by Dr. Dilip
Newark orator plans to tell 'em in Las Vegas
By Edward L. Kenney
The News Journal, Wilmington, DE
Thursday, Aug. 20, 1992, Section E
NEWARK - Come Saturday, Dilip
Abayasekara could give the speech of his life, at the World Championship of
Public Speaking in Las Vegas. Don't bet against him. The 40-year-old
scientist has been fine-tuning his vocal chords since his earliest school days
in Sri Lanka.
Elementary-school age. "We
had a little servant boy in our household and we used to write speeches and
give them to each other," says Abayasekara, of Frenchtown Woods.
Middle school: "I memorized
Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address. I
memorized parts of Winston Churchill's speeches. No one ever told me to
do it. I just got a thrill out of it. It was as red-blooded to me as an
American kid picking up a ball and a bat".
High school: "I remember the
title of the first speech I used to compete. The title was 'Communism is the
Answer to Sri Lanka's Problems'. We had to take a pro or con position and I
took a con. From among the speeches I had memorized, I pulled out Patrick
Henry's 'Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death, and toward the end of that speech
you could hear a pin drop. There was just this dead silence...It was the first
time I realized I could hold an audience."
Abayasekara, who immigrated to the
United States 20 years ago and went to college here, will compete at
Toastmasters International's 61st annual convention. He is one of only
nine regional finalists to advance through the ranks of the 160,000-member
organization and qualify for the competition.
"I joined Toastmasters
because I love to speaks, and I found out I was an oddity," says
Abayasekara, a new-product researcher at W.L. Gore & Associates in Elkton,
Md. "Most people join Toastmasters because they want to get more
confidence in public speaking. I already had the confidence. I
joined because I wanted a captive audience."
On Saturday, he'll have an
audience of about 2,500 fellow Toastmasters when he represents Region Seven,
which runs "anywhere from Nova Scotia in Canada down to the northern
parts of Virginia." The nine regional finalists who will face off in the
neon city represent 7,500 clubs in 52 countries.
Abayasekara is president of the
Greater Newark Area Toastmasters.
Growing up in the former British
colony - it received its own Toastmasters club about 10 years ago and never
presented a language barrier.
"In Sri Lanka we learn
English as a compulsory subject."
Abayasekara says a Toastmaster
needs "three first-class speeches to go all the way" to the finals.
He'll deliver a new speech in Las
Vegas and has come up with a universal theme: "Love Makes the
Connection" will be about human relationships.
He uses every opportunity to
practice - including while driving alone in his car and believes he will have
rehearsed his "Love Makes the Connection" speech about 300 times
before he delivers it in Nevada.
"An audience wants to be
entertained and receive something of significance from the speaker. The
worst sin a speaker can commit is to bore an audience. The other great sin
that a speaker can do is to finish a speech and have someone in the audience
say, "So what was the point?"
Abayasekara says his style has
changed over the years from oratorical to conversational.
"When I first started
speaking in Toastmasters, I used to give a speech to a body of people. Now
when I speak I try to connect with each and every person. The feeling I
like to create is that I'm speaking to you in the comfort of your own living
room, and each person should get the feeling that I'm talking directly to him