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Students Discover the HeART of Public Speaking

24 Sep 2013

East Asia Summit Conference on Bilingualism

Rebecca Tan (left), 9, a student at CHIJ Our Lady of the Nativity, spoke about her domestic helper, Tita (right), at the 27th YMCA Plain Speaking English Award (PESA).

How would a nine-year old explain the concepts of "Love and Care"? For Rebecca Tan Hui Juan, nine, a student at CHIJ Our Lady of the Nativity, one person who embodies this is her domestic helper from the Philippines, whom she lovingly calls "Tita", which means "aunty" in Tagalog. For the past 17 years, Tita has been working for her family.

Speaking enthusiastically, Rebecca related humorous stories of Tita adapting to life in Singapore, and easily captured the attention of all present at the 27th YMCA Plain English Speaking Awards (PESA) Ceremony held on 18 September 2013. The annual PESA, which drew 278 participants from 128 schools this year, exposes students to the rigour of research, practice and delivery of personal views in front of live audiences.

East Asia Summit Conference on Bilingualism

The annual YMCA Plain English Speaking Awards provides students at all levels with a platform to develop their public speaking skills.

Students compete in categories according to their age. Rebecca was the champion for the lower primary category this year, and Rushan Bin Abdul Rahman, a final year student at Temasek Polytechnic, topped the Junior College, Centralised Institute and Polytechnic category.

"It's absolutely essential to learn to speak well," said Rushan, who feels this is so, especially in a globalised world.

Speaking from the Heart

East Asia Summit Conference on Bilingualism

Rebecca spoke enthusiastically about a topic that was close to her heart - her fondness for her domestic helper who cares for her family.

One reason why Rebecca could speak so convincingly was because the topic was close to her heart. The effort and time that Tita takes to help care for her large family is not lost on the young girl. Rebecca shared how Tita had to learn to cook for the family and look after four children.

"She's an inspiration to me," said Rebecca.

"Telling the story about Tita was easy, because Rebecca could personalise it from her own experience," said her mother, Mrs Maria Tan, "Speaking on stage has also helped Rebecca to build her confidence and it is very good exposure for her."

The ability to communicate effectively is not the only focus. Mrs Tan often tells Rebecca that she must learn to reciprocate the love and care that Tita has showered upon their family. She encourages Rebecca to continue to keep in touch with Tita and support her even after she returns to her home country.

Speaking from Personal Experiences

As for Rushan, he was quick to share his personal tips on public speaking.

"I encourage young students to pick up a book and read, watch television, and take part in as many public speaking activities as they can," said Rushan.

East Asia Summit Conference on Bilingualism

Rushan spoke about how he found a new direction in life as he viewed an exhibition in the Singapore Arts Museum, which all the finalists visited.

Practice has certainly helped Rushan in his public speaking skills. Since young, he has had many opportunities to give presentations and was often encouraged to speak publicly. But it was the personal touch that made his speech truly engaging, when he spoke about how he found his direction in life.

As a final year student working towards his diploma in Veterinary Technology, Rushan was considering his next step in life. While walking through the Singapore Art Museum, which all the finalists visited and had to base their speeches on, an installation artwork struck him. Stella Caves II, which Rushan described as a "cave-painting constellation tapestry", reminded him of his enthusiasm for the environment as a young boy. The emotions he felt as he looked at the lit shapes of animals in the dark room was akin to what he felt when he was surrounded by nature.

"The art exhibit was one of the things that helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my life," said Rushan, who carried the audience along as he shared his journey of self-discovery.

It all goes to show that having the skill and confidence to speak well is only half the battle won. What we say and how we say it plays a large part in letting the audience into our world and sharing our personal experiences. To be an effective communicator, whether in a personal or professional context, we need to start from within - drawing from our thoughts, beliefs, values and experiences to engage and persuade.