Pep pundits

They talk the talk so ordinary mortals can walk the walk. Meet some of India’s motivational speakers and life coaches.

Published: 09th June 2012 11:20 PM  |   Last Updated: 09th June 2012 11:20 PM   |  A+A-

Vinayak Shivshekhar thought he had it all at age 28. A good education. A great job. A fantastic marriage. A lovely home. Enter mid-life. His educational degree has been consigned to history by now. His career is stagnating, his marriage crumbling. Yes, his home has doubled in size, but his happiness quotient has shrunk. He wishes there was some way he could turn things around and bring back the joy in his life. Then, quite by chance, he accompanies a friend to a session by a motivational speaker. Shivshekhar is sceptical at first, but as he listens to what the man is saying, he sees the sense in what is being said. No, there are no short-cuts to bliss on offer, but one is being told ways and means to live a better, more enriching life. Shivshekhar is hooked. He has found his guru and guide and he now knows how to take his life forward from the crossroads he finds himself at. Likewise for students looking for career guidance, executives seeking career advancement and employers wanting to motivate their work force for higher productivity. The answers lie within ourselves; we just need a bit of prodding and hand-holding to help us find them. That’s where motivational speakers and life coaches come in. These agony aunts cum pep talkers cum friends, philosophers and guides tackle the toughest of issues in a chatty, easy manner on a variety of subjects — from career goals to personal empowerment. 

One of the most popular and lucrative New Age careers today, motivational speaking and life coaching which was a big industry in the West till a few years ago is fast gaining ground in India. So much so that the past five years have seen many top corporate honchos, academics and professionals leaving high-flying careers to become speakers and coaches, putting the wealth of their experience and knowledge to use. While both essentially do the same thing — helping you live a better life — motivational speakers and life coaches work slightly differently from each other. A motivational speaker makes speeches intended to motivate an audience. Corporates hire such pep talkers to communicate business strategies with clarity, to inspire workers to pull together and to deal with work stress. These speakers address multiple people at the same time, offering generalised solutions that work largely for most people. Life coaches, on the other hand, can handle groups as well as individuals. You can’t hire a motivational speaker to speak to one person, but you can hire a life coach to help that one person deal with a problem, which could either be a professional situation or a personal one. Basically, life coaches are non-credentialled therapists who take an active, hands-on approach to helping people with relationship, career, family and finance issues.

THE MOTIVATION MOVEMENT

Motivational speaking, says Bangalore-based TGC Prasad, is all about good content and engaging communication. “I have always noticed that storytellers have people hanging to their every word. Telling stories is an art. It is about enacting the picture in the eye of the mind of the audience. People have to visualise the situation and relate to it,” he says. Prasad shifted gears from management to motivation nearly a decade back. His last job was country head of Misys Software and he now runs his own consulting firm and travels across the country talking to corporates on industry related topics and offering executive coaching to senior management professionals.

“Research shows that the attention span of corporate executives has been reduced to nine seconds due to the information overload by media, Internet and multitasking. The challenge for any speaker is to get the complete attention of the audience, hold them on to their seats and simultaneously deliver messages and insights,” says Paul Robinson, a leading business strategist on performance and productivity. To be boring is the number one sin in motivational speaking, says Robinson, who does close to 60 sessions a year. Some people will entertain the audience, but they lack content. Some will have great content but they do a ‘voice over’ on their PowerPoints. What gives power to your presentation is your personal infectious energy and high vibrations in your tonality and speech, he says.

What also gives power to your presentations are your own personal experiences, says actor Anupam Kher, who has now taken up the role of motivational speaker. Kher, who addresses students at universities in India and abroad, says: “By sharing the highs and lows of my own experiences, I help youngsters gear up for a journey called life.” Image issues, the pain of being an introvert, dealing with failure, coping with low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence are what Kher touches upon.

Another theatre personality turned motivational speaker is Kochi-based Freddy Koikaran. He ropes in multiple methodologies — elements of dance, music and theatre — into his motivational sessions. “Acting prepares one for public speaking, while directing plays brings one’s leadership skills to the fore,” he says. Then there is what he calls ‘drum circles’ where participants are given a particular set of drum beats to perform one after another, making for a splendid music.

High voltage sessions combined with humour are the hallmark of Bangalore trainer, Rubi Chakravarthi, a lawyer-turned-actor-turned- speaker. “Humour is a hugely under-rated tool,” says Chakravarthi, who uses the content of her comedy to address serious issues like self-esteem, emancipation and gender bias. A typical session begins with her stand-up act which is followed by an exhaustive question-answer routine. “It is a training pattern I have honed over the years and I find that it extremely effective,” she says.

