The Expert Advice

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By Selani Indrapala and Malintha Fernando

Throughout the years, Speech Olympiad has been a platform where great speakers and great leaders were born. As we get ready to unfold a brand new chapter of this awe-inspiring event, we wanted to bring you some tips from one of our most illustrious and inspirational past champions yet.

Not only has he proven himself to be a brilliant entrepreneur as the founder and CEO of Ikon Marketing, he also currently holds the position of Executive Director of the Ceylon Robotics and Technology Corporation. Being CIMA qualified and a chartered marketer to boot, he also serves as a part-time lecturer in Wisdom Business Academy. Having clinched the title of Speech Olympiad XI Champion within a few months of entering university, he went on to become the Champion of the All Island Best Speaker contest in 2017.

Amazingly enough, the prodigiously talented Dulinda Perera is also still a final year undergraduate of the Faculty of Engineering, University of Moratuwa. We got the amazing chance to sit down with him for a chat, to find out exactly what tips and tricks he had in store for us.

  • During your very first year in university, you became the champion of the Speech Olympiad as well as the champion of the Best Speaker inter-university speech competition. How did you feel after winning those titles?

I felt amazing because it was a bizarre experience. As a fresh undergraduate, being acclaimed or appreciated was a vibrant feeling. Moreover, Gavel was a family that welcomed us, where we learned how to move in and move about. It created a safe and welcoming atmosphere, and then to go and triumph the signature event (Speech Olympiad) of that very family, and afterwards to go out and represent the club and win big, was a terrific feeling.

  • Gavel was one inspiration for you to take part in this competition. What other sources of inspiration were there for you to take part in it?

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Well, public speaking was an area I used to be passionate about, starting from my school days. But when we move down to Gavel, it’s the feeling that the Gavel family itself gave us; that you can aim big and try big, and even if you fail it is okay as it will carry you. That reassurance is what prompted us to give this contest a shot.  

  • You have been passionate about public speaking since you were young. So, in your opinion, why is the skill of public speaking important, especially for us as undergraduates?

It’s simple. You might have a vast knowledge, but if you do not know how to project it and communicate your knowledge, that would not have any value to you or to the society. For any undergraduate, acquiring the knowledge and knowing how to communicate it is equally important. Public speaking gives us that.

  • Let’s just think that someone is ready to take part in Speech Olympiad. How should he/she decide on what he/she is going to speak on? How should they narrow down on the core message?

Public speaking is unique to yourself, so you need to find out who you are initially. Are you a person who is good at humour? If so, your speech could be humorous. Are you a person who is good at spitting down facts? If that is the case, your speech can be factual. Are you a person who is good at touching emotional roots? If so, your speech can be emotional.

Sometimes what we try to do is, we try to recreate a speech that we have seen. But because people are different, your recreation might not be your best speech. So, you should talk about what you are passionate about, because the passion and emotion, and the extra bit of spark and flare are something that you cannot fake. So, first identify what you are passionate about. Then write a speech that your heart is very close to. So, the audience will feel it when you narrate it. They will understand how true it is.

  • It is very necessary for us to use stories in our speeches. Isn’t it?

I would say yes. A story is authentic as long as you don’t make it up. Sometimes just to have an additional bit of a punch you may have to make it up a bit, but not the whole story. Try to tell the truth. So, for you to make sure that your audience believes in that story, at least a part of your story needs to be real. You can add a bit of a tweak in the middle just to make it sound more interesting. 

  • Your speeches impact the audience. If you take a person’s life, they have so many stories. How do you choose that one story which has that impact on the audience?

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It drills down to you. You need to take a look at it. What moved me? If that chosen story does not considerably touch you, for sure that will not touch anybody else. So, find that one story that has moved you. Later, you can figure out what is coming your way. First, narrate your speech to yourself and see whether you are moved. If you are moved, then eventually everyone else will be moved.

  • Even if you have a great story, and if you don’t grasp the attention, the speech would not be successful. So, the opening is a great way to grasp the audience’s attention. Do you have any advice on making a great opening?

You must grab the attention at first and keep it till the very end. There are conventional ways of starting a speech like asking a question or telling something to the audience. They have been done many times. Five years ago, these were unconventional, but with the moving world, that has changed. So, now you have to find a little bit of an unconventional thing. Maybe put out a prop. Something as simple as bouncing a tennis ball on stage grabs the audience’s attention. Irrespective of whatever it is, do something that is out of nowhere, that people are going to feel ‘wow!’, and anything that is going to make your audience’s heads turn.

  • Now, we got the audience’s attention. We have to keep it strong through the speech. How do we arrange and structure the body of the speech so that our message is clear and impactful?

There are a lot of components. One thing is your voice modulation. Your voice cannot be monotonous. If your voice is monotonous, halfway through people will fall asleep. Breaking the story in the middle is also important. When you tell your story, bring in a narration of your own, just to create a bit of suspense; what really happened in the story? Also, use your stage. Do not stick to one place. So, engage your audience in a couple of ways and try to have some suspenseful moments in your story to keep the audience hooked.

