SILENCE fills the hall. A roomful of eyes are focused on you. You take a deep breath and wipe the sweat off your palms. Composed and confident, you walk on stage. Suddenly, your biggest nightmare comes true: You're lost for words.
Speaking in front of a large crowd makes most people nervous. For 16-year-old Anisha Pradhan, the challenge was not only to speak but also to think on her feet during the impromptu speech competition at the South-East Asian Forensics Tournament held recently.
“It was mind-boggling making sure I did not babble or talk over the time limit of five minutes,” says Anisha who also took part in both the debate and duet acting categories.
Charming the judges with talent and wit, Anisha spoke on the topic May the best man win and won a gold medal for it.
“It showed me that my ability to crap is there and I had a lot of fun twisting things around,” says the SMK Assunta student.
Of the 21 participants from her school who entered seven categories this year, eight contestants made it to the finals and two emerged winners in the Impromptu (gold) and Original Oratory (silver) categories. With their active participation and excellent performances, the school once again proved its quality and distinction by winning the Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz Challenge Shield for the fourth time in seven years.
The shield is awarded to local schools which are active in competitions and workshops organised by the International School of Kuala Lumpur (tournament host) in efforts to promote ties between international and local schools.
“Entry into the competition is by invitation only. Our school has had the honour and privilege of being involved from the start and we usually send about 20 students to the tournament every year,” says English Literary and Debating Society teacher advisor Veronica Narayanan.
Awarded the inaugural shield in 1997 at the 19th Forensics Tournament, the school has won the shield every alternate year in 1999, 2001, and 2003. To date, Assunta has bagged 17 gold, 16 silver and 12 bronze medals in various categories.
“I believe we won because of our Assunta spirit. It's our buoyancy, our sisterhood and our positive attitude in overcoming anything,” says English Literary and Debating Society president Dhivia Dharshini, 17.
The term “forensics” has nothing to do with medicine, but rather, speech and rhetoric; it is witty, satirical, and a creative art of thinking on your feet. Thus forensics is synonymous with the power of speech in its infinite forms, such as oratory, drama, and debating.
Full of bull
The tournament is divided into seven categories – Original Oratory, Oral Interpretation, Solo Acting, Duet Acting, Impromptu Speech, Extemporaneous Speech, and Debate.
Each of the seven events demand special skills as the orator, actor and reader tries to make the words dance from the page to amuse, enlighten, convince or electrify an audience. It is a daunting task indeed. Inspired by her own personal experiences, Dhivia composed a unique piece, entitled Full of Bull for the Original Oratory category.
“It only took two hours for me to compose the piece as the topic relates a lot to my life. No one escapes from some form of lying, whether it's being lied to or you yourself telling white lies to cover up certain mistakes,” says Dhivia who won the silver medal at the tournament.
A total of 12 schools took part in the tournament, including four international schools – Garden International School, International School of Kuantan, International School of Kuala Lumpur, and Kolej Tuanku Jaafar. The local schools included SMK La Salle, St John's Institution, and SMK Convent Bukit Nanas.
“The students develop self-confidence, team spirit, mental agility and nerves of steel. They share stories, heartbreaks and victories and hopefully build friendships and an enlarged awareness of life beyond racial and geographical frontiers,” says Narayanan who has 24 years of experience as a coach and judge in the tournament.
Some categories are more daunting than others.
“Extemporaneous Speaking is very political and depends a lot on general knowledge. It's deemed scary because politics is scary and one must present nothing but hardcore facts,” says aspiring diplomat Bavani Ponniselvan, 17.
Auditions are held in school several weeks before the competition and students are required to come prepared with their own literary pieces.
“One of the most important elements of the tournament is content. Students are not allowed to use fairytale pieces, especially in the Oral Interpretation category, so they resort to bookshops, the Internet and friends as sources for their pieces,” says Narayanan.
The game plan
How does Assunta outclass its opponents?
“I insist on standards; it's either shape up or ship out!” says Narayanan, adding that studying the critique sheets and noting its rules helps in determining important points of focus.
“By examining each student's strength, I offer advice on which category they should enter and having been involved in the tournament for so many years, I know what to look out for.
“Many extra hours are spent in school, rehearsing and polishing the pieces. Discipline is also important as students are required to prepare a lot on their own.”
Making sure students are mentally prepared before the competition is also key in winning, or at least in combating stress.
Says Narayanan: “We (teacher advisors) encourage them a lot and point out key areas for improvement. There is a lot of support, not only from teachers but from their peers who accompany them all the way to the tournament.
“I constantly remind them they should go with the intention to learn rather than to win. Most importantly, students should always be team players and I insist on team spirit.”
Success is sweet and the school aims to uphold its tradition of excellence at the tournament.
“The tournament runs in our blood and we have high expectations to live up to. Assuntarians will always be strong competitors in the tournament,” says Anisha.
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