Most of us get by through school and sleep through college without opening our mouths in the classroom. But as you inch closer to graduation, start applying for an MBA or go for job interviews you discover the need for a whole new skill. The skill of holding forth in 'group discussions'.
The fear of opening your mouth in public and saying something 'stupid' or saying nothing at all is so high that it has spawned a whole new industry. Yes, there are loads of coaching classes now which hold mock GDs where people can practice shouting each other down, making sure they speak 'enough' but not too much, get noticed but not for the wrong reasons etc etc.
Now in case of an MBA your tryst with 'group discussion' does not end after getting admission. The next two years are spent in a few hundred more. At institutes where the 'case study method' is favoured, students become acquainted with a new term - class participation or 'CP'.
Some of the institutes helpfully provide name tags on desks so that profs can actually call you out by name and bark,"So Ms so and so - what do you think?" But in practice, it doesn't happen that often. Because the day is usually saved by folks who specialise in 'arbit CP'.
These are the handful of souls who have an opinion to offer on any and every subject. While a few, very few have a point to make, most speak for the sake of speaking. Hence the term 'arbit CP'.
Every class has its kings and queens of arbit CP. Ours was awarded the title 'Bubka' (after the erstwhile Soviet athelete who broke new records every time he jumped)
All this comes in handy at the time of summer and final placement interviews when most companies once again hold GDs.
Then, you join a company and what do you find? You still need CP. Every time a meeting involving more than 4 people is held you need to make a point every 12.5 minutes or so, just so the Boss knows you are a valuable resource to the company, especially when awake.
A few years down the line, you are now VP-sales and guess what, CP is more crucial than ever. You will be invited to 'conclaves' along with 6 other VPs where you will all discuss the changing face of the Indian consumer in class C, D and E towns with special reference to their milk boiling and wife swapping habits.
What's more, some of these debates and discussions are now televised. In fact there is a whole new genre of programming which can be called 'CP television'. This consists of getting 4 or 5 or 6 people with real or imagined expertise on a subject to get together and yak about it in a studio.
When that gets boring, occasionally, the venue shifts to a heritage building.
'CP television' can be interesting - or deadly dull - depending on the subject, the experts and the audience. If the moderator lets things go out of hand it can resemble a 'fish market' - like the average b school entrance GD. At other times, the discussion is as cold and dead as the fish on sale at that market...
And the reason I am inspired to write all this? My own recent tryst with yak-yak-television - as a panelist on the MTV-CNBC Budget Fundas 2006 show.
Overall, it was an interesting experience and I learnt many things. Including the fact that I still have a long way to go before I master the art of speaking on 'CP television'.