Dubai has scored, again. This time taking along with it the rest of the GCC, and Jordan. Calls for a toast. It does.

By Sushil Kutty (Staff Reporter)

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Published: Sat 4 Sep 2004, 1:35 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:00 AM

A toast to honour the achievements of District 79 of Toastmasters International which was recently adjudged the best district in the world of Toastmasters, spread over 80 countries, 10,000 clubs and 200,000 members.

The best district trophy is these days in Dubai, having been brought to the city by retired Dubai Police officer and Toastmaster Mohammed Murad who in his capacity as immediate past governor of district 79 - GCC plus Jordan - was given the honour to receive the trophy.

Murad travelled to Reno in Nevada to do that honour. No, he didn't take in Las Vegas while on that trip. That is a whole another world for individuals like Mohammed Murad, and J K Nair, another Toastmaster based in Dubai, who would rather spend an hour or two doing some serious 'table topics' or speak from the lectern than watch where and when the wheel would come to a final halt on its way to a jackpot.

So what's Toastmasters International? Who are these Toastmasters, a special breed of men, and women? Why all the who-haha and brouhaha over a trophy... The answers to these tell a story, a saga in the making.

Toastmasters International is an organisation of clubs that give individuals a forum to talk, talk and talk their way to positions of influence, degrees of achievements. The idea is that "everybody talks" but not all manage to "communicate". Toastmasters teaches people how to do just that, in the most effective manner. Add to that the leadership qualification, and the equation is complete.

"Toastmasters teaches you how to communicate with aplomb. How to come up with a terrific speech ...excel in face to face conversations. If not excel, at least gain confidence to lose inhibitions that most of us are born with," said J K Nair, who when he's not toasting the world is drawing up catering plans that take to the air!

That's not a flight of fancy. And neither do Toastmasters indulge in such flights. Everybody talks but Toastmasters talk to build quick-thinking skills with table topics - impromptu speeches - and more in-depth talks from the podium or the lectern, which require some research and much preparation.

"District 79 got the award for the highest level of achievement - that which is given to the top six districts in the world. We were judged the 1st among the six. No. 2 was district 51 comprising Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong, No.3 districts from Canada and No.4 from Europe," said Murad.

The districts were judged on four critical success factors including in the "recruitment" of new members and formation of new clubs. Plus, of course, on achievements that speak of how well a district has succeeded in furthering the basic aim of enhancing the communication and leadership skills of its members.

"Important thing is we did not lose as many clubs as the others... Clubs lose momentum either because they do not meet regularly or because membership falls below quorum. Then the club needs a coach to revive the club , bring membership to quorum," said Murad.

"Some of the clubs fade because of the transient life... Lots of people move out. And some clubs are situated in secluded areas, no help forthcoming from district officers," added J K Nair.

District 79 has a total of 116 clubs with 24 of them in the United Arab Emirates (Dubai: 13). Anyone above 18 can become a Toastmaster, who come from all walks of life. Finance managers, clerks, engineers, doctors, students, police officers... The list is endless ...the doors "wide open" to all and sundry who are "accepted". There's a fee, obviously.

Murad became a Toastmaster after 12 years of service with the Dubai Police. He remained in uniform for another eight years. "A lot of things happened to me in those eight years - I was promoted three times, I managed to get two Masters degrees in those eight years. And I became a trainer, and a paid speaker!" smiled Murad, who sought voluntary retirement from the police force after 20 years of service. Nair joined almost at the same time as Murad. He recalls the Murad of "those days" as a shy and reticent police officer. "Today "he is one of the most articulate speakers in the region, they pay money to hear him speak!"

Toastmasters International was founded by Dr Ralph C. Smedley. The doctor is no more but he's left behind a legion of clubs that has taken communication and leadership skills to a level where the individual benefits even as the whole gets a facelift. In the Gulf, Toastmasters clubs have been proliferating, and members come from all walks of life, including the fair of the species. The women students of Higher College of Technology of Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah are examples that speak volumes of the success of the Toastmasters.

To cut a long story short, Toastmasters allows an individual to hone skills in speaking. It gives hands on "face-to-face suggestions-for-improvement" style communications training - in an environment which while friendly is also formal enough not to lose the seriousness of the endeavour. It's a learn by doing programme. There's constructive evaluation. It's remedy for anxiety attacks. For lapses in speaking. A tonic that works on gestures, hand movements - expressions - that are not lost on the audience. It changes lives, one at a time.

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