A Dubai Health Authority employee has become the first Arab woman to win the third place at an international public speaking contest.
Shurooq Al Banna recently won the third place at the annual Toastmasters International Speech Contest, which took place in the United States.
Over 30,000 people from all over the world applied to take part in the contest, of whom only 88 were shortlisted to battle it out with their war of words to bag the title, ‘World Champion of Public Speaking’.
No Arab has ever reached this position in the contest, and no Arab woman has ever crossed the district level and reached the Toastmasters’ world championship.
Speaking on the occasion, Al Banna said, “It was an excellent opportunity but also a huge responsibility because I was carrying the voice of seven Arab countries at an international podium. In this contest, the UAE is considered to be part of District 20 which comprises seven countries in the Middle East including Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan and Qatar. I am very pleased to have reached this level and represent Arab women at such a prestigious event.”
Al Banna has also received the district level award twice before. She won the International Speech Contest at DTAC (District 20 Toastmasters Annual Conference) in 2013 and the Humorous Speech Contest at DTAC in 2012.
She has been taking part in the contest for the past three years and said that she decided to pursue public speaking to improve her communication abilities. “Public speaking has always been a hobby since childhood but initially I only joined Toastmasters to hone my speaking skills. I met several public speakers and was inspired by Kwong Yue Yang. I soon realised the power of words and how it can inspire millions, that’s when I decided to take this profession seriously.”
She added, “A fellow member recommended that I try out for the contests and I ended up winning at every level. I was surprised to reach the world championship finals.”
At the world championship, Al Banna’s winning speech was called ‘Finding the Pearl’ in which she stressed how important it is to look beyond the exterior shell and find the goodness in people. “I truly believe that if we all adopted this philosophy and focused on finding this good essence in each other, then life would become more fulfilling and meaningful.”
Recollecting her journey to win the third place, she said, “It definitely wasn’t easy, but my determination and hard work paid off. Looking back, I remember the sleepless nights, the worry but, most importantly, the criticism that I received. I think the criticism was the most difficult part to handle but I have to accept it to evolve, improve and excel. A lot of people get crushed by criticism but I chose to accept it and learn from it.”
Looking ahead, Al Banna says she hopes to continue practising the art of public speaking and inspire other Arab women to use this as a medium to express themselves.