As I stepped out of my office building, having walked a yard or two towards the gate, I saw a well dressed young boy coming towards me. Despite my thinking wires drawing numerous connections during those few seconds, I failed to recognize him. “I saw you; you were the commentator for the cricket match the other day” he said, almost startling me. The little apprehension that I had built up by then eased and I smiled to say “yes it was for the cricket match held on the occasion of World Hemophilia Day”.
Just when I thought he was there to tell me that he liked the event or that I did a good job, almost instantaneously he said “I want to talk like you, to impress people; to ‘mute’ the smart guys in my group; I don’t have a problem with English but I want to speak fluently when in front of a group”. What he said was interjected with almost a score of filler word ‘like’.
“May I know your name” I asked him. He was a fifth semester MBBS student of Kasturba Medical College, Manipal who hailed from Uttar Pradesh. For the purpose of anonymity let us call him Kumar. For the next five minutes or so, Kumar told me that he has been trying hard himself to be a better speaker, that he has read Dale Carnegie’s book on public speaking, that he has no difficulty in grasping English, and yet again he mentioned that he wishes to ‘mute’ all those boys who can speak fluently and have their way despite lacking in content.
The peer pressure to be impressing, to speak fluent, to outsmart was clearly weighing heavily on Kumar. So much so that he appeared forlorn, depressive, hyperactive, all at the same time. To those whom public speaking comes naturally will never understand Kumar’s predicament. Beneath the dilemmas he was facing is the issue of expressing oneself and in a manner that is in vogue; the issue of having self confidence; and a basic aspect of human existence – the issue of communication.
Feeling deeply concerned, the first thing I suggested him was to try to stop thinking that he should learn skills of public speaking just to prove a point to his peers. Clearly he has been feeling inferior owing to his lack of communication skills. I told him he was not a bad communicator, for he was actually doing it well and effectively. But he aimed for the ‘flair’. I told him my story of how from being a shy and silent boy, with absolutely no public speaking skills, I could bring myself to a point where Kumar took notice.
I shared with Kumar what I felt were the key changes that transformed me. I will be glad if it would help him. But it is not about Kumar alone. It is not about his lacunae. It is about him and of his ilk that face such issues. Admission to a professional course, medicine in his case, is a matter of pride and tremendous opportunity. Our education systems would probably churn out a professional in four or five year’s time. But what are these systems doing to address the problem like that of Kumar’s?
In case of a private medical college, the students joining come from various backgrounds, public schools, international schools, state boards, etc., Though the curricular content is standardized, it is expected from the young individual to ‘pick up’ rest of the skills in their journey to their degrees, communication skills included. Is it prudent to shrug the responsibility to provide opportunities so that everyone receives a fair chance to be at par? Is not it important to impart soft skills education and training in a professional course?
But let us take public speaking as the case in point, the point that matters Kumar enormously. It will be agreed upon that like other skills, it needs some amount of training. While its implications for a medicine professional are direct and plenty - be it explaining a patient’s condition to his family, presenting a research paper in a conference, in a classroom both small and large, debating efficacy of a medicine with a panel, delivering a keynote address, appearing for promotion interview, or in case the doctor decides to become a politician; nothing is done in order to impart this skill.
The onus is on educators to introduce communication skills, public speaking included, to the young individuals who would definitely enjoy learning it as it would help in expressing themselves, in boosting their self confidence, in being presentable, in bringing clarity of thought, in being impressive in what they speak, or in the case of Kumar to at least feel confident among his peers. Perhaps it is time to give due importance to all those skills which address communication conundrums.