Roshan Abbas and Siddharth Banerjee
Guest Article

"We're known to lapse into a Hindi or Urdu phrase if it makes the point well"

That's a line from a recently launched book titled 'Speechless', written by media-and-communication professionals Roshan Abbas and Siddharth Banerjee. It's a DIY guide to effective public speaking. An excerpt.

Arun Nanda had a reputation of being a great presenter and a fearless one. His successor once told me a story of how he was presenting in front of a board in Calcutta. Being a traditional hierarchical company, the founder-owner was being served a multi-course lunch during the presentation by an army of bearers. His subordinates also occasionally bought in sundry files to be signed etc. Mr Nanda had bought in some layouts for a latest campaign which had been placed on the large mahogany boardroom table. After a while of putting up with the frequent interruptions, Mr Nanda walked across and picked up all the layouts and signalled his team to leave. The shocked client did not know what hit him. Mr Nanda explained politely, 'I know you are busy. We have spent a lot of time and effort on this work, so we will present it when we have your full attention.'

"We're known to lapse into a Hindi or Urdu phrase if it makes the point well"

Front cover of the book
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He needed his audience to listen and the next time listen they did. Getting an audience to listen is a tough task. We have already shared some techniques on that as starting points. But there is another form of listening. The one that happens while you are presenting.

I used to pride myself on being a good stage actor. I took part in a disastrous one-act play contest being judged by a famed theatre director. I was loud and clear across the hoots of the audience and so was called by him for a professional audition a few days later. When I read my audition piece he said, 'Weren't you the boy in that Somerset Maugham adaptation?' Flattered I said, 'Yes. But how do you remember?' He said, 'I normally look at my watch once if I am bored in a play, in your performance I was counting the seconds till the end.' He did accept me to the group but warned us of multiple non-verbal ways to listen to an audience during a performance. I have adapted the same during doing presentations on stage as well.


"We're known to lapse into a Hindi or Urdu phrase if it makes the point well"

Roshan Abbas

"We're known to lapse into a Hindi or Urdu phrase if it makes the point well"

Siddharth Banerjee

While it is important to be fully prepared on what you are going to say, it is equally critical to keep your ears and senses open to listening to your audience. In our view, listening is not just a passive exercise, but a very active conscious act which is critical to communicating effectively.

The key objective of listening is to assess if your message or your ideas are connecting with your audience and further to process the mood and interest levels of your audience.

To get started, consider asking the following three KEY questions:


Is your audience engaged with you? Spend some time to hone your abilities to listen closely. Keep an ear out for indicators-the crunch of chips-coughing-phone tones-chatter etc. These are all lead indicators of potentially disruptive incidents-big or small-while you are speaking. Instead of looking at our watches, we now look down into our smartphones with our shortened attention-and you know that speakers have a bigger challenge on their hands today than in times of yore. Our view is that any interruptions must be anticipated and eliminated either before taking to stage or addressed adroitly while you are speaking.


It is not necessary that every presentation that you will give will have a familiar, receptive audience. Every conversation will not happen with known people. In situations where you are faced with an unfamiliar/unfriendly audience or new people, it helps to scan the audience and look for supporters. Whether you have to land ideas in a boardroom, or in a family conversation, or while speaking to a large audience in an auditorium, a friendly face or a face with direct eye contact nodding in support helps. Therefore, listen in keenly and assess if you are building rapport and support as you go along. Also, if you interact with your supporters in the audience, you can quote them back and get further people in the audience to align behind your message, thereby increasing your odds of success to land your ideas more effectively.


Our trade secret to leaving people SPEECHLESS with awe is that we try to make everyone in the audience into a mini-star. We use all the available information that we glean by closely listening to our audience so that we can appreciateand recognize people from the audience, which goes a long way in engaging our audience effectively. Hence, we believe that LISTENING is an active and critical tool when it comes to building bridges with our audience, which ensures that we rally the audience behind us and our ideas, by acknowledging people in the audience.

While the PREPARE step of SPEECHLESS certainly helps in assessing your audience beforehand, there is value in LISTENING to make sure that you are building support and consensus in your audience, even if you do not know them at a personal level.

An aware speaker knows which parts of his arguments or ideas are landing. For example, if you are keenly scanning and you can see grudging nods from audience members who have looked sceptical thus far, you know that you are building support for your ideas.

Another tip is to use your knowledge of your audience to connect with them in their 'language' or vocabulary-whether it is using a term/phrase familiar to them or using an incident/example from their lives to highlight a point you want to make.

We are known to occasionally lapse into a Hindi or Urdu phrase if it makes the point well. For example, we love how Sadhguru is able to speak the contemporary corporate language while he shares his wisdom built on ancient principles.

Lastly, it often helps to charm and win over an unfriendly audience if you honestly accept a challenge point (assuming of course that the point being made is valid) from a member of the audience who might not agree with you. Then-and here is where experience comes in-the trick is that if you can then build on it with your evidence and point of view, to still land your central idea effectively.

PRO TIP: It would be useful to remind yourself is that you, as a speaker, are not there to impart 'gyaan' to your audience since they could be in the know as much, if not more, as you. You are there to share your personal POV and perspective, in the most authentic and cogent manner as possible, hoping to land your ideas effectively. Hence, LISTENING for feedback becomes a key skill.

At a conference with multiple speakers I overheard people saying that there was so much to learn in each session and they were telling friends over lunch what they had missed. I had to speak on day two. I went and looked at all the presentations made by people on day one and my own extensive notes. My presentation was on the art of the pitch. Everyone who had spoken had pitched themselves or their professions. I merely reduced each of the speakers work to a stand out line. This was the first ten minutes of my talk.

And each slide was shared numerous times by people. Listening can be done during tea breaks or convenience breaks when people are most open to water cooler conversations. They are unguarded and real. Listen in and you will pick up a nuance or two. Or who knows a key line to open with?

(Published by Bloomsbury, 'Speechless' has 132 pages).