Toastmaster Abu Dhabi
Participants at a meeting organised in the capital by one of the UAE’s longest-running clubs, Abu Dhabi Toastmasters.

Abu Dhabi: One of the UAE’s longest-running clubs, Abu Dhabi Toastmasters, held its 750th milestone meeting recently, having trained more than a 1,000 people in public speaking and leadership skills since 1995.

“The world saw an era in which people were cocooned at home for a prolonged period. With meetings being held virtually, many of us became comfortable hiding behind a camera, whereas others used their face masks as a sort of social safety net. Even one-on-one meetings have become difficult for many, yet communication skills are a necessity for any of us to progress professionally and socially,” Razia Khatoon, vice president of membership at the Abu Dhabi Toastmasters.

Growing interest

“At a time when social media has made an audience available to each one of us, it is especially important to overcome one’s awkwardness at speaking publicly. This is why having a non-judgemental audience can really individuals hone their speaking talents. In fact, a growing number of Emirati professionals have been finding value in membership,” she added.

The club was founded 27 years ago in the UAE capital, and is reportedly the first Toastmasters chapter established in the UAE. Like its parent organisation, Toastmasters International — which was first created in the United States in 1924 — Abu Dhabi Toastmasters teaches public speaking and leadership skills. In Abu Dhabi, members meet once every alternate fortnight for two hours, developing their public speaking skills through a series of rounds and speaking opportunities.

Milestone meeting

The 750th meeting saw about 75 people in attendance, with members flying down from Jordan. A number of past club presidents spoke at the event, and a 13-year-old schoolgirl delivered the keynote address.

People join the club for a variety of reasons, yet most are seeking to gain in confidence.

“For instance, one of our members was looking at overcoming his stammer. Another high-ranking female official said she simply wanted an audience different from her colleagues with whom she could improve her abilities,” Khatoon said.

A corporate trainer and human resources executive by profession, Khatoon herself joined the club in 2018. Since then, she has launched her own YouTube channel, and said she has been exposed to hundreds of people from different backgrounds, and with very ideas very different from her own.

“I have found that many people can be unknowing introverts, which can make them afraid to speak in public. Overcoming these fears, and becoming a more persuasive communicator, can often be the key to professional success,” Khatoon said.

Younger members

Another long-term member, Saravanane Rajalou, joined the club four and a half years ago after his own sons benefited from Toastmasters clubs meant for children, called Gavel Clubs.

Saravanane Rajalou

“I had heard from friends that the club helped build leadership skills, and enrolled my son, then 13 years old, to the Gavel Club. My younger son also became a member a few months later, and I noticed how they became better listeners, and youngsters who were able to approach discussions in a clearer and more logical manner,” Rajalou said.

He soon signed up, and today testifies that club activities have helped him become a more confident speaker and individual. His older son, meanwhile, continued to be a member until he left for his university education in the UK, and Rajalou said he is now looking to enrol in another chapter of Toastmasters there.

“I am honoured to be presiding over the club at its 750th milestone meeting, and I have no doubt that we will soon be seeing its 1,000th meeting in a few years, given the manner in which it benefits the community,” Rajalou said.

Keeping up with the times

As it looks forwards, the club is itself keeping pace with the times.

“We often welcome a ‘roastmaster’, who ‘roasts’ the members of the club in the spirit of comedy, as has become very popular as of late. Humour is also an essential element amid the stressful lives we lead. Abu Dhabi Toastmasters has also launched its own podcasts, and regularly recognises budding YouTubers,” Khatoon said.