“Technology has given people a voice and identity”

10/09/2017 06:07 am ET Updated Oct 11, 2017

While some claim that similar media developments are not conducive to critical minds, others believe that these new ways of communication have led to increased levels of interactivity and connectivity which are essential to the evolution of the public sphere. Viewed from any perspective, the impact of media settings, such as TEDx Talks, have seen a rapid growth in recent years.

In this interview, the floor is given to Indian-born Sangbreeta Moitra. Currently based in the Netherlands, this TEDx award-winning speaker travels the globe with a clear objective in mind: inspiring individuals and organisations to transform their presence.

Sangbreeta Moitra: <em>“Public speaking, either online or offline, is by no means an ego stroke”.</em>
© Jassir de Windt.
Sangbreeta Moitra: “Public speaking, either online or offline, is by no means an ego stroke”.

HP: How has technology changed the intensity of communication?

“By and large, technology has given people a voice and identity. It has de-elitised communication and, in consequence, it has somewhat whisked away the paradigm that particular individuals or institutions are by definition unreachable.

As an example, growing up in India I was fascinated by the life story of Kristi Yamaguchi, a former American figure skater, who had overcome club-foot deformity and reached the status of Olympic champion. Years later, I opened my first international keynote speech in Barcelona by highlighting her story. Later that evening, I posted an Instagram note in which I tagged her – to my greatest surprise, she reacted to my post and thanked me. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that my idol would reach out to me. This scenario is a very modest example of the barrier-breaking effects of new media on young and old. It also goes to show that, be it through the digital roads, human interaction remains central”.

HP: What role did public speaking play in your childhood?

“I was drawn to public speaking from a very early age. I trained regularly, doing orations, recitations and debates while devouring books on the ideals of, for example, the late Martin Luther King.

However, in those formative years, my greatest passion and talent was limited to a hobby. In order to be regarded as successful by society, one had to become a doctor, lawyer or work for a big corporation. Against this background, I continued my education, which brought me to The Netherlands for a master’s degree at Leiden University. Hereafter, I started my management career in the pharmaceutical industry.

The moment of epiphany came when, after a significant break from public speaking, I gave a speech at Toastmasters International – I had joined this educational organisation as I felt that something was still missing in my otherwise comfortable life. Since then, I knew that this wasn’t just a hobby, this was my calling. Within six months’ time, and as the only woman amongst eight finalists, I represented The Netherlands in the 2013 European public speaking championship, bringing back the international bronze medal. Ever since, there has been no looking back.”

A childhood picture of Sangbreeta Moitra giving her first ‘talk’ back in India.
© Interviewee’s own collection.
A childhood picture of Sangbreeta Moitra giving her first ‘talk’ back in India.

HP: Is one born a speaker or are these skills acquired through sound training?

“As many others, deep down inside I always knew what I wanted. Nevertheless, nothing beats practice. For example, to win the TEDxRotterdam pitch award, it took me over 10 drafts and over 200 trials, all for five minutes on stage.

Like any other civil industry, the importance of mastering the art of communication deserves to be recognised and respected. A while ago, an interesting case was brought to my attention: a major corporation in the Netherlands had commissioned a seasoned and successful entrepreneur to give a talk. However, the person in question chose to dwell on mockery and gave a speech with no structure or message. This resulted in a bitter aftertaste for the audience. The reason I bring this up is to underline that public speaking, either online or offline, is by no means an ego stroke – it comprises continuous and earnest self-development, being open to feedback as well as having a high regard for an audience.”

HP: In her acclaimed 1974 speech, the late Indira Gandhi, stressed the importance of education for women and its link with creating a harmonious society. What role can public speaking play in fostering the presence of women in the workplace and society?

“In recent years, I have personally come to embrace two lessons from Indira Gandhi’s address: to believe in our own abilities and to have the nobility in supporting others to get closer to their dreams. It’s sometimes about small details. To give you some perspective, quite often when I ask audience members during my workshop exercises to state their occupation and goal, women tend to say: ‘I’m a manager/director/consultant, and I try to…’. These are experienced and prolific professionals, yet by turning to limiting jargon they trivialise their own abilities. On the other hand, it’s equally important to note that men sometimes struggle with the roles that some societies have bestowed upon them – they are often expected to be extremely confident at all times and not to show vulnerability under any circumstances. In this respect, both men and women are realising that conveying their message with gravitas is beneficial to their careers and personal lives”.

HP: Your personal cause is to revolutionise the realm of communication. How are you accomplishing this?

“I want individuals and organisations to be aware of the impact they are capable of creating. I want to challenge their mind-set by making them re-explore their footprints and discover how they can create sustainable connections through powerful communication and storytelling. Some might find this incredulous, but everyone is entitled to a legacy. To put it even stronger, we are all currently living our legacies. Through my talks and workshops on the power of connection and communication, I strive to make people aware of how they can leave behind a purposeful legacy, because in our mediatised world, no matter who you are, your message will resonate.

In all this, self-awareness helps us to filter noise and express ourselves more consciously. Bringing about change in the world always starts with your inner why. In the words of Aristotle: knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”.

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