How the JKH Speakers’ Club enriched my role as an L&D professional

By Rahees Rauff

“If you can speak, you can influence. If you can influence, you can change lives.” – Rob Brown

If an employee wishes to succeed in the corporate world, they need to develop the ability to inform, motivate and win over a crowd. But their efforts will be in vain if they do not learn and practice effective speaking skills and communication techniques. I personally have an affinity towards speaking, and glossophobia has never been an obstacle to me. What is glossophobia? It is the irrational fear of public speaking! This is a main reason why I am passionate about Learning and Development and employee engagement, as my strength lies in delivering trilingual training sessions over the past five years.

My first brush with the art of speaking at John Keells came about when I, as the Executive Learning & Development at Group Learning and Development (L&D), coordinated the Speechcraft Programme last year facilitated by the Colombo Toastmasters Club. Meanwhile, Anirdha Rajendran, the former Senior Executive Human Resources at Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts, wanted to establish a Speakers’ Club and shared a proposal with Group L&D. Around the same time, Dakshith Jayawardena, Executive Business Development from John Keells Logistics (Pvt) Ltd. also approached Group L&D with a similar idea after speaking at an Open Mic Session conducted by Group L&D as a part of their Home-Grown Series. Realizing that this club would be an ideal platform for employee upskilling and engagement, I collaborated with them to launch the JKH Speakers’ Club in August 2020 exclusively for John Keells employees with the support of the Senior Leadership.

The Club soon grew over the past ten months, with over thirty active members across Business Units and Industry Verticals of the Group, taking turns at round robin, table topics, and prepared speeches at physical and virtual biweekly meetings. My personal favourite is the round robbin session, as it is unique, spontaneous, and motivates us to speak up. I am a part of the core committee with a few fellow enthusiasts: Dakshith from the inaugural team; Clyde Rodrigo – Assistant Manager Learning and Development from InfoMate, Gihan Samarawickrama – Assistant Manager Sales & Marketing Operations from Ceylon Cold Stores, Shoma Poologasingam – Associate Forensic Data Analyst from Group Business Process Review (who was a high-performing graduate of an earlier Speechcraft Programme), and Vidath Samararatne, Executive Marketing and Corporate Communication from Group Corporate Communications. Together, we guide our members at the meetings, support them on their learning journey, and organize many events like the Futsal Night in March 2021. I look forward to actively being a part of steering the Club in the future, and we have exciting events planned!

In 2020, Group L&D identified that 25% of the training needs was for communication skills under the competency ‘communicates effectively’ at regular performance evaluations. While there are formalised and structured trainings to cater such needs, the JKH Speakers’ Club has a friendly and informal atmosphere that pushes us to come out of our shells and test our own capabilities. Our Club framework encourages members to learn at a higher pace while having fun. Experiential learning is a key method in adult learning, and this is the underlying advantage of voluntary clubs like this in corporate settings.

Although I had prior expertise in public speaking, I like to think that the Club has laid a foundation in helping me to develop my pronunciation, vocabulary, language, and most importantly, express my thoughts clearly and captivatingly. Being in the field of learning, I have grown rapidly due to the various projects I am involved in, as they contribute to my line of work as they are similar in nature.

I have developed many connections with like-minded individuals in other Business Units, and the rate at which I meet new people has skyrocketed since joining the club. Being a voluntary club with good visibility within the Group, I get the opportunity to mingle with a diverse set of people with different ideas, capacities, and ideologies, which combine to push the Club to become a place of innovation and improvement every time we meet. I now feel the pulse of learners across the Group.

Eagerly looking forward to each new meeting, I have begun to see it as a welcome break at the end of a long workday! Despite all our meetings currently happening online in accordance with safety practices in the new normal, I wish the situation will improve and we could meet each other in person and have a great time learning to speak in an entertaining and educational manner.