If you have been working with a newspaper, even as a tea supplier, chances are that from time to time you will be invited to assorted functions to give speeches.
It is no different for me. And the functions that I have been invited to mostly fall in this group: 1) Association Meetings 2) College/School events 3) Humour club gatherings 4) General dos where they call you to honour you for your contribution to the field of journalism for not being Arnab Goswami.
The first in the list, association meetings, they are mostly closed-door affairs, where they call you to talk on a subject of topical interest/your specialization and you have to cerebrally hold the attention of the gathering till such time the caterers get their stuff ready.
I have found that the trick to perform well in such meetings is to do some homework and prepare for the speech, which is about finding out when the caterers arrive, and smartly timing my own entry around that (“Hoooo! I tell you traffic these days is getting impossible in Chennai. It took me three hours to just get out of my apartment parking lot. (Sotto voce) It is a different matter that I was looking for the misplaced car keys for a good part of two hours and 59 minutes”). So much so I will have time just to thank the organizers —- who usually at such meetings comprise president, vice president, secretary, joint secretary (usually two, because it doesn’t hurt to have a backup joint secretary), treasurer, assistant treasurer in charge of handing out money to shamiana and plastic chair supplier and sundry office-bearers because with just six or seven people a committee can get lonely you see —- for inviting me and, of course, the caterers and get down the podium to take a plate and start eating.
But do remember whichever subject you may be speaking on, be it on Indo-American nuclear deal or post-modern surrealism in Whatsapp memes on Vijayakanth, you would do well to realise that the association president has called you to share your undoubted knowledge and exhibit your intelligence in praising him. If you can do that adequately, you can even get away saying that the main architect of India-US N-deal is Sunny Leone.
On to school and college functions, there is, in general, good interest among the student community in getting into media field, and school and college authorities understand that a live interaction with a working journalist would help the students to get better insight into the fact that basically one doesn’t need any insight to get into journalism. I am also happy to report that many students after interacting with me tell their parents and teachers the pleasant news that they are no longer interested in getting into media.
Personally, I like exchanging ideas with young students because it helps me as a journalist to figure out what the youth want to read. Contrary to popular belief that attention spans are diminishing, many youngsters continue to follow news articles and reports that are up to their exacting expectations, which are ones that feature pictures of people like Jennifer Lawrence and Brad Pitt. That is why these days we at journalism have grown smart enough to publish even in Union Budget news reports photos of — this is a true story — Shakira.
No matter how many events I get invited to speak, I treat every one of them as my first, which alone explains why I continue to make a complete mess of them as I did on my debut. One, my voice doesn’t have the throw or carry over the mike to be impressive for a large audience. Two, I really don’t have anything to say. While giving a speech, my mind goes blank and never really recovers till two days of the event.
Recently, I was invited by a big school for their sports function and I, as ever, went into a blue funk and don’t remember what I spoke. I just hope that I didn’t tell the audience that sports is all about following sincerely your childhood passion, which in many cases could be fantasying about Maria Sharapova in mini-skirts.
Anyway, this week, after watching Shamitabh, I think I have hit upon a simple solution to tide over my problems of public speaking. I just need to find an Amitabh-like voice to which I have to lip-sync in public. Better, I should find a Dhanush-like person too to act out those lines, while I can continue to sit in my house, in boxer trunks, just keying out those lines.
Balamitabh, you’d agree, has a decent portmanteau ring to it.