The Spirited Toastmaster – Annesha Dutta
Pradhyumna Rao | Jun 19, 2017
The month of April was home to a culmination of various workshops on culture, arts, and personal development. The most fearsome aspect in general public, the fear to speak and express, the fear of public speaking was dealt with in a workshop by the area director of H2, Toastmasters International, Ms. Annesha Dutta. Monday Morning caught up with the vibrant persona on a fine evening, indulging into her inspiring life.
MM: Can you give us an insight into your personal life
AD: As the song goes, “I’m a small town girl”. Born in Kolkata, schooling in Bangalore and Jamshedpur – I loved growing up and my school – Hill Top School in Jamshedpur.
Jamshedpur gave me the best schooling possible – the warmest of friends – the best of teachers and the drive to work hard and make something of my life. This was compounded by my mother’s struggle since my father passed away when I was 10 years old.
As Charles Dickens says, “Those were the best of times. Those were the worst of times.” – Looking back, that immense financial struggle shaped me, I have self –funded my education by taking up tuitions from the age of 17.
Always good at academics and dance, I went on to study English Literature at St.Xavier’s College, Kolkata – a dream come true.
After the initial culture shock, I stayed on in Kolkata, M.A; M.Phil (Eng Lit) and wanted to go for journalism in IIMC, Delhi but didn’t have sufficient financial assistance. I got into teaching and started loving it, ten years on. I’m the biggest bookworm in the world and yes, I can take that challenge with anyone. I love dancing; writing and charcoal sketching.
MM: How did Toastmasters happen to you? Why Toastmasters over the others?
AD: It is how some things happen to you in life. In December 2014, my brother, working in Cognizant and looking to go for an MBA, was advised by ‘Career Launcher’ to try public speaking with Toastmasters. My brother was busy that evening and he asked me to go check out this place, ‘Salt Lake Toastmasters Club’. I walked into the classroom of IIFT that evening and fell in love.
The positive atmosphere of the room, the encouraging people, the diverse stories and the passion that this small group (now 35+ members) displayed for public speaking. The feedback and building each other’s leadership skills together was something phenomenal.
Being a college professor, I am not used to receiving feedback and Toastmasters changed that. Also, delivering speeches, writing my stories, researching for material from daily life, books, and movies and finally, going on to take up the leadership role of ‘Area Director’ for one of the regions in Eastern India. I changed in multiple ways just because of Toastmasters.
MM: How has efficient public speaking changed the course of your life?
AD: I was such a painful introvert that this one time, when I was about 12-13 years old and my mother dropped me off in a salon for a haircut and the salon lady asked me how I wanted my hair. I was so shy I couldn’t answer and she kept on chopping off my hair till my mother came back and yelled at her. The salon lady said, “Ye goongi hai kya?” (Is she dumb?).
Today, I have a YouTube channel for public speaking and communication; ‘AskAnnie’. I take training for corporates and colleges and speak to the best of minds in Eastern India and of course, every day, I walk into an MBA classroom and I teach. This is all because of public speaking. Age and education do give you confidence but learning the skill of efficiently expressing yourself in public is a gift, a gift we all need to share our ideas and thoughts with the world. Believe me when I say it’s not an art. It’s like learning how to ride a cycle, difficult at first but you will fall but once you learn, you will never forget it.
MM: You were a teacher at a very young age. Why teaching?
AD: There’s this funny anecdote. My father had taken me to meet the Principal of Hill Top School, Jamshedpur for my admission in class 1. Mrs. Bedi, the Principal asked me one question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I answered “Teacher”. She was so happy she asked me to join, immediately.
As far back as I can remember, I have loved teaching, taking attendance, scrawling with chalk, listening to (sometimes imaginary students’ answers). Three of the best people in my life – Mr. Amit Bose, Mr. Rohinton Kapadia and Mr. Partho Mukherkji were my teachers. I wanted to be like them, the way a teacher can impact your life, no one can.
I love the movies, ‘Monalisa Smile’ and ‘Dead Poets’ Society’, it shows how teachers can shape you by believing in you, supporting and pushing you to excellence. You can forget everyone but never a good teacher.
MM: You are also associated with the national organization ‘Teach for India’. Can you share your experiences with us?
AD: The year was 2010. I had been a lecturer in three colleges before that, at that time in Bhowanipore College, Kolkata. I was in a mall when I saw this ad – “Are you ready for a challenge? Find your ‘I’. Come join the Teach For India Fellowship. Let us give children an excellent education.”
Something about the slum school shown in the ad caught my eye. I went back and researched. Driven by Swami Vivekananda, I have always believed in our duty to uplift India. I don’t why but I just went to the website and applied for the two-year full-time fellowship to teach in an underprivileged school in Pune. At that time, Teach For India was in 3 cities.
I was selected after a rigorous process and 2011 changed my world. ‘Teach For India’ is the toughest thing I have ever done but it’s the journey I am most proud of. I had to change myself rigorously to be disciplined enough to lead my assigned class of 30 class 2 students to be able to read, write, speak fluent English and be on par with other students their age in Mathematics and other subjects.
