Empowering students in their uniqueness
FOR this freelancer and startup founder, a typical day would consist of working at home, the library or anywhere with an Internet connection. Work also involves getting invitations for talks, posting updates on social media, writing content marketing materials and developing the Speak Up! Project, a social enterprise that focuses on creating a strong foundation of inner confidence by applying essential soft skills such as public speaking and debating in English.
Born in Kelantan and brought up in Perlis, 27-year-old Muhammad Aiman Azlan, or better known as Aiman Azlan, loves motivating the youth — something he has been passionate about since young.
He didn’t have an internship experience when he studied in Canada for four years other than giving a motivational speech during his second year at the university.
“I simply wanted to prove to myself that I can do motivational speaking via YouTube.
“My social media presence started with the first YouTube vlog I made in 2011. I didn’t want the fame to be empty and meaningless, so I decided to use YouTube to share my thoughts about things that I care about, most of them related to the youth.
“In my first vlog, I talked about the power of ‘The People’ and how it affected me in my effort to post this vlog. After it was widely shared around the world, my name became well-known. Funny thing is, I didn’t have any big dream to change the world or anything.
“I tried to be genuine in my online presence. I don’t shy away from showing my true personalit ity online, whether be in written or video form. I think that made it easier for people to connect with me and be in tune with the things I share.”
His videos slowly began to attract followers, up to a point where students at a Malaysian university invited him to give a talk after he graduated.
“I was sceptical a rs , but I decided to give it a shot and soon realised that I have a knack for public speaking,” said Aiman, adding that it led him to his current job as a moand tivational speaker founder of Speak Up! Project.
His Instagram and Twitter account — @ aimanazlan90 — have gained 27.3k and 70.6k followers, respectively.
If you still have something to give, then give. It is unlikely to have absolutely
nothing. Aiman said it was a long journey of discovery before he realised that studying human behaviour was what he loved doing the most and was one of the best decisions he had made.
As it was the university requirement to take up a double major, he chose to study Biology.
He said his defining moment was when he stepped foot on Canadian soil.
“I learned a lot about myself and about my potential. The journey to discover my calling is long and at some point, still ongoing, but I would say that my time in Canada was when I discovered so much about my life and what I want to do with it,” he added.
From his first year all the way to his final year, he was active with the Muslim Students Associavolunteer tion (MSA).
He started off as a during his first year and was attracted by the positive atmosphere surrounding MSA members and events.
“From my second year onwards, I joined the club as part of the core team — as their event coordinator — and I eventually became the sengraduating ior advisor in my year.
“I was exposed to the issues not normy mally heard in day-to-day interacpeople, tions with perhaps because these issues are sensitive in nature. So anonymity might have encouraged eople to open up and reach out for help,” he said.
Upon receiving his Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Biology and Psychology, from the University of Toronto, Canada in 2013, Aiman returned to Malaysia.
“I wasted no time and started working as a freemotivational lance speaker. I went from schools to colleges, universities and organisations to give talks on the challenges ced by our youth,” he ded. Aiman started Speak Up! Project in 2015, under Aiman Azlan Academy, but soon realised that he wants people to focus on the cause and not his name, so he changed it to simply the Speak Up! Project.
“The idea for the project came from my five-year experience of being a motivational speaker travelling around Malaysia and beyond.
“Based on that, I found that most youths I met have similar problems. What I have identified as a major issue is the lack of self-confidence — especially when it comes to English speaking and communication in general.
“As a motivational speaker, I come to trigger a change in the audience and then I return home. Although that could be enough in some cases, it wasn’t enough for me.
“I wanted to commit to something more longterm in its impact. So I coupled my motivational session with training, through the Speak Up! Project.
“In the beginning, it was a solo effort. Now, I have invited a friend to join the cause. The two of us basically run the show together with the help of volunteers we recruited on a programme-by-programme basis,” he added.
The main aim of the Speak Up! Project is to provide a positive space for the youth to build sustainable confidence, through its signature three-step soft skills development programme.
Under the project, there are three important steps — Master Your Thoughts, which focuses on the mind; Master Your Words, on how to control emotions to covey ideas and messages; and Master Your Stage, where participants step out of their comfort zones and take the centre stage.
“We organise the programmes ourselves, focusing in the northern region because there aren’t such many initiatives around here,” he said.
“More students should have a secure self-confidence and be able to interact with themselves and others in a positive and mature way.
“They should be able to articulate and express their thoughts and ideas in a way that brings people closer and not break them apart.
“In saying all this, I do hope that our education system can contribute by empowering students in their uniqueness and by personalising education to fit their strengths.
“I just hope that our education system doesn’t put all students in a box and treat them as if they are all the same.
“If we do that, then it is likely that we will end up alienating many students, thinking that they are somehow ‘defective’ because they can’t excel in the system.
“In reality, these students are intelligent, maybe not the type of intelligence celebrated by the system. The self-confidence of a student could be crushed by the education system that should elevate it,” said Aiman.