Afrin Sultana was shy and introvert ever since childhood. This, however, was not a hindrance to her education and early career, as she managed to tactfully avoid situations where she would have to speak in front of large crowds.
However, things began to hit a snag when she applied for a promotion at her current workplace.
"As the youngest member in the group, communication skills were the only way I could excel in my workplace. But my fear of speaking in front of a gathering became a problem," said Afrin.
"I could not start a conversation. I used to tremble and could not complete my words. They used to make fun of me," she added.
This is not just Afrin's story. Many people go totally blank while talking in front of a gathering or to anybody. Worry of expressing oneself properly, being laughed at or fear of embarrassment causes sweating, trembling, shaking, speedy heart rate and even fainting. And this ultimately blocks the entire expression and leaves the person embarrassed and makes him/her further afraid in future.
Communication is key to today's world, and lack of the skill of expressing oneself properly hampers people's everyday social communication and professional life as well.
So, Afrin started looking for a solution to her problem. A few months back, she joined an organisation named Dhaka Toastmasters Club (Dhaka TM). There, after participating in the sessions actively, she has seen a change in herself in terms of speaking in public.
Dhaka Toastmasters Club, a wing of the giant international club, has been running 16 sub-clubs in Dhaka and Chattogram. Through various activities, they develop people's public speaking skill.
Prior to the pandemic, the toastmasters used to meet in the evening on every first and third Saturday of the month on the eighth floor of Bishwo Shahitto Kendro. Currently, the sessions are conducted through Zoom. However, the meetings will get back to their previous form, the two-hour session format, soon.
The whole two-hour session is divided into small sub-sessions where almost every member participates actively. A previously fixed toastmaster of the club introduces the general evaluator for the prepared speech session – ah counter, timer, and grammarian.
Through presenting speech on previously discussed topics, such as trusted umbrella of our life and three life lessons from my father, and evaluating the speech, they practice. The session ends with the president's feedback, Q&A, and fixing the next meeting schedule.
In this club, we practice that mistakes are heartily welcome. We encourage the speakers for small talks and provide positive judgment in front of the audience
"The main fear of public speaking comes from the possibility of being laughed at which fails many of our skilled professionals. But in this club, we practice that mistakes are heartily welcome. We encourage the speakers for small talks and provide positive judgment in front of the audience," said Fayez Uddin Ahmad, president of Dhaka Toastmasters Club.
According to him, constant practice of talking and communication with the fellow members makes one a skilled communicator in six to eight months.
Anyone for professional necessity or as part of personal skill development can join this club by paying $65 as a new member, and renewal of membership for every six months cost $45. Also, an additional Tk2,000 is charged for local operations. Anyone can attend free sessions as a guest. Currently, Dhaka TM has 29 registered members.
If you opt for a job today, the two very important qualities they would ask for are high communication skill and spoken English skill. English is a foreign language to the Bengali speaking community, and our educational background lacks English speaking lessons.
So, the booming private sector employees are lagging behind in communicating as this sector mainly focuses on speaking skill, according to many private officials.
Fahad Ahmed, a businessman living in the capital's New Eskaton Garden, felt that he has stage fright when he has to talk in front of an audience in conferences.
"I noticed it a year ago since I did not have to talk in front of a large gathering. I have never been afraid of talking to small gatherings. But any formal conversation gave me a blackout," he said.
Popular public speaker and doctor Abdun Noor Tushar said, "Public speaking has enormous importance in business and as well as in personal life. We basically work in team now. So, someone has to talk to a good number of people most of the time. He has to be expressive."
Though the history of public speaking is an enriched one and is required to serve greater purposes, nowadays it is used in developing a career only
"Though the history of public speaking is an enriched one and is required to serve greater purposes, nowadays it is used in developing a career only. Whatever it is, lack of adequate knowledge and practice is the main problem here. Practice can make a person a skilled speaker," he added.