Last November marked the 50th anniversary of the India-Singapore bilateral relationship. A special event, “Singapore Welcomes Modi,” was being organized to celebrate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Singapore. Some 20,000 people were expected to attend, and the event would be viewed by thousands more via live telecast and livestreaming.
This was the first time in Singapore’s history that an event on this scale was organized to recognize a foreign leader’s visit. Participants would include Indian expatriates living in Singapore as well as leaders from both countries within the political, business, diplomatic and bureaucratic communities.
I was surprised when I got the call to audition for the role of event emcee. The selection process was elaborate— a committee reviewed the profiles, watched sample videos and auditioned the candidates. The committee liked my profile and videos so much that they selected me without an audition. The recorded contest speech I submitted had been well-received; I’m sure having won third place in the 2015 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking helped. Being selected was both humbling and challenging.
I now had two days to prepare.
Hosting the event for Prime Minister Modi was a huge responsibility and extremely challenging given the tight time schedule. I worked with the various teams to understand the security arrangements and learned about emergency procedures and security clearances. A series of cultural programs had been planned, and I had to convey the information about each one to the attendees.
One of the keys to being a successful host is flexibility, and I was put to the test when the organizers canceled the standard video montage introducing the Prime Minister. Instead I was asked to do a verbal introduction. I had to speak impromptu as I invited the Prime Minister to the stage. The spontaneous lines I used were the most risky of all. They worked, and in the end, the organizers profusely expressed their thanks.
Throughout the event I spoke some colloquial lines to keep the energy up. I asked How are you? and said I hope you are having a good time in various languages including Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Assamese, Bengali, Punjabi, Hindi, Malayalam and Kannada. Some of the lines I recited to introduce the event’s programs were in Sanskrit and Hindi. Apart from these, most of the time I spoke in English.
The audience was not expecting such a variety of languages. I had asked them to cheer when they heard the name of their state or language. At one point I asked them to cheer for everyone! That was the highest point of energy, when 20,000-plus people cheered for each other! I had energized the crowd, and many still remember it.
The more I taught, the more I learned. The more I spoke, the better I got.
So keep improving your speaking skills and stay ready to take the stage. In the words of my mentor Ng Cher Khim, DTM, “When put in command, take charge.”
During my early days in Toastmasters, Khim suggested I volunteer as Toastmaster of the Day as often as possible. He explained the value of being in charge when events change. “It prepares you how best to handle unforeseen circumstances in speaking. It helps you to think on your feet, engage audiences, energize them and entertain them. You will learn how to be spontaneous.”
Eventually, I ran workshops on how to emcee and taught a program to enhance the professional competencies of hosts for all kinds of events. I began looking for similar opportunities outside of my club. The more I offered to host an event, the more opportunities started coming. The more I taught, the more I learned. The more I spoke, the better I got, all while delivering impromptu and contest speeches and being Toastmaster of the Day.
As veteran Toastmaster Ernest Chen, DTM, of the Toastmasters Club of Singapore, says, “The host is not the star of the show.” Being humble and flexible—yet assertive—is the key.