Ian Faria, who has been a corporate trainer since 1998, sets great stock by passion. “One can never be a good motivational speaker without a burning desire to move people forward. Motivational speakers need to be able to lift and drive the energy in the room by a few notches. It is not about shouting like many people try to do, it is about knowing how to use energy transfer and touching minds and hearts.”

Says Anandmurti Guruma, a popular face on early morning television who uses meditation combined with motivational speaking to deliver her message of love and peace, “The fact is that we all share a more or less similar experience of this life with its universal ups and downs. The only difference is that a keen observer with an elevated consciousness, is able to register, analyse and then talk about those very small things, which a person who is too obsessed with his stress, opinions and prejudices, tends to miss.”

Meditation is also Vijayalakshmi Panthaiyan’s main motivational tool. This Chennai-based mind power trainer and counsellor conducts Alpha Mind Power  workshops which help people manifest their goals and even reverse aging. “Immunity levels have improved in all my participants  and many women, after practising my techniques, have been able to stop their husbands from drinking. They have also been able to improve the overall behaviour of their teenage children,” she says.

Young people are also the focus of Hyderabad’s Yandamoori Veerandranath, a chartered accountant by profession and also a bestselling Telugu author, scriptwiter and film director. Now, as a motivator and personality development trainer, he works with students and youngsters urging them to think. “I always tell students to think of college as a railway platform. The destination is in their hands,” he says.

All motivational speakers agree that it’s all about looking your audience in the eye to make direct contact. But Chennai’s N Ilango, is a visually impaired trainer who has not let this come in the way of connecting with his audience. “All my speeches get thunderous applause. When I don’t get it, I wonder if something is wrong,” says the college lecturer-turned-corporate trainer. There’s another reason why people throng to his seminars — Ilango uses music (motivational songs) to bond with and inspire session participants.

THE CRAFT OF COACHING

“As people experience challenges and dilemmas in their professional or personal lives, life coaching has become an important source of professional support for them,” says ex-CEO Rajiv Vij, who now coaches other CEOs and senior business executives as well as a number of leaders in the social sector. Vij says he made the switch from corporate czar to life coach because he was driven by a desire to seek greater meaning and to create a life that centered around two pillars — working on his own personal growth and helping others with theirs. “Life coaching is also gaining momentum because the newer generation is more comfortable in seeking help and does not see it as a symbol of their inadequacy,” he adds.

So how is this help different from psychotherapy? “Therapy tends to focus on the past and on the root cause of the current problems experienced by the client. Coaching on the other hand focuses on the future and on developing the solution. I would say therapy is like archaeology — digging into the past to better understand the present. Coaching is like architecture — co-creating the design of the future,” he says.

Agrees Mumbai trainer Malti Bhojwani: “Coaches don’t go into the past to scratch the scabs off old wounds. We don’t work on severe anxiety, depression, or any other challenge that requires a psychiatrist or psychotherapist. As a life coach, I work with people for at least three to six months to support them in seeing and then embodying the changes to help them become practices,” she says, adding that it has been clinically proven that it takes 90 days to form new habits. And any sustainable change is basically about instilling new habits.

Bhojwani is all for personalised life coaching as opposed to group sessions. “It provides more lasting benefits because it provides support over time. In large training programmes, you tend to walk away feeling all buzzed and hyped up, but then you slide back just a few weeks later,” she says.

Ahmedabad-based Rama Moondra, a trained psychotherapist-turned-life coach, also has one-on-one sessions over telephone and skype with clients sometimes. “I remember when a client had gone to the US for a seminar. He called me to say he was nervous about having to speak in front a large audience. I stayed on the line with him till he reached the podium and began his speech.” It is this experience that has now set Moondra thinking about using technology to reach a large, global audience through webinars and long-distance tutorial solutions.

Bangalore’s Sujit Sumitran offers many such tutorials to overseas clients. “ In order to be an effective life coach you have to be a good listener and pick up on not just what people say but what they mean. You need to block out the world and concentrate on what the client is saying. You cannot afford to be judgmental or bring your own baggage to the table.”

Sumitran, who also coaches other people to be coaches too, recalls the incident of a woman getting her life coach certification from him. She was very unsure of herself because she was raised in a very traditional home where the man of the house made all the decisions. “She deferred to her husband for every little thing, till one day I tried a little role reversal technique on her and made her my life coach for a while. It worked like a charm and her self-confidence grew by just this action.”

Sometimes, it’s not just about restoring self worth, it’s also about saving lives. Sumitran had a client who worked for a large MNC but had made some very bad career moves. He was deeply in credit card debt and on the verge of suicide. “I had to quell my instinctive panic, calmly talk him through the consequences of his untimely death and help him put a plan in place to salvage the situation. We used to meet for an hour in the park and have long conversations. He is now back on his feet and happily debt-free,” Sumitran recalls.

