A toast to a leading Lankan toastmaster
When Arunasalam Balraj joined the Toastmasters Club 19 years ago, he had no clue where it would take him. It was at the Toastmasters Club that the shy boy from Kandy who "could not speak for toffee" was converted into the eloquent, charismatic man he is today.
On July 1, Mr. Balraj, who is currently the Lt. Governor of Education and Training for the Toastmasters Club District 82, will take on the duties and responsibilities of the District Governor. This means that he will then be the head of each and every Toastmasters Club in India and Sri Lanka.
|International Director for Toastmasters Mohammed Murad installing the District Governor for District 82 Arunasalam Balraj
According to Mr. Balraj, the idea of being the 'head' of the clubs has a completely different meaning when it comes to Toastmasters. "This is an organization which is focused on development of the individual, not the organization itself," he stresses, explaining that the International President of the club is at the bottom of their hierarchy, and the individual member is right at the top. "We're about building self-confidence, and our administration and programmes are designed in a way to touch each individual."
The mission of Toastmasters International is to make "effective oral communication a worldwide reality" and their vision is to empower people to "achieve their full potential and realize their dreams". Started in California, USA, by Ralph R. Smedley, the Toastmasters Club is now 84 years old and has close to 11,700 clubs in 94 countries around the world. This means that this organization has touched close to five million people, and according to Mr. Balraj "created five million leaders". Heads of the clubs are trained at international level to carry out the mission of the club and make their vision a reality.
"This is not a public speaking club," says Mr. Balraj, addressing what he sees as a common misconception about the Toastmasters. "We are about making better leaders. We are about changing lives." Mr. Balraj's dream is to give the rest of his district what he got from Toastmasters. His prime objective is sharing knowledge that he gained at the club. "There is no point learning something without sharing it" he says, "we have an obligation to share knowledge. That is my philosophy."
With this philosophy in focus, this year's theme for Toastmasters Club District 82 has been coined 'Dance on the Rainbow – Discover. Learn. Act'. Toastmasters clubs in India and Sri Lanka, under the guidance of their new Governor will work to expand and 'act' on what they have learnt at the clubs, spreading the concept. According to Mr. Balraj, District 82 has seen a growth of 300% in the past two years. He plans to continue and enhance this growth by expanding the present number of clubs from 140 to 200 in his year as district governor and to 1000 within the next five years.
This July 1 also marks the graduation of District 82 from a provisional district into a fully-fledged one. "What this means," explains Mr. Balraj "is that now, the winners of our district speaking competitions will have the chance to take part in the international speaking contest." This, he believes is a major opportunity as the speakers from our country have the potential to be winners at an international level. "If one of ours can become the World Speaker, it will put our country on the map out there," he says, enthusiastically. "It will change the way the world looks at our region.”
Toastmasters Sri Lanka began as a single club in 2002 and already has 26 clubs island-wide in all major cities. A new club will begin with Mr. Balraj's official induction as district governor on July 1, in Jaffna. "The club is actually already meeting" he says happily, adding that for him this is a "dream come true." 14 more clubs will be initiated around the island within the following two months.
"Communication is the most essential tool in life, no matter what field you're involved in," says Mr. Balraj, adding that "globalization has specified it as communication in English.”
According to him, this idea having been grasped by many large companies worldwide has prompted the 'in-house' club concept. For example, IBM in India will have, within the next month, a Toastmasters Club for each and every one of its ten branches.
These clubs will cater to the employees of the company, building their confidence, improving their communication skills and raising the success of the company to another level. "Our programme has 75 different modules," Mr. Balraj declares, "and each one, ranging from public speaking to directing meetings to conducting interviews and handling public relations, is very carefully designed to ensure success in whatever field."
"Our meetings are educational ones" he says, "and socializing is left for special occasions." Another unique feature of the club is that non-members are allowed to attend meetings. At meetings, every member is expected to stand up and speak for a few minutes. At the end of the speech, the 'audience' will comment on the speech in terms of content as well as delivery. "This is a friends help friends club," explains Mr. Balraj, "our evaluation methods are very important to us, and this is one of the first things a member learns." Everybody has equal opportunity to speak as well as evaluate others. "Humility is thus a great part of our programme," says Mr. Balraj.
"What we want to do is take this development we received from the club, out into the places where it is most needed.”