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Top public speaker used to be a shy person

Mr Manoj Vasudevan with his wife, Ms Sindu Sreebhavan, son Advaith and daughter Aditi in a family outing at Pasir Ris Park. Mr Vasudevan reached the championship's semi-finals in 2012 and 2013. The third placing on Aug 15 was his first win in the competit
Mr Manoj Vasudevan with his wife, Ms Sindu Sreebhavan, son Advaith and daughter Aditi in a family outing at Pasir Ris Park. Mr Vasudevan reached the championship's semi-finals in 2012 and 2013. The third placing on Aug 15 was his first win in the competition. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MANOJ VASUDEVAN

Toastmasters World Championship's second runner-up worked hard to build confidence

Mr Manoj Vasudevan made history by winning the third prize at the World Championship of Public Speaking held in Las Vegas last month.

He was the first representative from the Toastmasters Club of Singapore to reach the finals of the competition, organised by Toastmasters International, and even went on to win the trophy for finishing as second runner-up.

First held in 1938, the public-speaking championship is the world's largest speech competition, drawing more than 35,000 contestants from 135 countries.

In front of an audience of 2,500 people and 10,000 more via livestreaming, Mr Vasudevan spoke about resolving marital problems, in a speech titled "Can we fix it?"

Toastmasters International is a non-profit organisation that aims to help its members improve their public-speaking and communication skills.

A BIG BOOST

It improved my personal and professional relationships by leaps and bounds.

MR MANOJ VASUDEVAN, on how public speaking has improved his life

It has more than 300,000 members in clubs across 135 countries.

For Mr Vasudevan, 41, the win was an affirmation of his hard work over the years to conquer his shyness. By his own admission, he used to be a quiet and reserved man.

"I remember the time when I had to (speak) in front of an audience and I couldn't," he recalled. "(It was) just to answer a simple question on what I wanted to do in life."

The turning point came about 12 years ago.

Mr Vasudevan said his career came to a standstill in 2003, despite several years of promotions and salary increments.

Then a management consultant at audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Mr Vasudevan even pursued a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Imperial College London, in the hope that the additional qualification would help him to advance in his career.

From observing the colleagues whom he considered to be successful, Mr Vasudevan realised, even as he worked towards his MBA, that he needed to shed his reserved nature and become more confident and outspoken.

Determined to make a personal - and career - change, Mr Vasudevan left PwC in 2004 to start his own company. He also became interested in personal development.

Mr Vasudevan joined the Toastmasters Club of Singapore in 2008 after developing an interest in public speaking, prompted by the realisation that his children - son Advaith, 11, and daughter Aditi, 10 - were too shy to speak up.

To hone his skills, Mr Vasudevan started speaking at local Toastmasters events and even volunteered as an emcee for community events.

He also practised at home in front of his wife and children, and watched speeches online to pick up tips on public speaking.

His wife, Ms Sindu Sreebhavan, 40, is the editor of The Kidz Parade, a magazine with content created by children.

Public speaking has improved his life tremendously, Mr Vasudevan said.

"It improved my personal and professional relationships by leaps and bounds. It greatly helped me to build large networks and in running my business," he added.

Mr Vasudevan has been competing in the World Championship of Public Speaking since 2010, reaching the semi-finals in 2012 and 2013. The third placing on Aug 15 was his first win in the championship.

Through his company, Thought Expressions, he coaches people who need help in communicating with others. His clients range from school children to chief executive officers.

Mr Vasudevan also coaches his own children. They are now comfortable with public speaking, he said, even though they were not extroverts or good at networking with others to begin with.

His tips for effective public speaking? Make sense of various sources of information and turn it into something meaningful, he said. Then use it to persuade, communicate with and entertain the audiences.

"The key is how you communicate information to the other person, and get people on your side," added Mr Vasudevan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2015, with the headline 'Top public speaker used to be a shy person'. Print Edition | Subscribe