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From Debate Club to Awarded Public Speaker

Five young men and women with two holding gold trophies

By: Maryam AlBonni (YES 2019-2020, Bahrain, placed by CIEE in Waterloo, IA)

Maryam AlBonni has received numerous awards for her public speaking and leadership abilities. She earned these accolades through the INJAZ Bahrain Toastmasters Club, a member club of the Toastmasters International nonprofit foundation. Since December 2023, Mariam has engaged in various Toastmaster competitions. She secured first place in the Arabic International Speech contest, second place in the English Humorous Speech contest, and third place in the English International Speech contest.

I was first introduced to debate during my exchange year, when I participated in public speaking events through Business Professionals of America. My exposure to debate and public speaking in my host school built my confidence in delivering speeches and made me more adaptable and flexible. I also learned to organize my ideas effectively and speak persuasively through my participation in debate. I also improved my critical thinking skills by delivering arguments even when I did not agree with them. These skills have been instrumental in my success at Toastmasters competitions, where my opponents come from many different ethnicities and backgrounds.

Once I returned home to Bahrain, I saw a huge difference in my public speaking skills. Engaging with diverse perspectives and people from different backgrounds during my exchange year taught me the value of verbal and non-verbal communication and considering different viewpoints. At my host school, I learned how to use voice modulation and body language to convey my message through my drama class and the broadcast club. Most importantly, the confidence I gained through immersing myself in American culture was a game-changer. I had to be flexible to talk to different people and get out of my comfort zone.

I am so proud of my achievements with Toastmasters over the past few months. I got first place in the International Speech contest in Arabic, second place in the English Humorous Speech contest, and third place in the English International Speech contest. Through this, I have connected with talented mentors and wonderful speakers across the world. I plan to continue with my leadership in Toastmasters, as well as participating in other English and Arabic speech and debate contests. I am also the president of the debate club at the American University of Bahrain, and I envision incorporating different public and persuasive speaking skills to create a fun and engaged community.

Although I have accomplished so much through Toastmasters, it has not been without its challenges. The different communication styles, opponents’ strengths and even cultural differences have made the contests difficult. It often reminds me of my experiences in the U.S., and how I had to overcome the social and cultural barriers. I had to use my skills of adaptability and flexibility to convey my message humorously and informatively.

To any others aspiring to success in debate and public speaking, my advice is to embrace the learning journey and start by joining debate clubs or public speaking organizations to gain experience. Getting out of your comfort zone and trying public speaking will hone your skills and build confidence over time. Seek constructive feedback from mentors and peers to identify areas for improvement and use it as a catalyst for growth. Most importantly, a positive mindset is the key to success.


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