Teach For India is a journey all of you, as students, must take. It will make you a leader and a gem of a person, the unconditional love of your students will drive you to change the horrible conditions they are forced to live, study and grow up in. It will teach you to fight for their dreams and it will make you believe that you can change your nation.
My happiest moment in ‘Teach For India’ was when my student, Nikhil, coming from an abusive home, went on to perform in a Harry Potter based play, confident and fluent in English, to a huge audience.
MM: You have a YouTube channel ‘AskAnnie’? How did it happen and can you elaborate on ‘AskAnnie’?
AD: I wanted to be the ‘coolest’ professor. A lot of my MBA students kept complaining that they can’t find good videos to help them understand the basics of job interview questions or how to deal with group discussions. Many said they didn’t understand how to make eye contact or give interesting presentations.
I was discussing this with my friend and fellow Toastmaster, Avinav Gupta last year. He suddenly said, “Well, you are a drama queen in your Toastmaster speeches. Why not do some drama on video?” So he shot my first video – ‘What is effective communication?’ After brainstorming with students, I got the name ‘AskAnnie’ for my YouTube channel.
It will be one year now and 30+ recorded and live videos and podcasts later, I’m surprised and happy at the impact that ‘AskAnnie has had.
A video is the future of learning and education – right from TED to Khan Academy to Lilly Singh, making learning fun and using video to drive social impact.
My vision for my ‘AskAnnie’ is to make it a brand for public speaking and communication, to use this platform for reaching out and building confidence and speaking skills in tier-2 cities and rural areas as well, much like the Idea ads go.
I have branched out into individual workshops and training in colleges and corporates well. The podcast series has been appreciated a lot. I loved interviewing Kirti Bhoutika, Masterchef India winner; Aditya Maheswaran – World No. 2 of Public Speaking and I hope to do many more.
Would love to have all NITR students subscribe to my channel and give me feedback!
MM: You are currently an assistant professor at ‘Institute Of Engineering and Management’ in Business communication and an Area Director, Division H, District 41 Toastmasters International. How do you manage your work and Toastmasters International?
I don’t….. I’m just always late everywhere!
Honestly, I’m an impulsive person, add to that, I’m a perfectionist. It’s the worst combination possible. Time management and prioritization have been my biggest challenges and still are.
Having said that, pressure transforms a coal into a diamond. I had to push myself and manage my time a lot to accommodate both my passions – teaching and Toastmasters. Most importantly, I learned that time management is useless till you learn emotion management. Knowing yourself, knowing your strengths, weaknesses, working style, insecurities and the ways in which your moods can sabotage your work, keeping yourself disciplined, healthy and positive, seeking help and delegating, managing yourself before managing anything else. This is crucial.
No one teaches you this, which is why you must take on more than you can handle. Even if you fail, you will have stretched your capacities and learned to adapt.
MM: How did you come to know about Roots? How was it being a part of Roots?
AD: Our District Director of Toastmasters, DTM Mukesh Kumar and the Area Director for the NITR Toastmasters club, Anirban, connected me to Abodid who has made the dream of ‘Roots’ come alive.
I was delighted to find that an event was focused on culture, design, films, art, and communication, especially in a technical center of learning. Privileged to be considered as a speaker in an event where so many mindblowing talented and creative people had come in, all so established in their fields. Ranganath Krishnamani Sir was a tour de force – we interacted for just a little while but he left such an indelible impression on me. Saptarshi, Darshan, and Paresh, they introduced me to the world of design and we still keep in touch, having promised to help them out with overcoming stage fright for future occasions.
The student coordinators team; Neha, Sushovan, Chandraneel, Samyak, Sumeet, Rites to name but a few and the vision and driving force of Abodid. Hats off to the excellent job you all did. I felt so warmly welcomed and everything was run so professionally.
I hope ‘Roots’ will be a annual feature of NITR and more power to you!
MM: How did you feel about the workshop and NITR?
AD: The purpose of my workshop in NITR was to raise awareness about the importance of public speaking and remove the stigma of standing in front of people and communicating. The workshop was well attended by students from the first year till the fourth and some Ph.D. students.
Personally, I loved the interaction with the bright minds and I hope the discussion on ways of overcoming stage fright and hassles of public speaking has helped. A special ‘Thank You’ to the Hourglass NITR Toastmasters club team who provided a lot of insight about the challenges students face.
Hope you all can be more regular with attending the Toastmasters club on campus and avail of the innumerable resources and learning from the event.
MM: Your message to the students of NITR?
AD: I would like to quote Cal Newport from the amazing book – ‘ So Good They Can’t Ignore You’:
“Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you in your quest to become, in the words of my favorite Steve Martin quote, “so good that they can’t ignore you.” In other words, I am suggesting that you put aside the question of whether your job is your true passion, and instead turn your focus toward becoming so good they can’t ignore you. That is, regardless of what you do for a living, approach your work like a true performer.
“If you want to love what you do, abandon the passion mindset (what can the world offer me?) and instead adopt the craftsman mindset (what can I offer the world?)
“Think small. Act big.”