For youngsters looking to ready themselves for the real world, public speaking is a must. Toastmasters helps youngsters across the country speak up and speak out.

When students are at a transitional arena, waiting to set foot in the corporate world or the higher education phase, the importance of public speaking can be summed up in the following words — While your professional skills may get you hired, your lack of communication skills can get you fired.

“While my school and college did give me a lot of opportunities to develop these skills, I was craving for more. So, I became a Toastmaster. Within a span of four years, I have given more than 50 speeches and every single speech has helped me evolve me into a better speaker. Now, I feel so much more confident,” says Ankita Bihani, 23 of Agua VIT Toastmasters.

Until a few years ago, Toastmasters meetings saw a prevalence of the middle-aged, with the average age of a member being 46. But of late, there has been a large influx of young blood in the different clubs of the organisation, signalling a change.

Young brigade

While it is heart-warming to see many youngsters showing a keen desire to hone their public speaking and leadership skills, it also sets alarm bells ringing on the quality of soft skill training that is imparted to them in schools and colleges.

Nina John, Director of Envy Communications, a training and management consultancy in Chennai, and one of the charter (founder) members of the first Toastmasters club in Tamil Nadu – Chennai Toastmasters Club, explains that students are lagging behind in confidence owing to the flaws in our educational system.

She says, “Schools and colleges underestimate the power of public speaking because examinations are based on rote learning, and not on an in-depth understanding of the subject. To help them develop their oratorical skills, it is critical that educational institutions incorporate more experiential learning methods in their teaching. One example would be to have the teacher teach the subject, and then invite students to design a quiz around it. Different students could take turns to conduct such quizzes to encourage everyone to participate.”

Meanwhile, Imsuchila Kichu, Professor of English, Women's Christian College, attributes the lack of speaking skills in students to the poor training they receive in school. She elaborates, "Most students lack a strong foundation in English when they join college. As teachers, it becomes very difficult for us to focus on their basic language skills as we have to complete a vast syllabus within a short period of time. We ensure we bridge this deficit in skill by conducting debates and other such assignments in class that mandatorily require students to participate in them. However, to further develop their language and speaking skills, it is critical that students take up the initiative themselves by joining literary and debate clubs in colleges.”

This is where Toastmasters steps in. Explains Ms. John, “Toastmasters teaches people to collate their ideas, organise them and present them effectively in the best possible manner. Different tips, tools and techniques ensure that your originality, creativity and spirit of innovation are also tapped.”

A significant fact about Toastmasters is that it functions on the ‘involve to evolve’ concept. So, the more you involve yourself as a member by taking up challenges and participating in the various activities of the club, you see your development as a speaker and a leader accelerate. All you have to do is pull up your socks and go the extra mile to transform yourself into a competent communicator and leader — the Toastmasters way.

Sowing the seed

Toastmasters International was started in 1924, as a non-profit organisation — the largest in the world for oratory and leadership — by Ralph C. Smedley, the then Director of Education for a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in California, US. He found that most of the men folk needed to be trained in public speaking so that they could preside over meetings with confidence. Thus, the first Toastmasters club came into being in the basement of the YMCA. Soon, word about the club spread and several people from various communities and regions began conducting their own Toastmasters meetings. Now, 90 years later, the Toastmasters movement continues to thrive, with a membership base of over 2,92,000 members from 14,350 clubs in 122 countries.

What they do:

Toastmasters gives youngsters the opportunity to learn the nuances of public speaking and leadership, giving them an opportunity to succeed in group discussions and interviews. A regular Toastmasters meeting constitutes:

* A prepared speech - session focusing on writing and delivering an effective speech.

* A table topics - session that nurtures the ability to think on your feet and speak sensibly impromptu.

* An evaluations session to help improve your personal strengths and overcome personal flaws.

* Help enhance your grammar, listening and presentation skills.

Toastmastering for a Cause

For 17-year-old Jeevitha, communicating with confidence had always been an uphill task. A Grade XII student of the Chennai Girls Higher Secondary School in Shenoy Nagar, she felt further inhibited by her lack of proficiency in English, a language she wanted to master in order to excel in her higher education. However, within the span of one week, she was able to address an audience with confidence, thanks to Toastmasters International’s Youth Leadership Programme (YLP) — a workshop designed to improve the communication and leadership skills of students.

The programme trains students to communicate and lead effectively by giving them practical learning. Toastmasters volunteer to help students practise the art of public speaking by conducting special educational sessions and meetings for them. Through a comprehensive course module that is spread over six to eight days, students are trained to speak with confidence, present their thoughts in a clear and concise manner, improve their listening skills, and learn from their personal strengths and weaknesses.

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