  • That is easier when it is physical. But this time it is in a virtual setting. Do you have any tips on making the speech effective if it is in a virtual setting?

Frankly, I would not be the best person to be asking this as I have never done a speech competition in a virtual setting. However, now the aspects will logically come down to ‘Voice Modulation’ and ‘Story’, as there is no physical stage. As long as your story is interesting, you modulate your voice, and crack some jokes, the audience will be attracted.

  • Now we have the body of the speech sorted. When you gave your speech on ‘Just a crooked nose’ you ended your speech with “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”. It’s a very powerful and memorable ending. Do you have any advice on having a memorable ending?

Any point where you are presenting, when you are speaking or even having a conversation with someone, try to end with something that will leave your audience thinking “Wow, what that speaker said really is true.”. End it leaving the audience to talk about something. As long as you can do that, you are pretty much there.

  • Do you have any tips on practising a speech?

The most effective way of practising a speech is using a mirror, because you have to see some reaction. Otherwise, you are not motivated enough. So, look at yourself. Have good eye contact. When you apply this to the online model, look at your camera. So, the judge will feel as though you are looking at him/her. Also, you can use Zoom to practice.

The second thing is that you have to be in a moment. Don’t memorize words but memorize storylines. What happens when you memorize words, when you lose one word, from that point the entire thing will go off. 

Every time you practice a speech, you should feel it. You should be left with something to think about by yourself. That is the mark. If you reach that mark, then it’s spot on.

  • When we go on stage, we might go blank. We might forget something and start panicking. How should we handle such situations?

When you walk onto the stage, take your time. Many people rush so that they start panicking. In a speech competition, the timer starts when you start. So, take your own time. Look at the audience or camera, smile, and be human. You have to build a connection with your audience. Do not try to rush and get that added pressure. So, chill out, leave it be, and then carry on.

  • What should we do if we get stuck in the middle?

You will get stuck in the middle when you memorize words. If you memorize the storyline, that will not happen. You know in the story what comes next. You might not know the exact wording that you have prepared for, but you can just carry on with the story. You might not exactly tell that; but now, the risk is less. So, stick to the storyline and go for it.

  • You’re not just an engineering undergraduate, but also an amazingly successful entrepreneur and a part-time lecturer. How have Gavel and public speaking helped you in your career so far?

If you look at my career, all I do is pitching. I have a tech-savvier and very talented team. But the only thing that I do is project and communicate their knowledge and ideas to my clients. The reason why I am being highly paid is that I have the most interesting skill, and that is to pitch. If you do not convincingly lay your skill to the client, you are not going to get anything. 

If you look at me being a lecturer, I do not have much technical knowledge. But I know how to show my students the direction. So, if you look at any of my career trades, I have literally made a living for myself out of being a public speaker. You could say that it has benefitted me a hundred percent. 

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  • There is a saying that “Public Speakers are not born, they are trained”. What is your take on this?

Anyone is not born for that, they are made. But some may have a better advantage. For example, I have the genes of my mother. My mother is naturally a speaker. But if I did not do any practising, I wouldn’t have gotten to the point I am. If I trained more and followed Gavel for a longer time, I would have ended up being a better speaker as well.

The effort that a person  may have to put in, to reach a certain level  might be different, but anyone could reach out to that level. . This is relevant to any talent. Some people say that I am a born entrepreneur. No one in my family is an entrepreneur. They are all professionals in the fields they work. They have never taken that risk. Here, I am the black sheep of the family. So, there is nothing called genetics. I feel, wherever you put your heart and soul into it and where you find your passion driving through that, you go for it.

  • On a final note. Let’s say that there is a student at our university who is interested in mastering public speaking skills but is a little scared and unsure to take the first step. What piece of advice would you have for them, especially when it comes to opportunities like Speech Olympiad?

Many of my friends at Gavel took part in Speech Olympiad. The reason is that you do not have a fear of failing or a sense of competition at Gavel. Even at the finals we were chilling and cracking jokes. So, you do not have to be worried that this is a big competition. Just do it, to learn something new and for the fun of doing it.

Why a lot of us do not take that step, is because of our insecurities, like what if people laugh at me? and what if I get my grammar wrong? English is a foreign language. So, no one should laugh at a person getting a foreign language wrong. Get that mentality out of your head. 

At the same time, think of the worst outcome of it without stressing out. When you speak at Speech Olympiad, the worst that could happen is that you could lose, or somebody could laugh at you. Even if someone does laugh at you, does that bother you? No! Is it worth sacrificing a talent that would come useful for you? No! You will make use of this talent your whole life, in any career. To get something done, you will almost always need the skill to be able to convince someone. That is Public Speaking. So, go for it.

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True to his own advice, the ever-eloquent public speaking champion left us all very much inspired, convinced and more importantly, left us thinking deeply about his thought-provoking words.

At the end of the day, Dulinda showed us the importance of being brave enough to grab new and exciting opportunities, without worrying about what other people may say or think. What truly separates the extraordinary from the ordinary, is their passion to learn, their willingness to work hard, and their desire to be better than they were yesterday.

Indeed, that is what Speech Olympiad is all about.

So, what are you waiting for? The stage is yours.

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