BENGALURU: In the last nine years, Balraj Arunasalam, chairman and managing director of a 65-year-old company specialising in the manufacture of industrial belts, hasn’t received a single resignation. This, the global director of Toastmasters’ International, credits his learnings from the Toastmasters. “I’ve switched from being a boss to a leader by adopting a people-first philosophy. A programme such as the Toastmasters, which promotes communication, public speaking and leadership skills – brings out the person you’re meant to be,” he says.
When he says this, Balraj talks from experience. In 2003, a concerned father brought his son in requesting help to deal with the ‘unruly teen’, who had even been behind bars. “His father put his left palm on my right palm and requested me to make a man out of the boy, who had been in lock-up overnight for no fault of his. His parents didn’t know what to do, and as a last resort, brought him to a Toastmasters session,” he says. In 2014, over ten years after Balraj ‘worked’ with the boy, his mentee became the world champion in public speaking.
“I didn’t let him quit. Every time he came up with an excuse as to why he shouldn’t participate, I would convince him otherwise. Toastmasters helped him take control over his personal and professional life,” he says. Growing up, Balraj recalls having ‘extreme’ stage fright. Not even in his wildest dreams did he imagine that one day, he would be the global director of Toastmasters’ International.
The Sri Lankan resident, who visited the city recently, wanted to be part of a social group, and went ‘club hopping’ to the Lions Club and Rotary Club, until he came across the weekly Toastmasters event. “I was 28 years old and when I went to various social clubs, I didn’t seem to fit in because everyone was double my age. But when I went to Toastmasters, even though the participants were older, what made me stay on was the good food there.”
“I used to sit and watch those with the gift of the gab making speeches that were evaluated by fellow participants, and I thought, let me just sit and watch the fun here. But into a couple of meetings, someone realised that I was only eating, and not speaking. So I had to force myself to speak and show them that I also could,” he recalls.
While he admits that it’s not possible to prepare a speech completely, Balraj had some standard rules to follow in order to prepare a speech. “Otherwise, you’ll end up delivering the wrong speech to the wrong audience,” says Balraj, who prepares for formal speeches when he has to address a group of 3,000 people.
Tips for aspiring speakers
“There are 34 nuances to be kept in mind while delivering a seven-and-a-half minute speech, which includes eye contact and position of your neck. Be the person you’re meant to be, don’t copy anyone else’s style. Each of us has our unique style of speaking, and we must stick to it. Don’t watch videos and aspire to be someone else, instead, find yourself,” Balraj says, adding, “It will at least take five years to master the skill. Your jokes may be dissed, the content might go out of focus, people may be lost, and only one in three speeches will have an audience connect. But that’s the way to learn,” he advised.