First-of-its-kind Society Aims to Teach Public Speaking to Strath Students

By Rob McLaren

A Strathclyde PhD student has set up a new society devoted to public speaking, believed to be a first among Scottish universities.

Sheik Malik, an engineering student who recently joined the university to study for a doctorate, chose to create Strathclyde Speakers after attending a Toastmasters event at the TedXStrathclyde conference earlier in the year.

Toastmasters is an international organisation designed to promote the development of public speaking and leadership skills. The organisation has over 16,000 clubs in 143 countries worldwide, with the Strathclyde society set to become the sixth Toastmasters club in Glasgow.

Each meeting involves a series of guest speakers delivering pre-rehearsed speeches, for which they will be judged and given constructive criticism.

Following this, a series of undisclosed “table topics” are thrown to the audience, with members invited to deliver short impromptu speeches on each topic.

Sheik was encouraged to set up the society by two volunteers from Glasgow Toastmasters, Alex Lewis and Jibunnessa Abdullah, whom he met at TedXStrathclyde.

Alex, by day a charity worker, describes their plans for the society: “There will be a mixture of educational speeches and practical activities, and the impromptu speaking is the section where students can come up and speak if they want to. We did something very similar back in April with TedX and it was very successful.

“We were a bit apprehensive as to whether the students would be willing to come up and speak, but in fact so many of them did, and Sheik was one of them.”

Recalling the event, Sheik says: “The table topic was ‘if you could go back in time, to which period would you go and why’. Back in my high school days I used to participate in debating, so for me it was a bit of a throwback, I wanted to challenge myself to see if I still had it.”

Meetings will be held every two weeks, starting on Monday, 4 November, and members will be under no obligation to attend every meeting. Membership of the society is open to all, but Sheik believes it will be particularly beneficial to fourth- and fifth-year students as they approach the end of their degrees.

Sheik adds: “What we are creating is a safe space where people can fail. There’s nobody assessing you, nobody mocking you. Most people who are walking into that room will be strangers to each other, so it’s a really safe space for you to try and fail and learn from that failure. Failing is how we learn, and so it is something we encourage when we give a stage to speakers.”

“I’ve done plenty of table topics which have ended terribly,” Alex recalls. “I remember doing one on whether politicians or honest or not, and my interest in politics is completely non-existent, below cricket even! And I sat down and thought ‘that was terrible’, but it was okay because everybody was on my side, nobody was judging me. We laughed it off and I learned a lot from it.”

Jibunnessa, a teacher and former stand-up comedian, echoes the sentiment: “It’s a fun and enjoyable environment in which to improve your public speaking skills, but also to pick up leadership skills in a fun and friendly environment.”

Even as a fledgling society, Sheik is setting his aspirations high. Once the first few ‘taster’ meetings have been held, he hopes to have created a community of at least twenty regular members – the requirement to become an ‘official’ Toastmasters club – who can compete against other clubs in the region.

“Our main goal is to develop a committee made up entirely of Strathclyde students. We want to expand and have active members who feel like they are part of a community,” he says, adding, “our ultimate aim would be to face off against the Glasgow Toastmasters group.”

All Strathclyde students are invited to come along to the first meeting this coming Monday, which will take place in a relaxed environment with nobody pressured to speak unless they choose to.

Alex adds: “When I first went along, I thought everyone would be in business suits and that it would be very fancy, but it’s nothing like that. Nobody’s being forced to be there, everyone is investing their time to learn. It’s a really good community to be a part of.”

“Come to our event, give it a try and see how good your public speaking skills are,” Sheik concludes. “If nothing else, you’ll make good friends in a relaxed atmosphere, where you’ll destress from the pressure of studying and hopefully learn a few things that you wouldn’t get from your degree.”

The inaugural Strathclyde Speakers meeting will take place this coming Monday, 4 November, in GH739 between 6.30-9.00pm. Entrance is free and students are welcome to attend at whatever time suits them.