She may be a world-class debater and public speaker, but 16-year-old Zeenia Framroze can’t graduate from high school until she completes the grade 10 literacy test.
“I’m still not declared literate by the province, which is really funny,” said Framroze, who missed the test the past two years because she was competing at the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships.
The grade 11 Branksome Hall student was awarded overall first place this year at the competition, which was held in Lithuania from April 8–12.
Framroze said she started crying when she heard the news of her victory.
“I was so happy,” said Framroze. “I was just unbelievably thrilled.”
Framroze started competitive debating two years ago when she replaced a schoolmate at an international competition, but she grew up practicing her public speaking skills at home.
“It’s sort of a tradition in our family to do things like elocution,” she said. “As soon as I told my grandfather that I had won the world championships, he said, ‘Yes, those are my genes.’ ”
While Framroze comes from a family of orators, she said debating skills are not necessarily innate.
“I never knew I had it until now,” she said. “But it’s definitely a skill you have to work on. Nothing comes easily in debating.”
To do well at the world championships, participants must master a variety of speaking skills.
The five-day competition features four events — interpretive reading (where competitors read aloud passages of published works), persuasive speaking (reading a prepared speech on a topic of their choice), debating (teamed with another competitor to argue
against another pair), and impromptu speaking (where competitors are given a word or phrase and have to build a five minute speech
Framroze prepared 11 drafts of her persuasive speech this year. But a week before a competition begins, she stops working on the content of the speech to focus purely on delivery.
“So much of how your persuasive speech goes is your connection with the audience,” she said. “If you break that connection at any time, it’s fatal.”
Persuasive speaking is her favourite event because she gets 13 uninterrupted minutes to talk about a topic she is passionate about, like women’s rights or the environment. This year, she spoke about the fresh water crisis.
“So many environmental issues can have such horrifying humanitarian impacts,” she said. “There was one point during my speech where I actually managed to integrate women’s rights into the environment.”
Public speaking skills can help people advocating for a cause, especially for young people who want get their voices heard, Framroze said.
“It’s about you talking and telling people what you think,” she said. “When you have that confidence, especially as a girl, you can really accomplish things.”
She plans to retire from competitive debating but she said it’s not going to be easy.
“I was at a competition on (May 1) where I was supposed to be running it. But by the end of it, I was on the stage making little speeches.”
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