By Jeanne Tan (17A01B)
The small lecture theatre was silent. The finalists, including RI Gavel Club’s own Cheung Chun Jing (17A01A), filed out. I was sitting near the back with the other Gaveliers who had made the trip to Tampines JC. On my right was Manu Neethi Cholan Kapilan (16S06N), last year’s impromptu champion and probably the most nervous person in the room.
For the impromptu segment, participants were given a prompt with no preparation time, and had to speak on the topic: “There is no hardship, but workmanship, in leadership.” for no less than 1 minute, with a maximum of 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
There were five competitors in this round, with the first round being held two weeks earlier. The top five speakers had been chosen between two different impromptu rounds – one with five minutes prep time, and the other with no prep time – to compete for the challenge shield in the finals. First-timer Chun Jing was the only finalist from RI, and the only girl in the mix. The pressure was on her to win back the shield that Kapilan had (very reluctantly) handed over.
It was to be a tough challenge. With no buffer time, the winners’ fates relied on whether they could decipher the prompt on the spot. There was some degree of misinterpretation, a finalist at one point pausing his speech and asking the emcees to repeat the question. Nevertheless, VJC’s Ajay Nair gave a standout performance, using a personal example of a leader in his life. “He’s good, he’s good,” I could hear Kapilan muttering under his breath, teeth chattering. “I only beat him once,” he told me. “Granted, he only ever competed against me once, but still…”
But there was apparently nothing to fear. Chun Jing spoke with clarity and confidence, making full use of the body language and gestures that every Gavelier is trained in.
Afterwards, Chun Jing said that she “couldn’t even remember” what she said. “I was really nervous, but I was told to tell anyone who asked that I felt confident, and that was the attitude that I needed going into this competition.”
The second part of this competition was the prepared segment. With the broad theme of “Leadership”, contestants were given 3-5 minutes to deliver their speech. Due to time constraints, the prepared segment would be held in only one round, making it a challenge for contestants to make themselves noticed.
And right off the bat, the bar was set sky high. Each speech was well thought through and nearly all were powerfully delivered.
RI’s contestant was another first-timer, Alexander Er (17S06S). I was personally excited to hear him, as the preparation and training had been intense for him. Alexander did not disappoint, delivering his speech entitled, “Everyday Leadership”.
Starting out by posing a 50-dollar challenge to the audience, he captured our attention right away and held on to it, pulling us in with the idea that we become leaders through our everyday actions. A story about the simple kindness his father’s mentor did for a depressed stranger through an Aunt Agony column was especially powerful in driving his message, and Alexander even adapted quickly when one audience member responded unexpectedly to a question he asked. As a fledgling member of Gavel myself, I was utterly wowed by his confidence and delivery.
“Being a leader is not just about titles or positions, it is not about being a Prime Minister, not about being a prefect, not about being a chairman, it is about you and me impacting another person’s life, through the little things we say or do. Everyday. “ –Alexander Er
After this, there were quite a few speeches that were impossible not to notice. Johan Ding from ACJC shared a story about leadership and team spirit on the school rugby team. Lee Wen Qi from TPJC used the traditional Chinese character 聽 (simplified: 听, meaning: to listen) – confusing the Chinese-speaking audience for a minute – to stress that a leader’s role is about speaking with a loud voice, but to keep that voice in check and listen to those around you. Neo Ling Li from Dunman High School stood out for the personal story she used, where she, as a head prefect, invited the ‘ah lian’s in her school to confront her, to motivate them through personal leadership to tuck in their school shirts. With enthusiastic gestures and a clear tone of voice, I found her to be the biggest standout of the prepared segment.
While the judges deliberated, the guest of honour, Dr Chan Mun Kitt, gave a quick sharing, during which he listed three things for speakers to remember: know your topic, know your audience, know your context.
Besides deftly making use of the tripartite rule, Dr Chan imparted this knowledge through personal anecdotes, making it something I couldn’t help but pay attention to (who can resist the story of a guy who tried to give a serious speech at a dance party?) even when the slip of paper containing the results was passed in front of me from the judges to the emcees.
Finally, the moment arrived. I was on the edge of my seat. Kapilan was making the entire row of seats vibrate.
The emcees announced the top five winners of the prepared segment first. Despite my having taken meticulous notes, the results came as a surprise. Unfortunately, Alexander did not score a trophy. The names of the five impromptu finalists were called, one-by-one, in reverse order. The suspense hit its climax when, with only two names yet to be announced, the emcees paused to remind the audience that the winner would be presented with the challenge shield.
“Champion, Cheung Chun Jing from Raffles Institution.”
Chun Jing was presented with a golden trophy and the much-coveted shield by Dr Chan. Kapilan cheered and sank back against his chair as she made her way back to us. The RI supporters were the loudest in the room as we all huddled around her in celebration.
I managed to catch Chief Judge Mr Richard Sng, an experienced speaker and a longtime judge of the TPJC competition, for his opinions on the competition. He emphasised the importance of making your takeaway known, moderating body language, balancing the pace and tone of voice and strong language skills. He said that winners were not judged based on their charisma, but on the believability, relatability and content of their message.
All of the RI Gaveliers are proud of both contestants for giving it their best and making a wonderful effort in their first competition. It was the result of weeks of hard work, and as an audience member it was evident that it truly paid off in their performances.
As we all left the LT in jubilation, I asked Alex and Chun Jing for their feelings. Alex shared with me, “I may have not won, but it was an enriching experience and I have definitely grown as a speaker.” Chun Jing, ever humble, said, “I’m quite surprised [with the result], as I think Ajay did really well. But after all that training, I just feel really relieved that it’s all over.”
1st – Neo Ling Li (DHS)
2nd – Johan Ding Kar En (ACJC)
3rd – Sean Pang Kar Xiong (NYJC)
4th – Derek Terrance Lee (VJC)
5th – Lee Wen Qi (TPJC)
1st – Cheung Chun Jing (RI)
2nd – Ajay Nair (VJC)
3rd – Chee You (VJC)
4th – Alvin Ben Abraham (IHS)
5th – Keltonn Lim Jing Feng (DHS)