Talk it up

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2002, 12:00am
 

AT 27, SAM GREENLAND is considered by his peers as 'old'.


'In the [United Kingdom], debating is a school or university activity,' he says.


'[Students there] might just look at people my age and say, 'Go away, grandad!' '


But this 'old man' has an impressive career - he was a national debating champion in the UK, reached the finals of 11 other tournaments, and toured the United States twice on his prowess as a speaker.


Mr Greenland's first debate was a failure, a common experience for beginners. It took place in his final year at high school when a friend invited him to take part in a tournament at very short notice.


'I did it with no training or preparation. I don't think I had time to even be nervous,' he recalls. 'It was very bad.'


Undeterred, the team took part in another national tournament and were runners-up. Mr Greenland was hooked. He decided to continue debating after entering Oxford University.


'It is great fun,' he says. 'It is an opportunity to express opinions in a way that is not necessarily acceptable. You get to stand up and shout at somebody, saying 'I really believe you are wrong' or 'This is rubbish.' It is quite liberating really.'


More attractive is the intellectual challenge it presents for him.


'You have to be able to see both sides of the argument. So you have to be objective. That is a great skill not just in a debating room, but in life in general.'


Having 'grown out' of competing in major tournaments, Mr Greenland misses the performance and the intellectual exercise. 'I still like that rush,' he says.


He has since become a debating coach and adjudicator.


Mr Greenland arrived in Hong Kong last October on a one-year English-Speaking Union debating scholarship, and sees a lot of potential for the activity in the SAR.


'There are so many schools, so many people in such a small area, that you can get people together at very short notice.'


He is impressed by students' interest and ability to get their ideas across in English.


He encourages young debaters not to read as they speak but to think as they speak. You may be halfway through speaking and realise that you are losing the argument, but it can also happen that you suddenly come up with a brilliant idea, he says.


'The audience, adjudicators and other debaters can see something coming from inside you. It has real passion and emotion, and people will relate to you,' he says.


It may sound difficult, but the skill comes with practise, he says.


'With practice, a lot of the presentation skills will become second nature. It is only when you stop worrying about your gestures that you can concentrate on the arguments. It is why debating workshops and societies in schools and universities are important.'


Mr Greenland says the most important thing is to have fun: 'You stand up, speak about something, have a laugh, enjoy it, and get a big round of applause. At the end maybe you win, maybe you lose. But it really doesn't matter. A lot of the debates that I lost are the best ones I have been in.'


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