One in 101

We have some outstanding members in our District that step up and take on various challenges. This page recognizes these individuals.

June 2017 - Arjun Ajjampur

Arjun Ajjampur ACB, ALB

Master of None?

Arjun Ajjampur is a multi-faceted Toastmaster. He actively contributes to the Conference and Club Growth teams and has taken various roles as Graphics Designer, Event Photographer, and Club Officer Trainer. I had a chance to conduct a behind-the-screens Table Topics session with Arjun.

  1. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I am originally from Bengaluru, Karnataka, India. I have a Master’s degree in Industrial designing and worked in a few startups in India before moving to the US in August 2012. Apart from being a Toastmaster (with my home club, North Valley Toastmasters), my other interests include motorcycling, reading, and sketching.

  1. How and when did you find Toastmasters?

I heard about Toastmasters for the very first time from my wife, Mythili. I attended my first Toastmasters meeting in 2013. To be honest I didn’t find an immediate value and felt a little self-conscious of speaking. I always felt even though I knew the English language, my communication skills weren’t good enough. So I gave it a shot. But even before officially becoming a Toastmaster, I had an interest in sketching and arts. So I took up program designing for one of the District Toastmasters conferences. That gave me an idea of Toastmaster events even before I became a member.

  1. Do you remember your icebreaker? From then until now, how has Toastmasters helped you in public speaking?

Usually, people compare the rest of their speeches with their icebreaker and check how much they have improved over the time. Having an avid Toastmaster as my life partner made me deliver a very well-planned icebreaker. I put a lot of work into it and had my wife evaluate it to improve it before I delivered it to my club. When I started speaking, I would force humor. But I since developed natural humor in my speeches and all thanks to the Toastmasters’ experience.

  1. Of all the speeches delivered, which one of yours is your personal favorite?

I would have to say it is my speech for the 2015 Humorous Speech Contest. I shave my head these days, so I spoke about the time before I shaved my head and what I used to do then compared to after shaving my head. It received an amazing response and I advanced to the District finals of the contest.

  1. How do you come up with topics for your speeches?

Usually, I get inspired by the things I read. So my speeches are all based on the books and articles I read. Not just for writing speeches, reading also improves grammar in general. For example ‘Surely you are Joking Mr. Feynman’ by Richard Feynman has helped me come up with Humorous speeches. For topics related to science and nature, I have gotten my inspiration from Elizabeth Colbert’s ‘The Sixth Extinction’.

  1. Tell me about your interest in graphics design? How all have you utilized it for TM?

I have an interest in painting, sketching, and art since I was young. When I learned about designing the contest and conference programs, I wanted to try out. Even though I had an interest in designing, the procedure was completely new for me. So I had to learn about the Toastmasters procedure and how much work goes into it.

  1. You are a member of the Conference and Club Growth teams (Club Extension Chair & Club Ambassador Program Director). Tell me about your role and responsibility.

I enjoyed leading a team who were all working towards the same goal, i.e. conference planning. It was great to see many friendly faces enjoying the conference. Chartering a club is a very fulfilling experience. As the Club Extension Chair, it has been a wonderful learning experience. I talk to new Toastmasters clubs and members, facilitate demo dates, see how the chartering process unfolds, and also set up the new club by providing all the paperwork.

The Club Ambassador Program allowed me to understand how collaboration can help share best practices between clubs and thereby bring us closer as a community.

  1. Tell me about your interest in Photography.

To be honest I am not a keen photographer. I am what they call an “Instagram photographer”. I am more interested in the composition of the photos than actually clicking them. But I enjoy taking pictures at all the Toastmasters events as when I point the camera at people, they pause, smile and pose!

  1. What is your advice for new Toastmasters members?

In life, you always get what you put into it. So only by trying everything will you know what you want. Try out all the roles and opportunities in Toastmasters and don’t just restrict yourself to your club. Try to find opportunities outside your club and involve yourself even more.

— written by Gayathri Natarajan

May 2017 - Sriraj Vaidyanathan

Sriraj Vaidyanathan

Sriraj Vaidyanathan, ACB, ALB

From Computer to Communicator

From a computer science engineer from the city of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu in India to District 101’s Area C5 Director, Sriraj Vaidyanathan has come a long way – well, literally 8874 miles. When asked about his Toastmasters career, Sriraj’s eyes light up like a kid in a candy store! No wonder he is our 2016-17 District 101 Toastmaster of the Year!!

Sriraj met the current love of his life, Toastmasters, at his company, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Sriraj’s friend had casually invited him to a CSC meeting in April 2011 and within the first few minutes, Sriraj was already in heaven. After traveling and working in various countries, Sriraj landed in San Jose in January 2014 and found a new home club, Hot Buttered Toastmasters.

Sriraj served as the District 101 Conference Chair last Fall (in conjunction with serving as an Area Director), a role he says is similar to what a program manager does in a company. Listing out things to be done and tracking if they were completed were some of the chief tasks he had to do as the Conference chair. He admits he had no clue what he was doing when he first took on the role. But he felt lucky to have experienced team members who were familiar with registration formalities, printing promotional fliers, running the opportunity drawing, etc.

The biggest challenge Sriraj faced as the Conference chair was learning all the details that go into preparing for the Conference. Seeking experienced members helped him gain that knowledge. He also learned how to better motivate people to take on responsibilities for the missing roles.

Sriraj did miss a few things along the way and had to scramble at the last minute to complete tasks. He also felt he missed aspects of managing between less experienced team members and ensuring best practices for running a Conference were followed. Because of this, Sriraj stepped up again as the Spring 2017 Conference Chair to challenge himself to do a better job.

As a speaker, Sriraj’s biggest challenge is adapting to the audience, especially making them laugh during humorous speeches. Sriraj credits Kurt Sims from his home club as a great inspiration to him. Whenever he delivers a speech, Sriraj makes it a point to note Kurt’s reactions in order to gauge if his speech is good or needs improvement. He is thankful for all the feedback he has received, whether constructive or not since they have catapulted him to where he is now in his Toastmasters journey. The feedback has opened up new ideas and improvisations for him.

Outside of Toastmasters, Sriraj loves reading Harry Potter books (if he does read at all). He prefers watching movies and listening to music and was even trained in South Indian classical music for 7 years.

Sriraj plans to continue challenging himself in the future by participating in more contests and taking on another District Leader role. As our Spring 2017 Conference Chair, Sriraj already demonstrates that he is not afraid to step right back up to try things again. When asked to name one quality all Toastmasters should have, he doesn’t hesitate to say, “Willingness to fail”.

— written by Gayathri Natarajan