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Date: 30th September 2017
Category: Cover Story  

DTM Aditya Maheshwaran started out in Toastmasters at an early age. What he's most well known for within Toastmasters and out of it, is his consistent success in the International Speech Contest. He has been a District Champion thrice, in 2014, 2015 and most recently, 2017. In 2015, he was the 1st Runner-up at the Finals of the World Championship of Public Speaking.

Many members take his success as a given but he has worked a long time to become a speaking sensation, starting out way back in 2008. To put it in very painful perspective, I was giving my class 10 board exams around that same time. His public speaking career has given him opportunities to speak at TEDx events and he has been invited by 7 countries for professional speaking engagements.

I spoke to Aditya over the phone after stalking him on the internet (You'd be surprised what you can learn online). He writes "I have a vision to inspire people around the world to find their potential - by unleashing leadership, productivity, and effective communication - using the mode of public speaking."

What has kept you going for nearly a decade in relentless pursuit of the WCPS title? Why not other contest formats?

For my first 6-7 years in Toastmasters, I was devoted only to leadership roles. I served as my Club President, Area Governor and many others. When I went to Mumbai 4-5 years ago, it was a fresh start for me and that's when I started competing seriously.

In Humorous and Evaluations contests, I had gone up to the Division and even District levels. When I started with ISC, I had never reached any significant position.

Is professional advancement a motivation for you? Did Aditya the Facilitator come first or was it Aditya the Speaker?

One feeds into the other. What the World Championship did is it made me take myself seriously even outside of Toastmasters. After 2014, I started travelling within and outside India for conferences and professional speaking opportunities. Where I thrive the best is facilitating, it involves spontaneity and probing the audience to help them find answers on their own.

As a speaker, for 7 minutes, the entire world is your audience and it becomes your CV in Toastmasters. After 2015, I was the "Scratch" guy for a couple of years. When you're part of the deck of contestants, 8-10 speeches, for you it's just your speech; for the audience, it's 10 speakers in a row. If you come at the end and you're able to tie up the knot by showing some logic and coherence, they find it very appealing. It's a way to keep the audience entertained.

Do you do any special preparation for the contest? What do you think is a key differentiator for you as a speaker?

In 2014, there were a lot of people trying to help me whose advice I took since I was on the world stage for the first time. In 2015, with my experience, I made my own observations on what works. I cut the fat, did a couple of practice sessions in my clubs, did my speech maybe twice, and then went to the Semi-Finals.

I do a lot of self-reflection to see what content is working. I try to remove jokes that are not working but am reluctant to cut because I wrote it. I remove redundant lines, see how to elevate the content and derive meaning from each line. So 2017 was a little more of a breeze because of my experience. If my speech clicked in my mind, I didn't need to practice it.

My messages often seem too simple to be made into speeches (a mechanic teaching me about scratches, my mother teaching me to eat the sprouts first). Mentors would advise for more painful stories of death and loss. The stories I use may be simple, but that is what connects with the audience and that is my differentiator. There is no pressure on me to say something new but to just tell them something they already know in a different way. In 2014, I used to be more dramatic in the typical Toastmasters way. I have now made a shift to be conversational and subtle.

The ISC seems to have become a formula based speech contest. Do you think it lacks innovation?

There is no guideline, the only thing that is common is the ballot. One reason for the format is that the way we do things is just passed through generationally, for example, styles of evaluation differ from country to country. The way we prepare ISC is just like a frog inside the well. The second reason is false role modelling - in 2011-2012, there used to be overly dramatic speeches. When they won, they become the benchmark and the role model that is followed. Dhananjay and Qahatani had a more different style, more conversational.

Most people talk about things like bounce back from failure. But if you ask yourself what moves people, what they need - they need reassurance, they need to know that life will be better tomorrow. So the question becomes, how do you convey that, which comes to the power of the speaker. Like Dhananjay said that "You're special", but he said it in a way that made people go "Wow!". So that's what it's all about. How you say it. At WCPS, there are so many different cultures that you can't be very specific. You have to make the message more universal so you come to these same themes again.

Is there a WCPS club for speakers, winners or manytime finalists?

There are a few, formal and informal. There is a group called "The Finalists" which all finalists get added to where they analyze speeches. There is also a support group for runners-up like an AA meeting which is cute, to support each other as losers! There are many groups that get formed to explore different styles of speaking.

What does success look like for Aditya Maheshwaran?

My objective is to help people and organizations deliver on their strategy with better leadership and communicati in their stakeholders. I like helping people express themselves better and improve through small tweaks in the way they present themselves so they can get more value out of life.

One of the reasons I have been able to compete and each time get something out of it is because it is not my life goal, whether I win or lose. WCPS is a milestone yes, but not the ultimate goal. It can be a dream, never a purpose. The purpose is to tangibly help a person or organization become better as a result of my engagement with them. This helps me satisfy my purpose, so I can compete again and again without fear of losing.

Edited and compiled by Karan

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