality.

Digital revolution

Toastmasters International has launched the new programme —  Pathway Guide —  to replace its old education programme.

Deepak said the old format was introduced decades ago and has not seen much change since, adding that Pathway, on the other hand, took into account the digital revolution and the transformation society has undergone in terms of the needs of youths and other technology-driven changes.

“Pathway enables members to be more adapting in business, leading and communicating. It’s a programme aimed at helping the youth of tomorrow as well as corporations to do business better.”

Another part of the public speaking training, though not essential, is competition.  Every year, Toastmasters International holds the International Speech Contest to upgrade the speaking proficiency of members.

“They’re able to test their skills against other speakers. If they are successful, people can look up to them for attaining the pinnacle of public speaking,” he noted.

Toastmasters District 87director Reuben Chin presenting a memento to Deepak at the Toastmasters District 87 Semi-Annual Conference.

Readiness to serve

Deepak stressed that the mantle of leadership should come with the desire to “do something to serve.”

“What’s important is the realisation that you want to do something to serve and when that realisation is attained, you become a leader.

“So there’s a transformation from the time you switched from using ‘me’ to ‘we.’ When you start thinking about ‘we,’ you become a leader. That’s when it becomes meaningful to be a leader.”

However, Deepak is saddened that many leaders today are becoming more selfish and thinking only of themselves.

He wished all leaders could undergo training with Toastmasters International which teaches the values of integrity, respect, service and excellence.

He said while there might be bad apples in the organisation, they were outnumbered by leaders who are effective and willing to serve.

Effective programme

Deepak pointed out that the Toastmasters programme is effective because it is not theory-centric but also teaches leadership through action and participation.

“As a “learning by doing” organisation, TI enables members to receive feedback through evaluation programmes during educational meetings.

“The leaders also get feedback from members and their teams and this helps the members to learn and grow through practice.”

He said TI also rewarded those who participated fully in the small investments they made for themselves.

And personally, this has helped him to be a better listener.

He said in his business, he was able to adapt better to providing clients the advice and service they needed after he joined Toastmasters International.

He is now more focused on their specific and business needs.

Life lessons

Deepak is one of the nine partners of a company and his specialisation is taxation – indirect tax, direct tax, international taxation and transfer pricing.

He also learned life lessons from TI such as perseverance, patience, understanding and empathy.

He advised those wishing to acquire skills, especially in communication and leadership, to first join Toastmasters International and then get the best out of the organsation.

Deepak stressed there is no such thing as being “too late to do something.” He himself joined the Club at age 42.

Actually, he had wanted to learn about the toastmasters at 18 but had no regrets he was only able to do so at a later age.

“Ask not what you can do for Toastmasters, ask what Toastmasters can do for you because Toastmasters provide so many opportunities for learning and growing and most members do not even touch the tip of the iceberg in the amount of learning they can have.

“It’s a question of joining the programme to participate in the learning laboratory and get the most of the investment you have made,” he said.