Like many international students who plan to become teaching assistants, Sudharshan Anandan enrolled in Missouri S&T’s graduate teaching assistant workshop in 2012. Missouri law requires international students to successfully complete the GTA workshop before they can become teaching assistants.
“I was not so confident while speaking to Americans,” says Anandan, a native of Bengaluru, India, and a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering. “When I first got here, it took me more than 15 minutes just to order a sandwich at Subway.”
Anandan did not receive a passing score from the workshop. But that did not keep him from improving his speaking ability.
Following that experience with the GTA workshop, a friend invited Anandan to join Ozark Orators, a local chapter of the public speaking organization Toastmasters International. There, he found another pathway toward English proficiency – one that has put him onto an international stage.
Later this month, Anandan will address an audience of thousands at the 83rd annual Toastmasters International convention in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He will compete against some 80 other speakers from around the world for the title of World Champion of Public Speaking. And he’ll deliver his speech in his non-native language of English.
Although he’s “extremely nervous” about speaking at the international event – his mother will be in the audience, hearing her son deliver a speech for the first time – Anandan is grateful for the opportunity. But he is just as grateful for the support he has received from members of Ozark Orators.
Update, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014: Sudharshan Anandan finished third in the semi-final round of the international competition.
Sudharshan Anandan’s District 8 humorous speech, “Messed Up,” launched him on the path to the World Championship of Public Speaking.
A friend invited Anandan to join Ozark Orators soon after his experience with the GTA workshop. Ozark Orators is one of two local Toastmasters chapters. The other, Missouri S&T Toastmasters, is based on campus.
Through Ozark Orators, Anandan meets with fellow Toastmasters every Tuesday night to deliver speeches and share and receive constructive critiques. “For a year I just practiced speaking English correctly” during club meetings, he says. “At first, I had a serious problem with nervousness and speaking in front of people. I would just clutch the lectern.”
But week after week, meeting after meeting, Anandan’s speaking and presentation skills improved. He stopped clutching the podium and learned to overcome his fear of public speaking. The weekly speech practice “has given me confidence to speak in front of people,” he says.” And the critiques by fellow Toastmasters are always constructive.”
Last fall, Anandan placed second in the Toastmasters District 8 humorous speech contest with his speech, “Messed Up.” The district consists of over 90 clubs in eastern Missouri and southwestern Illinois. “I thought that maybe if I tried harder I could win district and make it to nationals,” he says.
His efforts paid off. This past spring, Anandan won the District 8 inspirational speech contest. That accomplishment earned him the trip to this month’s international convention, where he will again deliver a five- to seven-minute inspirational speech.
Whether he wins or loses in Kuala Lumpur, Anandan says he values the experience – and the free flight tickets – Toastmasters has provided. In addition to the practical training in public speaking he’s acquired, Anandan says the club serves as a close-knit social group.
His Ozark Orators colleagues agree. “Sudharshan has been a wonderful addition to Ozark Orators,” says Jean Craft, a lecturer in Missouri S&T’s international affairs office and Ozark Orators’ vice president of public relations. “In addition to being an inspirational speaker, he is one of our best speech evaluators. He has mastered the art of providing constructive criticism without discouraging the speaker, and he has been a great spokesperson for Toastmasters by inviting many of his friends and classmates to our meetings.”
Now a graduate research assistant working with Dr. K. Chandrashekhara, Curators’ Professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Anandan also puts his Toastmasters training to use for academic purposes, such as when he prepares for conference presentations about his research with high-temperature composite materials.
“I’ve learned to stick to the point and reduce the number of slides in my presentation,” he says. “I have also learned to manage my time and respond to questions off the cuff.”
Ozark Orators meets at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays at First United Methodist Church, 803 N. Main St. in Rolla. The Missouri S&T Toastmasters Club meets at noon on Fridays in the Havener Center on campus.