Unlike motivational speaking where the speaker merely discusses a topic in a public session, life coaching is far more intimate. As Kochi-based Sajeev Nair explains: “We take things week by week by encouraging clients to set a fresh goal and achieve that by the end of that week.” Also, coaching is all about probing and persuasion. You have to ask the right questions. The idea is to make the person think. When that happens, new neural pathways are formed in the brain, Nair explains.

Chennai-based Terence Shenoy who dabbled in HR and placement management before turning a soft skills trainer some two decades ago, confides that with the amount of pressure people face at the workplace, more often than not the goal is mere survival. “It is important to make your goals,” he emphasises. “I’ve seen whole careers change after a few sessions of goal setting and time management.” Shenoy too is leaning towards one-on-one coaching these days. “This way, the client is not wasting any time, problems can be dealt with quicker and a trainer becomes much more relatable.”

Most times, the man behind the podium also doubles up as a life coach and vice-versa. As in the case of Pune-based Minocher Patel. “In today’s competitive and stressful world, a lot of individuals, as they climb the social and professional ladder, need a coach to guide them through various situations in their lives. Having a coach helps them make sure there are minimal errors in the way they present themselves and deal with people. And the best part is that you can be assured of unbiased advice on any issue,” he says. He should know, for his International Corporate Training Consultancy is among the leading soft skills training companies in the country which deals with leadership skills, communication skills, business etiquette, customer service, time management skills and presentation skills. Clearly, it’s all about being positive about the future and making the most of the present. A story that Robin Sharma, life coach, motivational speaker and author relates sums this up beautifully. When researching for The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, he came across the story of an Indian maharaja who, immediately after waking up, would celebrate his own funeral, complete with music and flowers, and chanting, “I have lived fully, I have lived fully, I have lived fully.” Sharma asked his father about the strange behaviour of the king. “Son, what this maharaja is doing is connecting to his mortality every day of his life he will live each day as if it were his last. His ritual is a very wise one and reminds him of the fact that time slips through our hands like grains of sand and the time to live life greatly is not tomorrow but today.” That’s exactly what these coaches and speakers tell you — once you’re in control of today, the tomorrows will take care of themselves.

With Sunita Raghu, Sonali Shenoy and Reshma Iqbal (Chennai), Shevlin Sebastian (Kochi), Jackie Pinto (Bangalore), Kalyan Chakravarthi (Hyderabad), Anil Mulchandani (Ahmedabad)

Keeping the faith

Kerala’s New Age renaissance retains religion as its main theme as a wave of speakers reach out to followers with the word of God

SWAMI SANDEEPANANDA GIRI, 46

Swami Sandeepananda Giri, preacher of the Bhagwad Gita, sits cross-legged in a Thiruvananthapuram studio. “There has never been a time when you and I have not existed, nor will there be a time when we will cease to exist,” he says. The bearded Sandeepananda speaks in simple language using expressive hand gestures. Ever since he debuted on Doordarshan some six years ago, Sandeepananda’s popularity has only risen. He has also travelled to Europe, USA, Australia, Canada and has been a speaker at the Convocation of Hindu Spiritual Leaders at the 2009 Parliament of World Religions in Melbourne. “The doubts and problems that Arjuna faced in his life is present in every person’s life in the 21st century,” he says. 

FR. AUGUSTINE VALOORAN, 62

He is the director of the hugely popular Divine Retreat Centre at Muringoor, about 42 km from Kochi. A veteran speaker of over 25 years, he says, “My main message is that man should lead an honourable life on earth. He should be transcendent. Man is a body, but at the same time there is a spirit in him, which connects him to God.” Valooran has travelled widely to spread his message. “The biggest problem in people is selfishness,” he says, “and this brings about excessive consumerism, immorality, and greed. A good public speaker challenges individuals to lead a greater life. Also, you must make the audience feel important. And the truth is that each and every person is important in this world.”

KUNJU MOHAMMED PULAVATH, 51

A lecturer in Kochi, Pulavath is fluent in Arabic and travels acrosss the state giving discourses on the Quran. “The Quran provides solutions for all of life’s problems,” he says. “I talk about the relevance of the Holy Book.” Pulavath says that people suffer from all kinds of problems: financial, social, mental, and spiritual. “The only way out is to have a deep belief in God.The first and last resort is always Prophet Mohammad. If you want peace of mind and a good life, always follow the tenets as propagated in the Quran,” he says. To be an effective speaker, it is important to know the profile of an audience. “If the audience is a highly educated one, you can give an intellectual speech with a lot of scholarship in it,” he says.

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