Flights of fancy


FROM astronomer Galileo to NASA, the global political order and fashion trends, the young speakers impressed the adjudicators with their fertile imagination and creativity. In the preliminary round of the English Speaking Union of Malaysia’s (ESU) Public Speaking Union 2003 (central region) competition recently. 

A stifled imagination is unhealthy for the country, said one finalist in the final round of the competition while another said that an overactive imagination could cause harm too. 

“It is human nature to dream, and history has shown how great inventions have come out of great dreams,” said Calvin Lim, 18, who spoke on the topic “Imagination should know no boundaries.” 

The final round saw eight finalists in a battle of words. It was a long day for the participants with two rounds of prepared speech titled “ All work and no play” and “A healthy mind needs a healthy body”; and an impromptu speech under the general area of “Youth”.  

It was definitely tense, not only because of the stiff competition but also the controversial issues brought up including religion, sex and human cloning.  

However, the students should be commended for their mature approach on sensitive issues. In her speech, Mia-Germain Palencia, 19, pointed out that the pressure to conform is unhealthy and that uniformity imposed on youths will dull young minds. “ Youths have to stand up for their beliefs and dreams,” she urged. 

MAKING A POINT: Finalist Mia impressed the judges with her strong stand on staying true to one's beliefs.

Kenneth Lim, 19, meanwhile impressed the judges with his knowledge of space travel and NASA programmes, which he said could not have been implemented without some very imaginative scientists and astronomers.  

Although a few stretched the link between their speech and the assigned topics a little too much, chief adjudicator Dr Omar Salahuddin found their approach refreshing nevertheless. 

“It’s good that the contestants are handling the topics imaginatively. Ten or more speeches on the same topic will bore judges so it’s important to give the listeners something new.” 

“I don’t want to restrict participants in how they approach and explore the topic. As long as they can draw a logical link between the speech and the topic, they can be as innovative as they want. The adjudicators will not have a problem,” he adds 

This originality of approach is naturally structured into the competition, Dr Omar opines, and he is confident of the finalists’ ability to be imaginative without “losing the plot.” 

Dr Omar, who is also an ESU committee member, was impressed with the high standards of the participants. ”There were a lot of good speakers and it wasn’t easy for the adjudicators to pick out the winners, so all aspects were taken into account for the final selection, from method and stylistics, to the manner of delivery and content.”  

Eight speakers have been selected to compete in the grand finals. The top two winners will represent Malaysia at the international finals in London.  

The five finalists who made it from the central region competition held at KDU College in Petaling Jaya are: Jason Leong, Jean Lee Si Zhen, Mia-Germain Palencia, Kenneth Lim and Calvin Wong.  

The remaining three – who were chosen from the preliminary round for the northern region held earlier in Penang – are Christopher Ng, Vilashini Somiah and Mohd Nasrullah Zulkifli.  

They will compete in the national Grand Finals on March 29 at Hotel Istana, Kuala Lumpur. For the grand finals, the topic is “Youth is wasted on the young.” 

The competition is sponsored by HSBC Malaysia and jointly organised by The Star and ESU, a charity founded in 1918 to help bind English-speaking people in the United States and Commonwealth countries. There are about 50 member countries. The Malaysian chapter was set up in 2002.  

However, for Dr Omar, the big achievement of the competition is the interest it has sparked in public speaking. “The participants showed a real passion for public speaking and were conscious about how being good at public speaking could help them in their future careers.  

“A few who did not make it into the finals approached the adjudicators to ask for pointers and find out their weaknesses. This shows that the contestants were also using it as a benchmark to improve themselves and to become better communicators and public speakers,” he shares. 

The two representatives chosen from the grand finals will attend a champions’ training camp here before departing for London to take part in the International Public Speaking Competition in May. 

As a last reminder, Dr Omar says: “The finalists have been through two gruelling rounds and they know that now it’s down to one single speech. They have to impress the adjudicators while informing them at the same time. The speech must not only be expressive but also carry a message or moral . Good luck to all the finalists!” 

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