To me March 28th was a lucky day. It was on that particular evening that I found myself at central stage, in the spotlight. Winning the "21st Century·Ericsson Cup" Seventh National English Speaking Competition is a memory that I shall treasure and one that will surely stay.
More important than winning the Cup is the friendship that has been established and developed among the contestants, and the chance to communicate offstage in addition to competing onstage. Also the competition helps boost public speaking in China, a skill hitherto undervalued.
For me, though, the competition is a more personal experience. Habitually shy, I had been reluctant to take part in any such activities. Encouraged by my friends, however, I made a last-minute decision to give it a try. In the course of preparation I somehow rediscovered myself, a truer me.
I found that, after all, I like communicating with other people; that exchanging views can be so much fun—and so much rewarding, both emotionally and intellectually; that public speaking is most effective when you are least guarded; and that it is essential to success in every walk of life.
At a more practical level, I realized knowing what you are going to say and how you are going to say it are equally important. To take the original ideas out of your head and transplant them, so to speak, to that of others, you need to have an organized mind. This ability improves with training.
Yet there should not be any loss or addition or distortion in the process. Those ideas that finally find their way into another head need to be recognizably yours. Language is a means to transmit information, not a means to obstruct communication. It should be lucid to be penetrating.
In China, certain public speaking skills have been unduly emphasized. Will it really help, we are compelled to ask, to bang at the podium or yell at the top of your lungs, if you have come with a poorly organized speech, a muddled mind, and unwillingness to truly share your views?
Above all, the single most important thing I learnt was that as a public speaker, you need to pay attention, first and foremost, to the content of your speech. And second, the structure of your speech: how one idea relates and progresses to another.
Only after these come delivery and non-verbal communication: speed control, platform manner, and so on. Pronunciation is important, yet of greater importance is this: Is your language competent enough to express your ideas exactly the way you intend them to be understood?
I was informed afterwards that I was chosen to be the winner for my "appropriately worded speech, excellent presence and quick-witted response". In so remarking, the judges clearly showed their preference: they come to listen for meaningful ideas, not for loose judgments, nor easy laughters.
Some contestants failed to address their questions head on. Some were able to, but did not know where to stop—the dragging on betrayed their lack of confidence. The root cause was that they did not listen attentively to the questions. Or they were thinking of what they had prepared.
As I said in my speech, "It is vitally important that we young people do more serious thinking ... to take them [issues like globalization] on and give them honest thinking is the first step to be prepared for both opportunities and challenges coming our way". We need to respond honestly.
A competition like this draws talented students from all over the country. And of course, I learnt more things than just about public speaking. Since in the final analysis, public speaking is all about effective communication. And this goes true for all communications, whatever their setting.
And the following is the final version of my speech:
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
FOR CHINA'S YOUNGER GENERATION
Thirty years ago, American President Richard Nixon made an epoch-making visit to China, a country still isolated at that time. Premier Zhou Enlai said to him, "Your handshake came over the vastest ocean in the world—twenty-five years of no communication". Thirty years since, China and America have exchanged many handshakes. The fundamental implication of this example is that the need to communicate across differences in culture and ideology is not only felt by the two countries but by many other nations as well.
As we can see today, environmentalists from different countries are making joint efforts to address the issue of global warming, economists are seeking solutions to financial crises that rage in a particular region but nonetheless cripple the world economy, and politicians and diplomats are getting together to discuss the issue of combating terrorism. Peace and prosperity has become a common goal that we are striving for all over the world. Underlying this mighty trend of global communication is the echo of E. M. Forster's words "Only connect!"
With the IT revolution, traditional boundaries of human society fall away. Our culture, politics, society and commerce are being sloshed into one large melting pot of humanity. In this interlinked world, there are no outsiders, for a disturbance in one place is likely to impact other parts of the globe. We have begun to realize that a world divided cannot endure.
China is now actively integrating into the world. Our recent entry to the WTO is a good example. For decades, we have taken pride in being self-reliant, but now we realize the importance of participating in and contributing to a broader economic order. From a precarious role in the world arena to our present WTO membership, we have come a long way.
But what does the way ahead look like? In some parts of the world people are demonstrating against globalization. Are they justified, then, in criticizing the globalizing world? Instead of narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor, they say, globalization enables the developed nations to swallow the developing nations' wealth in debts and interest. Globalization, they argue, should be about a common interest in every other nation's economic health.
We are reminded by Karl Marx that capital goes beyond national borders and eludes control from any other entity. This has become a reality. Multinational corporations are seeking the lowest cost, the largest market, and the most favourable policy. They are often powerful lobbyists in government decision-making, ruthless expansionists in the global market and a devastating presence to local businesses.
For China, still more challenges exist. How are we going to ensure a smooth transition from the planned economy to a market-based one? How to construct a legal system that is sound enough and broad enough to respond to the needs of a dynamic society? How to maintain our cultural identity in an increasingly homogeneous world? And how to define greatness in our rise as a peace-loving nation? Globalization entails questions that concern us all.
Like many young people my age in China, I want to see my country get prosperous and enjoy respect in the international community. But it seems to me that mere patriotism is not just enough. It is vitally important that we young people do more serious thinking and broaden our mind to bigger issues. There might never be easy answers to those issues such as globalization, but to take them on and give them honest thinking is the first step to be prepared for both opportunities and challenges coming our way. This is also one of the thoughts that came to me while preparing this speech.