Public Speaking in the time of Corona

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Publish: 8:10 PM, September 5, 2020 | Update: 8:10:PM, September 5, 2020

Sakir Mohammad :Public Speaking is an act most people love and fear. According to Google Ads, from June 2019 to July 2020, there was an average of 90500 searches per day on Google about public speaking worldwide. Interestingly, the result remains more or less the same even during this pandemic. That means most people are keen to learn about public speaking. They love it, they want it, but I would also say that they fear it.

The inherent self-consciousness is what makes people petrified to speak in public. I reached out to an undergraduate student at a prominent private university in Bangladesh as I wanted to examine the possible causes behind such behavior. Her response was shocking, “I have been picked on because of my pronunciation and accent after my first presentation at the university. From that time on I’ve always felt apprehensive about delivering a speech.”

I am a member of an organization “Toastmasters International” which empowers people with the key skill of communication. It is a platform that encourages peer to peer learning through various programs such as Dynamic Leadership, Effective Coaching, Engaging Humor, Innovative Planning, Presentation Mastery, Visionary Communication, and so on. These educational programs are designed to build 300 unique competencies, such as leadership, strategic planning, communication, etc., that can come in handy in real life.

In a typical Toastmasters meeting, members take up different roles to engage in learning. The roles can be that of a speaker, evaluator, grammarian, ah-counter (someone who counts overused words or fillers during a speech), timer, and many more. Thus, when someone delivers a speech, they can receive feedback from other members on various aspects of their speech.

Before the outbreak of the pandemic, Toastmasters meetings were in-person, but now they are completely online. As social distancing is keeping us apart, technology is bringing us closer. In fact, the frequency of our meetings has drastically increased, thanks to zoom meetings! “Since the inception of the Gulshan Toastmasters club in 2019, there were about 16 educational sessions, but during this pandemic, the club has conducted 20 educational meetings in 3 months,” says Nazrul Islam, joint director of Bangladesh Central Bank and the Immediate Past President of Gulshan Toastmasters Club. It is to be noted that there are twenty-two Toastmasters clubs in different universities, corporations, and communities in Bangladesh.

With the help of technology, now we can visit the Toastmasters meetings from different parts of the world. Speaking of which, Murtaza Z, a member of North South University Toastmasters club, claims that he has virtually visited the clubs in at least 15 countries around the globe such as those from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and England. In the same manner, Clare Brian Law from Aranui Toastmasters Club (ATC), New Zealand, visits North South University Toastmasters club meetings from time to time.

Now going back to the love-hate relationship with public speaking, I would say that Toastmasters clubs specifically work on overcoming this fear. “In Toastmasters, we only judge during the contests; in regular meetings we give feedback,” says Division L (Bangladesh) Advisor, M Zahid Hossain. He also adds that there are standard evaluation guidelines followed by all Toastmasters clubs in 143 countries that helps members to be confident and comfortable. To illustrate, the Toastmasters “sandwich” method instructs the evaluator to begin with highlighting the positive aspects of a speech, then suggesting an area or two of improvement and then ending on another positive note. Needless to say that such evaluation techniques teach one the ways of giving valuable feedback without hurting anyone’s feelings.

In Toastmasters clubs, we welcome newcomers routinely. Even during this pandemic, we help each other to improve our speaking skills. Individuals now can get the club experience from the comforts of their home and be a better speaker without being fearful about public speaking.

Sakir Mohammad is an Area Director of Toastmasters District 41 and the Immediate Past President of North South University Toastmasters club. [email protected]