Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It all happens on a Wednesday!

Every week a group of professionals meet to develop their public speaking skills, amidst much bonhomie

Photo: Nirmala Lilly

By Shevlin Sebastian

Industrialist Shyam Sunder Agarwal could not even utter his name, so terrified was he of speaking in public. That was seven years ago. But last week, at the ‘Wednesday club’ meeting at the Bharat Hotel, he spoke loudly and confidently about the impact of recession on his business.

Paul Vithayathil, of Vithayathil Opticals, also had the same problem. “I was afraid to stand up on a stage and face a crowd,” he says. “I gained confidence only after becoming a member of this club.”

The Wednesday Club, as the name suggests, meets on that day every week. “Some of us thought we were lacking in communication skills and felt we should start a club where we can meet and talk,’” says Kurian Abraham, the president.

The founder members searched hard for a name to give to the club. “Then somebody suggested that since we are meeting on Wednesday, why not call it that?” says vice-president T.B. Venugopal.

The meeting was fixed for mid-week because it was felt that people were busy at work at the beginning of the week, while on the weekends, there were numerous social engagements.

For members, there is an initial deposit of Rs 1500 and a monthly fee of Rs 200. Says Kurian: “We have doctors, lawyers, businessmen, journalists, engineers, traders, and one lady member.”

She is Nirmala Lilly who works in the tourism industry. “I was hesitant when I first came, but the members encouraged and supported me,” she says. She studied in a Malayalam medium school and suffered the embarrassment of being laughed at when she mispronounced English words.

“Today I speak in public often and have no problems,” she says.

Last Wednesday, the meeting began, following a presidential address and welcome speech, with a grilling session. One member, C.M. Daniel, stood at the podium and the others asked him numerous questions.

Daniel had to keep his calm and answered the queries as best as he could. Later, he says, “Thanks to these sessions I have learnt to think fast on my feet. When I face difficult business situations, I am able to communicate well and make the right decisions.”

Thereafter, there was a discussion on the dastardly terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team at Lahore. Usually, one of the members has to give a speech for 10 minutes on a particular topic.

“He has to prepare beforehand,” says P. Pushparaj. “Members will evaluate his talk, study the facial expressions and body language and give a feedback.” But last week, instead of a speech, the members decided to have a debate.

The topic was the several yatras taken out by the various political parties across the state. This gave a chance for the members to take potshots at one of the most reviled members of Indian society: corrupt politicians.

“In the rallies, nobody spoke a word about development or the recession,” says Paul. “It seems to me that politics is recession-free. The politicians are making pots of money, while more and more people have been hired as party workers for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.”

Says Daniel: “It was a gimmick.”

Sometimes, when discussions can get depressing, there is a humour session. “We learn how to crack a joke in public, and make everybody smile,” says Kurian.

Indeed, at the end of two hours, there was a palpable bonhomie between the members. “If I am ever in trouble, all my friends are just a phone call away,” says Nirmala. Says Agarwal: “There is a lot of affection between us.”

Kurien says that, thanks to the Wednesday Club, Agarwal has become so positive-minded that on his daily morning walks in Panampilly Nagar he is well known as the man who smiles at everybody.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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