Samiha Akhter, Local Treasurer 2021 JCI Dhaka Cosmopolitan and an advocate and international winner of Public Speaking competitions on building confidence, becoming a better professional and the importance of empathy for a better society
What intrigued you to step into the world of public speaking? Give us a brief rundown on the journey.
The ability to speak in front of a crowd and be able to connect with countless minds instantaneously has always fascinated me. Amongst many other approaches, public speaking is one of the most effective ways to do that. I believe that words are one of the finest tools available to prompt ideas, provoke minds and initiate actions. And when we tell a story with relatable references, applying proper vocal techniques and incorporating appropriate body language, the words spoken can create wonders.
Needless to say, most of us find oratory to be quiet daunting. So, despite wanting to be a good speaker from childhood, I started pursuing public speaking during my first year at university. Whilst in my first year, I mustered the courage to participate in AIUB Inter University Public Speaking Championship and stood second. A year later, I won the Intra AIUB Dr. Anwarul Abedin Public Speaking Competition. A couple of years later I won the JCI Bangladesh Public Speaking Championship 2017.
In that same year, I won the JCI Bangladesh Debating Championship 2017 as well. Then, I represented Bangladesh in JCI Asia Pacific Public Speaking Championship 2017 which was held at Mongolia.
Last year, I participated and won the Toastmasters Area L5 Table Topic Contest 2020, which was held virtually. This year, I look forward to participating in Toastmasters Division Level Table Topic Contest 2021. It has been an exhilarating journey so far and I aspire to represent Bangladesh in many more global platforms.
How has it been helping you to become a better professional?
The benefits of public speaking are countless. My professional life is namely one of the areas in which I have benefitted. I have developed good communication skills which are a great asset in both my personal and professional life. Participating in competitions as well as going through rigorous rounds of practicing has boosted my confidence. The ability to stand and speak in front of crowds is very empowering. This helped me to speak in front of large audiences as well as in smaller meetings at work with internal and external stakeholders.
Effective public speaking not only aids career progression but also induces creativity, critical thinking, leadership abilities, poise, professionalism and, on the whole, many other qualities which professionals value.
What is your takeaway from participating in competitions at home and abroad, did you face any challenges?
Participating in national and international competitions has given me ample amounts of exposure. Competitions are one of the best opportunities available for identifying areas of improvement and working on them. Needless to say, participating in an international competition is a completely different ballgame.
When I participated in JCI Asia Pacific Conference 2017 Public Speaking Competitions at Mongolia, I competed with participants from 7 different countries including Philippines, Hong Kong, Mongolia and India. Each of these participants had their unique public speaking styles on stage. The most significant takeaway for me was that to be able to leave an impression on a global audience, one needs to be able to connect with them individually. And this means that it is crucial to make a speech as diverse as possible in terms of the stories told.
Also, pronunciation is very important when speaking in an international platform. In essence, prepping for an international competition can be a baffling process. A lot of research needs to be done to ensure that everything said, implied or enacted is culturally appropriate.
Do you think it’s important for girls to participate in public speaking to become more confident and vocal about their issues?
Yes, absolutely! I believe that public speaking helps women gain confidence and become outspoken. It is not uncommon for a lot of women to feel overwhelmed with anxiety when asked to speak in front of an audience. A lot of women also tend to feel insecure on stage, lose their trail of thoughts and have an extreme fear of “What will people think about me?” Essentially, most of these issues arise due to a lack of confidence and a lot of self-doubt.
Actively participating in public speaking can make women more confident and build a positive self-image. It helps organize thoughts, and present ideas and opinions more coherently as well as engage in constructive debates and dialogue. A lot of women are shy to speak out when facing uncomfortable situations at work or even at home.
Women are also hesitant to talk about normal biological functions such as menstruation, something that happens to every woman. So, for women to be expressive, we need them to be confident, and public speaking is an excellent start to self-development.
Would you like to mention a topic on which you would love to deliver a public speech again and again? Why is this topic so close to your heart?
A topic that I believe requires more public attention is empathy. Not only should empathy be widely spoken about, rather empathy should be taken as a crucial tool in understanding human beings and our needs. I incorporate a lot of storytelling in my speeches and a lot of those tend to revolve around empathy, which is basically the ability to understand others’ emotion.
I believe that when we empathize, we understand others’ thoughts and feelings and respond accordingly. This ultimately make us better human beings. Also, speaking with empathy helps us to connect with people. End of the day, we cannot solve every problem, however when we empathize and have an understanding of it, we take steps towards a better world.