26 June 2011

The Two Sides of Chennai Toastmasters

After a break of two months, I got to attend a meeting of Chennai Toastmasters. Comfortably nestled within the 30 plus crowd, I sat back and listened as first timers came on stage and delivered their ‘Ice Breaker’ speeches.

For the uninitiated, an Ice Breaker is the first speech a Toastmaster gives to introduce himself to the audience.

This particular speaker, Madhavan, started off talking about his family and early life. Nervous, slightly speedy delivery. Lack of proper eye contact. Without even really trying, I began evaluating this speech. It’s a habit you pick up once you attend Toastmasters meetings for a few months, trust me.

Within the first two minutes, I formed my assumption of the speaker. Good attempt, I thought. Needed to work on a few aspects of his speech. Having given my verdict, my mind was about to drift off, when what he said caught my ear.

He had a Diploma, an MBA and an ACS qualification. While working as Company Secretary, he also hoped to pursue a Ph.D in Finance.

An academic? I thought. But somehow the picture didn’t fit. He was dressed neatly in a black shirt and beige pants. But he had a look of a young, middle class man. No spectacles, no greying hair.

And then he narrated his life story. He’d worked hard to earn a scholarship to study Diploma. Following which he began working to support his family. While taking care of marrying off his sister and funding his younger brother, he took up an MBA, as well as ACS.

The words that Madhavan spoke, honestly enough, perhaps did not have the magical, inspiring effect. But that was understandable enough. A little bit of practice and polish, and a speaker could make even throwing out the garbage sound moving. But devoid of the sheen and gloss, I tried to understand the man’s life.

Standing in front of me, delivering a decent first speech, was a man who’d endured hardship and difficulty. We’re not talking about hurtful break ups or depressing days at office. He had to take care of his family, work overtime to earn a better living, and perhaps most of all, do it all by himself.

But if it wasn’t for a five minute speech, none of us would have known about it.

It made a deep impression on me. The fact that in every Toastmasters meeting were dozens of men and women, of varying age and ethnicity, all of whom had come forward to improve their speaking skills. The hardships they suffered and obstacles they pushed through, were always hidden behind their smiling faces.

Over the past few years, some of my friends have asked me how is it that I manage to deliver a speech at the spur of the moment, meshing together so many ideas in a creative manner.

The answer I give them, more or less, is that it’s a gift. Like a talent that I’m blessed with.

But after watching speakers like Madhavan, I realised the inequality of it all. After every speech or quip that speakers like me give, generous applause follows. But what about those who sit up for nights together, studying, working overtime? How is it that they’re not applauded for every sacrifice they make?

For what they have, is not something given to them on a platter by God, such as in my case. Determination, hard work and focus. Attributes that have to be earned, through years of dedication.

So the next time you’re in Chennai, free on a Sunday evening, come down to a meeting of Chennai Toastmasters at Presidency Club, Ethiraj Salai. There, you’ll witness witty, moving and dramatic speeches. But you’ll also see unsung heroes, working class men and women who faced challenging odds, but don’t wear badges to brag about them.

Make sure you applaud them both.

One a little louder than the other, perhaps...

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  1. Deeply touched by this blog.Wonderful Mustafa!!! I am sure madhavan would be happy reading this:)

  2. Very true...!!

  3. Rightly said.
    There was some applause after he mentioned the qualifications and his pursuit of PHD.
    It could have been better.
    Ramesh Daswani

  4. Very, very well written !! CTM, thank you for teaching us so much; not just abt speaking, but abt life as well. Beautiful post, Musthafa :)

  5. Dear TM Mustafa I am just spell bound! You are a true gift to Toast Masters!
    TM Ramprasad

  6. Amazing !! I missed the speech... but can understand the effect it would've created on me by just reading this blog.

  7. i like dis perspective of looking at the bigger picture...

  8. inshallah i'll join tm nw tht im out of hostel.....
    lets seee.....

    p.s... effect of fb.. was looking fr the like button for meghz... comment.. :D

  9. Hi there, awesome site. I thought the topics you posted on were very interesting. I tried to add your RSS to my feed reader

    and it a few. take a look at it, hopefully I can add you and follow.

    Timers chennai