This weekend had the privilege of attending the finale of the 8-week Youth Leadership Program (YLP) conducted by Toastmasters in my community. Nineteen young adults between the age of 13-17 attended the program, one of them being my daughter. The confidence, the poise and the enthusiasm of the kids was a delight to watch. The coverage of speech topics was equally impressive and music to any parents’ ears.

The speech on ‘Winning’ covered how diligence, persistence and self-drive were the key to winning and that, the journey is as important as winning. The speech on ‘Curiosity’, reinforced how curious minds lead to a better tomorrow. The one on ‘Neuroplasticity’ gave a sneak peak into how science can transform lives in the future and ‘Superheroes without capes’ brought out the speaker’s ability to empathize and learn from experiences. The speech on ‘Emotions’ revealed the workings of the teenage mind. All the times we parents said – work hard at whatever you choose, think about others not just you, read, broaden your mind – the kids seem to have been listening after all 😊.

Whatever one decides to do in life personally or professionally, there comes a time when one is pushed to speak in front of an audience. At times like this, the ability to communicate effectively with the audience and win them over is critical. For some it comes naturally while for others it takes effort. The only way to hone this skill is with practice and Toastmasters is a perfect platform for the same. Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs.

Evolving as speaker is personal journey, not a competition. Every individual has their own personality and life goals and must decide what he orshe wants to do and work towards that.

Early on in my career, I have been part of an illustrious Toastmasters club in Bangalore for a short duration and found it to be of immense value. But with my personal and professional conflicts, I couldn’t pursue it for beyond a year and dropped out. However, this brush with the YLP program, brought back some good memories and I plan to resume my participation soon. Will keep you posted!

I uncovered a few interesting behaviours during the 8 weeks that the YLP program ran. Firstly, all the children were receptive to feedback. Feedback provided by the mentors was taken well and implemented with panache. As we grow older, many a times we take ourselves seriously and close ourselves to receiving feedback which comes in all shapes and from different channels. Whether it is your kid reminding you to put your phone away or a dip in the customer satisfaction score at work, one needs to keep an open mind. Closing doors to receiving feedback, will stall your journey to success or in becoming a better person.

The second interesting behaviour I discovered was that these kids had no inhibitions. Even if there were some, they overcame their inhibitions andfreely emoted and used the stage to their advantage. I still cannot get myselfto do this even today. Our inhibitions hold us back – let go and go with the flow. Both you and your audience will enjoyit.

Thirdly, the children reinforced the Flynn Effect which is – each generation is smarter than the last. For my generation growing up in India, public speaking was not given much importance nor were there enough opportunities to hone these skills. Most of us learnt it in our professional lives the hard way – being thrown in at the deep end, we learnt to swim. In this case, we learnt to speak to an audience. This is a perspective these children will not be able to relate to as the times and environment the children are being raised are different. Hence there is no need to repeatedly remind them of our journey. They just need to be provided the platform for honing and practicing their public speaking skills and they will figure the rest on their own. Each child had enrolled in the YLP program at the behest of their parents. But after the first session, they were all charged up and attended the remaining sessions on their own volition. This is laudable as these kids have schedules busier than CEO’s – yet they made the time. They are now looking to form a Gavel Club to develop their skills further.

Fourthly, when their peers were on stage, the children cheered and egged each one all the way through, helping each other succeed. As adults how many of us are bothered beyond our own success? These children teach us an important life lesson!

Lastly and most importantly they are sharing their experiences with others and encouraging them to benefit from it too. They pulled in their friends to participate in the YLP program and are now canvassing to get them to join the Gavel Club. After hearing the parents speak at the table topic sessions during the YLP finale, my daughter said, “All you parents speak well too. You guys should form a club and have fun too!”