Speaking to an audience

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The disinterest shown by Malay students is a cause for concern. It’s a psychological shortcoming born of fear for the unknown…

Gavel Club

It takes courage to speak in front of a crowd, especially one that is hell-bent on picking your mistakes and heckling should you fumble. Definitely not for the faint-hearted. Oratory Skills are acquired and like everything else are perfected through constant practice and exposure.

Toastmasters International is “a leading movement devoted to making effective oral communication a worldwide reality.” The existence of a local chapter here in Ipoh has helped many to realise their dreams of being an effective speaker. Besides instilling in them confidence and poise when engaging listeners, it also helps expand their social networking. The movement has become a beacon of sorts for those who wish to leave a mark in public speaking.

The desire to expand beyond the horizons prompted Puan Nur Aida, Senior Assistant (Language) SMK Gunung Rapat, to do the unthinkable – establish a Gavel Club, the only one of its kind in the city. Peter Bucher (Pak Peter), an active member of the Ipoh Toastmasters was instrumental in helping to set up the junior club in the school. Kudos to Puan Nur Aida for her foresight.

Gavel Club SMK Gunung Rapat was formalised in April 2009 after obtaining its registration number from Toastmasters International Incorporated in California, USA. It has grown in strength. Membership has quadrupled over the months. It now boasts an intake of 40 students. Still a mere fraction of the school’s population of 1300. Meetings are held on Wednesdays of the first and third weeks of the month.

No Political Will

“Overall, the response has been encouraging,” said Nur Aida who doubles as the advisory teacher of the club. Her concern, however, is the small percentage of Malays, which form barely 30 per cent of the total number. “The Malay student population in the school is huge but their representation in the club is abysmal,” she lamented. Chinese and Indians are the majority and this is evident from the composition of the club’s working committee.

The disinterest shown by Malay students is cause for concern. It is a glaring psychological shortcoming born of fear of the unknown. The problem, however, does not affect urban Malays as much since they get to speak the language frequently with their non-Malay friends. Those living in the rural areas tend to be less receptive. Associating English with the Christian faith is a common excuse even during my days in the kampong. Socio-economic gap is another contributing factor. These problems are not new but no serious attempts have been made to overcome them. Demands by nationalistic elements within the ruling party further complicate the issue. And like all things else, the lack of political will has a telling effect.

I was invited to attend the club’s 11th meeting on Wednesday, November 4, 2009. The normal toastmasters format was observed throughout. Members are picked to speak on a range of topical subjects and are judged on content, grammar, pronunciation, relevance, timing etc. Even the number of “ers” one utters is counted.

Practice and Exposure

Standard varies from speaker to speaker. It is obvious that those who have a solid grounding in English speak better than those with limited exposure. The old adage that practice makes perfect holds sway. Speakers such as Cheong and Shukey are impressive. They can hold their audience with ease.

Tarvinder Kaur, a Form 4 student from Tambun, who sits on the interim committee as vice president public relations, speaks fluent English and has the potential to succeed. And so are the rest on the committee. “The transition from fifth to fourth formers will be smooth”, Nur Aida predicted, alluding to the soon-to-be takeover by the juniors. This allays her fears of a leadership vacuum when the fifth formers leave at the end of the year.

Constraints

The benefits gained from gavel clubs are enormous, therefore, more clubs should be established. However, funding and manpower constraints are high on the need list of the Ipoh Toastmasters Club. This is something which Pak Peter and his associates have to deal with and fast.

Fathol Zaman Bukhari