I recently joined Okayama Toastmasters Club in which the members strive to achieve personal development through delivering speeches in English. My first introduction to the club had left me with such a strong impact that I just jumped at the opportunity to attend an international speech contest. The speech contest was held in Osaka on May 12, 2002 with 9 speakers participating from Canada, Hong Kong and Japan, where Japanese contestants as well as native English speaking contestants successfully proved their excellent communication skills in English, beyond the differences of their mother tongues. The speakers carefully selected subjects that held deep meaning to them in their lives and presented them with such dynamism and eloquence to enthral the audience with their unique experiences. The first prize went to a speaker from Hong Kong and the second and third to Japanese speakers, but I must say that all the participants were almost equally brilliant in their performances. By the time I finished listening to each speech, I was made to feel as if I had shared the experience with each speaker.
The long history of the world has witnessed many powerful speakers who have expressed their conviction with the right words in the right manner and inspired people to achieve their highest potential. My first encounter with such a powerful speech was that delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. who, in his memorable speech, "I Have a Dream," had passionately advocated his dream of achieving a society where both black and white people would exist in equality. Though I was only a high school student back then, I recall having been deeply moved by this extremely persuasive speech where gestures, the tone of voice, pause and carefully selected words all contributed to make his speech an example of the fine art of communication. King’s speech inspired me not only to go out and seek some recorded speeches delivered by other influential people of the past, but also to participate in various English speech contests myself throughout my high school days. Although I never won a first prize in any of the speech contests I participated in, I remember feeling a deep sense of accomplishment after each experience. However, this passion had long been buried inside me until I visited this international speech contest in Osaka. I felt elated to share with each speaker the same passion that I once had.
With the world becoming increasingly international, we will have more opportunities to express our opinions in English. If we learn the art of speaking effectively, we will eventually be able to contribute to the betterment of intercultural understanding even on an individual basis. The Toastmasters’ international speech contest was such that it helped me become fully aware of this perspective. I am determined to give it a try myself when the opportunity arises.