The night before he had to make a presentation in class, Darren Tay couldn’t eat nor sleep. Fast forward 12 years, he has now become the first Singaporean to win the World Championship of Public Speaking in Washington, DC on 20 August 2016.
A past finalist of the YMCA Plain English Speaking Awards (PESA) 2005, the then Secondary 3 student at Xinmin Secondary School was never a fan of public speaking. “I was very afraid of speaking in front of people, so I try to stay on the sideline. During group presentations, I would be the one clicking the presentation slides,” said Darren. “One day, my English teacher finally realised that I’ve never presented in class and made me do it. The night before the presentation, I couldn’t eat nor sleep. All I did was to practice my script over and over again before the mirror. And finally the moment came, I delivered the presentation and till this day, I can remember clearly what my teacher said. “Class, that was an excellent example of how a good presentation should be,” she said. That really bolstered my confidence. Subsequently, she gave me a PESA brochure and encouraged me to participate. I was quite tentative about it, as I didn’t see myself as a very good speaker. But I decided to give it a shot, with my English teacher coaching me,” said the 27-year-old lawyer.
“PESA was an eye opening experience. I got to meet other contestants and glean some effective communication skills from them. The ability to stand on stage to deliver not just a prepared speech but an impromptu speech as well was a good opportunity to test my creative thinking and writing skills, and how fast I could think on my feet and respond to impromptu topics,” he added.
2016 marks the 10th and 30th anniversary of the YMCA Mandarin Speaking Awards (MSA) and YMCA Plain English Speaking Awards (PESA), which aim to develop students’ abilities to think and communicate effectively, sharpen their English and Mandarin speaking skills and build their self-confidence. The YMCA English and Mandarin Speaking Awards Ceremony was held at the Centre for Performing Arts, Anglo-Chinese Junior College on 16 September 2016. Mr Ng Chee Meng, Acting Minister for Education (Schools) & Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Transport graced the event as Guest-of-Honour.
“As the next generation of leaders, our youth have a crucial role to play in shaping our future and the potential to create significant impact in the community. The YMCA Speaking Awards is part of YMCA’s endeavour, designed to help develop critical thinking and speaking skills among our youth, allowing them to broaden their experiences and provide them with new skills to see them through life. Through experiencing first-hand the challenges and demands of speech delivery, participants pick up valuable life skills, such as effective communication, precision of speech, confidence and clarity of thought under pressure,” said Eric Teng, President, YMCA of Singapore.
Lucy Tay, Principal of St Andrew's Secondary School and daughter of the late Senior Minister of State for Education Dr Tay Eng Soon was the champion of the 2nd YMCA PESA in 1988. She then represented Singapore at the First Pacific International Final for the Plain English Speaking Award 1988 held in Melbourne, where she was the overall champion.
“Now as a school principal, I use public speaking skills all the time, and most of my speeches are prepared. But there are times when you must have to take the microphone and address the students, and of course that is something that PESA, I didn’t realise it at that time, has prepared me for,” she said.
Sujatha Pillai was 15 when she participated in the 2nd YMCA PESA in 1988. “Like any other teenager, I was nervous but I had to take my deep breaths and I had a trick. I would remove my glasses so that everyone would appear blur to me. I may not have made it to the finals but the experience was a platform for me to overcome my fear in public speaking. I learnt how to compose myself, collect my train of thoughts, and that was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve harness in this process,” she said. Now a Physical Education and Sports Science teacher at Innova Primary School, who has great passion for interacting with pupils, she leads the PESA programme in the school, helping to carve pupils into individuals who can speak confidently and spontaneously.
The annual YMCA Plain English Speaking Awards and (PESA) and Mandarin Speaking Awards (MSA) are national level public speaking competitions aimed at students to sharpen their speaking skills and develop their abilities to think on their feet and communicate effectively. PESA and MSA also help to address the importance of cultivating good English and Mandarin speaking habits. MSA is organised annually by the YMCA of Singapore and co-organised by the Ministry of Education and Promote Mandarin Council while PESA is jointly organised by YMCA of Singapore, the Ministry of Education and the Speak Good English Movement. The competition venue is sponsored by National Library Board.
A total of 414 participants from 169 schools participated in the 30th YMCA Plain English Speaking Awards, while the 10th YMCA Mandarin Speaking Awards attracted some 231 participants from 62 schools, ranging from pre-school to tertiary institutions. Through the competitions, YMCA of Singapore hopes to impact and nurture youths and build up their self-confidence and exposure to public speaking, helping them to develop thinking and communication skills which will last them a lifetime.