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MIT engineering student seeks public speaking championship

An MIT doctoral student who devoted the past seven years to detailed research on offshore drilling will have just seven minutes to make his mark in the Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking, starting today (Aug. 15) in Phoenix.

Vikas Jhingran, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical and ocean engineering, is one of 10 candidates competing in the three-day public speaking contest.

Jhingran's seven-minute speech for the Toastmasters championship is titled "The Swami." Using humor and broad gesture, he narrates a story of how he found the answer to unlocking his full potential through a visit to a neighborhood wise man, who asked him the provocative question "Who are you?"

Jhingran has been involved with Toastmasters for four years, and he credits the nonprofit public speaking organization with improving his confidence and transforming how he presents his research.

When he worked at an oil and gas company in Texas, Jhingran says, he was not allowed to present his own research. The company's policy was to hire trained public speakers to make presentations. Now, after much practice, he enjoys giving oral presentations.

Since arriving at MIT in 2004, Jhingran has been involved in leadership and communication programs. From 2005-2006 he was co-president of the Sloan Leadership Club, when he was the only officer from the engineering school and first non-MBA president of the club. He co-chaired the Sloan Leadership Conference in 2006.

As a teaching assistant for the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program (UPOP) during MIT's Independent Activities Period (IAP) 2006, Jhingran drew on his extensive leadership experience to mentor undergraduate and graduate students. He has also taught a workshop on public speaking during IAP 2006 and 2007 titled "The Charismatic Speaker."

"One of my goals," he says, "is to see a course in communication become an integral part of an engineering degree."

Toastmasters operates clubs devoted to public speaking throughout the United States and in 90 other countries worldwide.

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