As a child Dananjaya Hettiarachchi was quite the rebel; unimpressive report cards, fist fights and an unquenchable thirst for adventure. All the same this high spirited boy looked up to one man who made the very first impression on his young life. “When I was growing up the biggest influence was warden Nevil de Alwis. I was a Thomian. And I always wanted to be like him. He was an amazing speaker.”
To Dananjaya education didn’t come in the form of books and studies. It came as experiences and challenges.
“I wasn’t very academic and I grew up really as a sporty guy. My parents didn’t push me into doing anything I didn’t like, so I had enough space. I appreciated it and do even today. But I got into a lot of fights, messed my A levels up, didn’t have enough marks to get into university and as a result ended up all alone. My friends had all moved on. It was really tough back then,” explained Dananjaya recalling his past.
It all began when Dananjaya’s father introduced him to the Smedley Toastmasters Club. When describing that first rendezvous he says that walking in for the first time he instantly knew that he had entered “something big”. The room housed the founders of the Original Toastmasters Club. It was full of prominent and respected figures of society. What really set the cogs in motion for the then nineteen
year old were the words Arunasalam Balraj. He told Dananjaya “if you come in just twice a month I can help you be someone,” and that really hit home. Because all Dananjaya wanted to do, was become someone.
The first time he gave a peech in front of a public audience was in the same year, at the first international speech contest held in Sri Lanka, the South Asian Best Speakers Competition. When he got up on that stage it was obvious, the gift of the gab was naturally his. “I knew I had delivered an amazing speech. I was impatient for the results. I had already won. I knew it and just wanted them to announce it. And when they did, I wasn’t expecting to hear what I heard. I hadn’t even placed fourth. I was devastated. It was a new low for me. That day I told myself ‘If you’re not first in life, you’re last’”.
Later on another speech contest of an international level was beginning to draw the attention of the Toastmasters Club. The World Taped Speech Contest found contestants from all over the world sending in over 30,000 tapes to the US where
a panel of judges would sit for about two months and listen to them. And from all these tapes they would pick one. The 2006 president of the Smedley Toastmasters Club, Leelanath Daluwatte wanted Dananjaya to take part on behalf of the Toastmasters Sri Lanka. At first the novice dancer refused. After many persuasive and persistent conversations later Dananjaya recorded ‘Humanity is there hope?’
“I did it because of the requests of the others. They had such faith. At first I honestly thought it was impossible. I didn’t think I had a chance. I was the guy who didn’t even place fourth. And then I won.”
After winning the World Championship in the Taped Speech Contest, Dananjaya flew to the US for the first time. He was present at the Toastmasters Annual Conference to receive his award. Recalling the ceremony he says “The whole experience was surreal. I received the award from the first Sri Lankan Toastmasters president Mr. Duleep Abeysekara. I was just overwhelmed.”
Dananjaya Hettiarachchi became the first Sri Lankan to have been conferred with the hall of fame award from Toastmasters International. By 2007 he knew his potential. He became the all Island best speaker, won the regional Speakers contest, won a dance competition and caught up for all the lost years of higher education. He completed an MBA in Business Administration, a Bachelors Degree with a double major in Marketing and Management, a professional Diploma in Marketing [CIM Sri Lankan Prize winner] and a part qualification from CIMA (UK).
For three years he continued to compete in the South Asian Best Speakers Competition and although he always won the All Island Best Speakers round, he placed second at the regional competition. “Toastmasters gave me an amazing opportunity to develop a skill that would touch peoples’ lives and I am grateful for it. Nagaraja Rao and Arunasalam Balaraj have been guiding me and coaching me throughout and supporting me. They have made a huge impact on my life.”
Then in 2011 after winning the All Island contest Dananjaya gave his [Micheal Jackson’s] Moonwalk Speech in India, Mysore and he won. After six long years, a Sri Lanka won the District Level Speech contest qualifying himself for the next round. He is the first Sri Lankan to be contesting at the Toastmaster’s International Speech contest scheduled to be held in Las Vegas, USA on August 13 this year.”
When asked what makes a good speaker the master of rhetoric said it was all to do with honesty. “Speaking is a reflection of yourself. If you are focused on being competitive you lose the ball. The message you give must be delivered true to yourself. Irrespective of the result you become an amazing speaker”.
This talented twenty eight year-old oozing with confidence is modest of the success of his journey. He dedicates his victories to his friends, mentors and family. “I am blessed,” adds a beaming Dananjaya. “If someone were to ask me how I got where I am, it is because of the people who were there in my life.”