Behind the Scenes of Speech Olympiad XV

Nirodha Sampath Sandaruwan



By Nirodha Sandaruwan

“Listen, the work is behind the scenes. The competition is the easy part.” 

~ Usain Bolt.

It was a few minutes past five. The entire Civil Auditorium was filled with an air of excitement. Hundreds of enthusiastic undergraduates were seated in the auditorium, eagerly waiting for an extraordinary event to come, and five out of them were counting their fingers to step onto the stage. Stage… oh yes, the stage which was yet empty to the audience, but crowded by some hidden humans behind the curtains – the people who worked hard to make Speech Olympiad XV a phenomenal success.

Let me take you back to the beginning of July when it all started.

It all started with the appointment of the three dedicated Project Co-chairs Inodee, Oshan and Umesha and who were carefully selected out of the dozens and dozens of devoted and capable gaveliers of Gavel Mora. It was then followed by the appointment of the fourteen Pillar Heads for the five pillars of Speech Olympiad XV. The process of making countless WhatsApp groups for the various activities thus began. Each pillar was then briefed by President Suthira and we had to bear his so-called “Flagship Event” speech some 100 times or more. 

The ground was duly set for the journey but then came one of the most challenging tasks for the organizing committee – coming up with an appropriate and inspiring theme and tagline. Selecting the theme and the tagline cost us many nights of late-night zoom meetings filled with overthinking and overanalyzing, and we finally agreed to “Your Voice, the Spark of Change” as the theme and “Spark a Change” as the tagline. With that, the Speech Olympiad XV of Gavel Mora officially commenced.

The very first task we had to tackle was the Preliminary Round. We had to make the difficult decision of whether the Preliminary Round should be done virtually or in person. After many long hours of discussion and debate, even though a lot of planning and orchestration is required to conduct a physical competition, to give contestants a maximum real-stage experience, we decided on conducting the Preliminary Round physically. Thus, for the first time in four years, the contestants got the chance to become part of a large-scale physical intra-university speech competition.

Thanks to the handful of gavel designers who designed a truckload of flyers and videos, brilliant caption writers who elevated each design with their eloquent words, and our organising committee’s strong convincing skills, we were finally able to reach the anticipated participation and ended up with more than 60 preliminary round contestants. For the first time in the history of Gavel Mora, a Speech Olympiad website was made, to present all the information related to the event.

IMG-20221018-WA0009CaptureAs the preliminary round got closer, everyone got busy. The assigned mentors were busy with their mentees, helping them polish up their unique speeches. Some mentoring sessions dragged on well past midnight until the security guards found them and threw them out of the university. On the other side, our organising committee was working diligently to make sure that all the contestants could experience a great competition without any glitches. With a groundbreaking record of over 60 heart-touching speeches, the closing ceremony of the Preliminary Round of Speech Olympiad XV ended grandly with a brilliant impromptu thank you speech delivered by Project Co-chair, Oshan. It was only after the events of the day ended, well past 4 pm, did the organising committee realise that they were ravenous. The day concluded with a fulfilling lunch at K-Zone and a fond recollection of the events of the day.   

image (10)Then the second hurdle, the Semi-final Round, came. The Impromptu phase of the Semi-finals was a novel experience not only for the contestants but also for the organising committee. Since the competition was happening physically after 4 years, no one in the organising committee had first-hand experience with a physical Speech Olympiad, and we had to reach out to Gavel alumni for valuable advice. Especially, Alumnus Kasun Ranasinghe and Alumnus Rochelle Silva gave us immense support, both through their words and conducting preparatory workshops, for which we are truly grateful. We had numerous practice sessions (including some additional discussion-type impromptu practice sessions) to mentor the semi-finalists.

After so much effort, the day of the Semi-finals came. As walking on the slippery ENTC-1 stage with heels would be nothing short of an extreme sport, the organising committee decided to paste a carpet onto the stage. Since “old habits die hard”, even after that much preparation, the Semi-final Round started a bit late. At the very beginning, we had to check the mics and echo of the hall. The tedious task of constantly talking into the mic to test it was eagerly taken up by Selani Indrapala, and she kept the audience entertained with the most mundane and random comments.  By and by, the Prepared Speech Round went well and so did the Impromptu Round. After we witnessed twelve amazing speeches and wonderful music items of our very own gaveliers, five brilliant speakers were chosen to mesmerize us at the Grand Finale of Speech Olympiad XV. But… President Suthira did not allow anyone to leave, until all the double tapes on the stage, which we used to paste the carpet, were removed.

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“Can you see the finishing line?”, was a valid question that Malintha asked in his speech at the Semi-Finals. We indeed ended up looking for the finishing line, since the gap between the Semis-finals and Finals dragged on and on for more than five weeks due to the lack of availability of a suitable venue. After many rounds to the Civil Engineering department, and negotiations with the Catholics’ Student Movement, we were finally able to make a reservation at the Civil Auditorium for the 6th of December, 2022. Every dark cloud has a silver lining. The extra time we got because of the delay, we used to hunt advertisements for the Orator, the Speech Olympiad Souvenir and successfully collected a considerable amount of funds which was a bolt from the blue.

Once again, after the Project Co-chairs, the Pillar Heads, and the rest of the organising committee hurdled thousands of challenges, such as the designer crisis, putting up banners of finalists in University, and even convincing board members to wear sarees for the first time; they finally brought the baton to the day of the event. But no matter what, trouble found a way to hit us. Unlike any other day, once the power had come back, (For future reference: SO XV was organised in an era where we had 3 hours of daily power cuts) the fuses of the electric circuit at the back of the stage burnt out. Many thanks to the diligent Assistant Sergeant at Arms, Lathika, and the availability of many power extension cords, we managed to connect the stage lights and screens to a power supply just outside the auditorium and keep the show running. image (13)As the Finals of Speech Olympiad XV came to an end, Malintha was able to steal away the two mighty titles and be engraved on the shield forever. The grand finale ended smoothly, after which group pictures were taken. We stayed till so late in the night that the non-academic staff members had to switch off the lights to make us leave the premises. Amidst cricket commentaries, school sports meet adventures, ambarella seeds, not-so-heavy bags filled with interesting goods and sweet old ladies smiling from the 3rd row to the left in the audience, the 5 finalists delivered stunning speeches that will be remembered for years to come. Thus, the Speech Olympiad marked the conclusion of its fifteenth chapter and left us with some wonderful memories which we would reminisce about forever.

image (14)Yet, there are three questions that you better not ask the organising committee.

  1. How vegetarian food boxes were made using fish food boxes, in the Semi-finals?
  2. Where are the rest of the photographs of the Finals?
  3. When will the Speech Olympiad after-party be held? 

After all the sleepless nights, all the hassles and the arduous efforts, we, as the organising committee, were able to accomplish something tremendous, which we can always look back upon and be happy about. We hope that the speakers who sharpened their skills through the Speech Olympiad stage will achieve greater heights in public speaking.