Thanks to her many achievements, Nirmala Lilly has become the first Indian to be interviewed in the Toastmaster international magazine
Photos: Nirmala Lilly; the cover of the December Toastmaster magazine
By Shevlin Sebastian
One day, in September, 2015, Nirmala Lilly got an e-mail which took her by surprise. It was from Shannon Dewey, an editorial team member of the Toastmaster international magazine. (The Toasmasters is a world-wide institution which helps members to improve their speaking and leadership skills). "I am very interested in interviewing you for a 'Member Moment' profile, in an upcoming issuem," wrote Shannon.
Following Nirmala's assent, there was a regular exchange of mails for the next few weeks, as Nirmala had to answer several questions sent by the editorial team.
And, finally, in the December issue, the article appeared. Thus, the Kochi-based Nirmala created a bit of history: she is the first Indian Toastmaster to be interviewed in the magazine. "What really excited me was to see the small Indian flag that was placed next to my photo," she says. Incidentally, the magazine is available in 135 countries.
In the interview, Nirmala said, "Toastmasters was and is the medicine, as far as articulation is concerned. It gave me the courage to quit and get better jobs, better positions and better [salary] packages and, of course, recognition."
Like most good public speakers, Nirmala was painfully shy for several years. "I was petrified to stand in front of an audience," she says. "This affected my career in the earlier years."
Thanks to the encouragement given by CM Daniel and Paul Manjooran, the founders of the Toastmasters movement in Kerala, Nirmala attended a few meetings, but could not commit herself to join. The turning point came when a Toastmaster, by the name of George Mathai, said, "Nirmala, it is nice to have a honeymoon. But it is better to get married and have a honeymoon."
So, Nirmala joined in August, 2006. "Thereafter, I took to it like a duck to water," she says. "There was no looking back."
Recently, Nirmala was felicitated by her club, the Kerala Toastmasters (KTM), at a function in Koch for being featured in the magazine.
"Nirmala has many achievements to her credit," says KTM president Shawn Jeff Christopher. "She is the first Lady Charter president in Kerala, as well as the first area governor."
Nirmala was given the best area governor award, of District 82, which consists of India and Sri Lanka. She is also the first lieutenant governor-marketing. As a result, she holds the highest position in Kerala. "Nirmala is also the first person to achieve the Distinguished Toastmaster rank," says Shawn. "She has set a benchmark. We have to follow in her footsteps."
At the meeting, Nirmala thanked her mentor, Daniel, apart from many other eminent members. A happy Daniel said, "Nirmala is a person who pursues her goals through relentless efforts. Despite ploughing a lonely furrow, she perseveres, no matter the obstacles."
Says KTM member George Johnson, "Nirmala is the sole reason I joined the Toastmasters. The way she mentored me and the positive energy she imparted, it has always helped me."
Nirmala has spent more than 25 years in the hospitality industry, having worked with the Taj Group of Hotels, the Ramada Resort, Flora Hotel, and the Wonderla Group, among many other assignments. Today, she is the owner or CEO of Infinity Hospitality Services, which focuses on tourism, consultancy and training. Nirmala is also a member of the Institute of Directors, New Delhi, and a managing committee member for several businesses and organisations in Kerala.
(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)