As we wrapped up the June 20 session of our Speakers’ Club (KU), I remembered how a small dream that I always had turned into a magnificent reality. I had a dream of getting involved in a professional club like the Toastmasters but with English language teachers as its members. And in this article, I want to share the reasons why I wanted to set up the club and talk about how the club helped me in my journey of personal and professional development.
After joining KU’s M.Ed ELT program, I had this idea – the idea about setting up a speaking forum – in my head and luckily my professor Dr. Laxman Gnawali had also thought about it for some time. After spending some time with some seniors and my classmates brainstorming about how to set up such forum and discussing on its name and modality, on August 2013, we officially started with the first session of the Speaker’s Club. It had the participation of students of M.Ed. ELT and M.Phil. English Language Education as well as a number of faculty members.
Our sessions would follow the Toastmaster’s model with four featured speakers, four guest speakers, there would be a grammarian, a time keeper, a fidget analyzer and an ‘aha’-counter. After the designated speakers complete their four-minute speech on a pre-defined topic, the other participants would vote for them, and the four guest speakers would complete their sessions. To make these weekly sessions more interesting, we would also have short video clips of inspirational speeches downloaded from youtube. Then, the evaluators would step in front to present their evaluations, usually in a constructive way. The following week, we would switch around our roles and there would be a new set of speakers and evaluators.
In this way, we have been running the sessions for almost a year. We have seen the number of participants increase from mere a dozen to over seventy. We have also had a few wonderful professional speakers come to the sessions and share their stories and ideas. Some of them were – current NELTA president Hemanta Raj Dahal, youth motivational speaker Rajendra Mulmi, member of a Toastmasters Club Sikshit Bhatta, English Language Fellow to Nepal Miriam Cornelli and media personality Santosh Shah.
One of the reasons why we needed to have the club is very obvious. English language teachers of Nepal usually do not have a very good command over the language they are supposed to teach. I may have put this very bluntly but I do believe that many of us focus on learning ‘declarative knowledge’ but we miss out on how to acquire ‘procedural knowledge’ and ‘communicative competency’. We know the grammar rules and definitions by heart, but we commit various mistakes/errors specifically while speaking in English. The club therefore gave the English language teachers and students the perfect venue to enrich their communicative skills.
Likewise, another reason to set up the club is to give a unique space for the English language teachers to enhance their personal and professional skills. Similar to any workshops or trainings, the club itself could become an opportunity for teachers to develop. And for this very reason, I was so passionate about the Speakers’ Club. Many a times, I concentrated more on the club sessions rather than focusing on my regular studies because I could feel my speaking skills developing in a very tangible way. For instance, I have significantly cut down the filler words (um, aha, you know, etc) while speaking and I have also developed how to control my movement and gesture.
I vividly remember the first time I gave a speech in the club. I was literally scared stiff through out my speech, I got stuck so many times and my filler words were embarrassingly all over the places. It was a pretty nerve wrecking experience. I used to think – “I am a teacher, and I speak all the time. So speaking in public should be a simple task”. But I soon realized that teaching in a classroom full of students and speaking in front of an audience and evaluators are two completely different games. And thus learning the art of public speaking, I can bet my life on it, has definitely made me more effective and confident teacher. I have seen some of my club friends transform from very shy, zero-confident speakers to very self-assured, energetic speakers.
Another reason why the club sessions are so beneficial to the teachers is because of the evaluation process. The team of evaluators gives a speaker feedback, comments and criticisms on his/her grammar efficiency, timing, structure of the speech, movement, gestures, eye contact and overall effect. This gives the speaker a chance to improve his/her verbal as well as non-verbal communication skills. Most importantly, this process makes the participants more open to criticism. We don’t like being criticized, do we? But here, we learn the art of giving constructive criticism and we also develop the art of reacting positively to such criticisms. (I like comparing this to the concept of peer-observation because one of the ways to develop teachers is by having peers give honest and supportive feedback.)
There are a couple of more things very important related with the evaluation process. First, it makes the audience truly appreciate the effort speakers put into their speech and not form ‘opinions’ about anyone who speaks in public. With this appreciation comes the feeling of empathy. Second, audience members can learn from the mistakes the speakers commit and understand ‘dos and don’ts’ of public speaking. In theory, the club provides both reflective and experiential learning to all participants.
And finally, one of the direct benefits of the club is that we can ‘network’ and build relationship with fellow teachers and public speaking enthusiasts. Human beings are inherently hardwired for communication and the club provides the context for English language teachers to communicate with each other. For us, the club has been an amazing place to meet and interact with colleagues from different batches and level.
As I mentioned earlier, the club has made a tremendous impact on me, personally and professionally. It has given me a space to ‘practice’ and has helped me become a better presenter and a confident speaker. I believe the club has also provided a push for me in my continuous drive to ‘becoming’ an open-minded and reflective teacher.
And here’s the biggest takeaway for anyone reading this article. You can easily set up the speakers’ club in your schools and colleges with zero expense. All one needs is a group of motivated members who can ‘invest’ at least two hours a week. The club could have your own model and procedures which the members can collaborate and decide on. If the club can have consistency, it will turn out to be a great learning platform for both the teachers and the students. So don’t wait, just jump right into it.
Teaches Business Communication and Literature to undergraduate students