From ‘Chatterbox’ to Compère

As a child I was always told to be quiet. I was that kid in class who was regularly told to switch seats because she spoke too much. Much to my teachers’ dismay, switching seats rarely made a difference because I would start a conversation with whomever I sat next to, almost instantaneously.

As someone who has been studying Speech and Drama since the age of 4, I naturally grew up to be very expressive and animated. Storytelling was, and still is, a big part of my personality. Seeing how someone else’s expressions and emotions change based on what you tell them and HOW you say what you say always fascinated me.

When I had to rehearse and practice for hours on end for Speech and Drama exams, I would sometimes wonder what the purpose of all that effort was. I was told by many people that I needed sports to get ahead in life or get my CV to stand out, and at the time as a teenager, I did believe that this was the case. Little did I know that I would prove myself and others wrong in the years to come.

I was never the sporty type. Through trial and many errors, I realised that sports are not my strong suit. Naturally, we all tend to dislike the things we are not good at and as I stepped away from sports, I started spending more and more time at my Speech and Drama teacher’s house, who my friends and I fondly call “Aunty”.

Aunty and my mother, who was a librarian at the time, introduced me to Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Oscar Wilde, Jean-Paul Sartre and so many other amazing authors and playwrights. The more I portrayed the diverse characters birthed by these insanely talented individuals and the more I practiced and learned the correct pronunciation of words, the importance of good inflection, modulation, and resonance, I understood that effective communication is an art in and of itself. What is the point of speaking if the people listening to you can’t understand what you are trying to convey?

Speaking and acting in front of an audience is part and parcel of studying Speech and Drama. There is no room for stage fright. It moulds you into being confident and quite organically, you become someone who is unafraid of sharing their thoughts with others and being who you truly are.

As I started applying for jobs after I had completed my higher studies, I realised that facing interviews was not as daunting as many people make it sound. Speaking to accessors gave me a sense of déjà vu. At first, even I couldn’t understand why or how I was able to speak to people who could potentially give me a job, so confidently. Then I realised that all the years of facing Speech and Drama exams were paying off. The way examiners judge and question you and how you carry that sort of conversation is quite similar to how you would face a job interview.

I firmly believe that the job offers I have received have more to do with how I presented myself rather than my qualifications. I was hit with a slight case of imposter syndrome when I was selected for the JKHMT in 2021. How was I as outstanding as people who were captains of sports teams and double degree holders?

As JKHMTs, we are assigned CSR projects and all my projects were related to English language training and education. Given my background in teaching and Speech and Drama, I was given the opportunity to conduct a training session on soft skills for teenagers in English. I received some great feedback on this session and was told that I have a knack for speaking in public in a convincing and captivating way.

As months passed by, and Chairperson’s Awards 2022 drew closer, I was asked if I was interested in auditioning to co-compère at the event. I was quite skeptical as I had never compèred for a large-scale event before, but I really didn’t want to miss such a unique opportunity just because of a little self-doubt. To my absolute delight, I was asked to co-compère at the event. With some guidance from our brilliant Corp Comms team, I was able to tackle the task with confidence.

This leap of faith has led to many opportunities within the John Keells Group for me, from compering at events for Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts to co-compering at Kala Pola 2023. I have come to enjoy the experiences that are created through these events, and I see them as opportunities to further improve my communication skills and meet new people from different walks of life.

It’s funny to see how the tables have turned. The little girl who was always asked to be quiet is now, as an adult, asked to be the one doing the talking. I think it is important to realise that there are certain facets of our personalities, which are sometimes seen as weaknesses, or we are told that these are facets we should debilitate. However, it is important for us to be true to ourselves and it is up to us to understand if and how our weaknesses can be transformed into something that makes us truly unique. Sometimes, being aware of your own weaknesses can end up being your biggest strength.

Many people say, “play to your strengths” but I believe that anything in life is all about perception. Even weaknesses, more often than not, are merely perceived. Never overestimate your strengths and never underestimate your weaknesses.