As national speech and debate champion, first-year Deksyos Damtew knows how to captivate an audience. When not traveling for competitions, Damtew plays an active role in the Colorado College Student Government Association on the Outreach and Finance Committees. This week, The Catalyst sat down with Damtew to chat about what it takes to become a great speaker, what he hopes to accomplish at CC, as well as future plans.

Photo by Daniel Sarché


Deksyos Damtew: Speech and debate is an opportunity for people to either practice public speaking skills or their creative acting skills. Speech is separated from debate in the idea that speech is more about giving either a memorized piece or performance orientation. While debate is more about arguing — whether it’s one person versus another person argument or creating different cases around topics that are renewed either annually, monthly, or given to you on the spot. How I got involved actually was early on in middle school. One of my best friends and his mom provided us the opportunity to go to tournaments in Texas and compete in very low-key and very easy styles of debate where you just had more of a conversation. It was a great way for me to hone in on my public speaking skills and my ability to talk with other people. 


TC: What does it take to be a great speaker? 

DD: Being a great speaker honestly involves a lot of failure. When I started off, it was not easy because putting yourself out there with your ideas and trying to communicate with people in ways that you aren’t comfortable with is very difficult at first. But once you go through those failures, and you understand how people respond to certain things that you say, and you understand how to read body language and to read a room, it becomes more of an interactive thing where it’s not just about communication in general; it’s about the situation that you’re in and how you transform to that and adapt to what’s around you.


TC: Do you consider yourself a competitive person?

DD: I’m definitely a competitive person. I think that’s another aspect that I didn’t touch on there, but it’s definitely something that’s involved within public speaking. If you can make it something that’s competitive in ways that you can measure and try to reach achievements, and you have attainable goals within it, you can become a lot better. The nice thing about public speaking and being competitive is that there’s always someone who’s better, and there’s always a way to reach there, and there’s always a way to be there. 


TC: What is one thing you’re hoping to be more involved in at CC? 

DD: That’s a great question. One thing that I would really like to be more involved in is specifically The Butler Center and diversity, and trying to make sure that inclusion is going on. As a student of color, it’s something that’s important to me and I feel like there are ways that I can reach out and achieve that. And I haven’t done that so far and I definitely feel like I should be. 


TC: What drove you to run for Vice President of Outreach?

DD: V.P. of outreach really stemmed from the fact that I served on the Outreach Committee here at CC to start off in student government. That decision actually came from an inherent lack of communication that I saw between the campus and the community around us. I think that [lack of communication] really stems from how the political feel on campus is very different from the political feel surrounding it, but it gives us a unique opportunity to engage with the community around us. Running for V.P. of outreach was my way to try to bridge that gap and be a source of contact between the community and the school. 


TC: What are you hoping to do as part of the Finance Committee? 

DD: The Finance Committee is really interesting because of the way it works. I think a lot of students don’t understand that a lot of the funding for student speeches or performances that go around campus and clubs comes from the Finance Committee. I feel like the issue that exists right now is that the process is one that’s really centered around just providing the funding. I feel like we can take steps to make sure that you extend it out to what happens within the clubs after they receive the funding and how they’re using it — specifically when it comes to being equitable within the way that we provide funding, and the way that clubs carry out their funding, and who they use it on, and if it’s something that’s accessible for the entire student community.


TC: Where are you from and how has it impacted who you are today? 

DD: Where are you from is an interesting question for me. I was born in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa specifically, but I moved here when I was three. So for me, from a cultural standpoint, that’s very important to where I was from. As far as where I’ve lived the majority of my life, I’ve lived right outside of Denver. I’ve moved around from Aurora, to Lakewood, to Littleton, being able to see what it’s like to live in a suburb, and now I’m in Colorado Springs.  So there’s a little bit of me in a lot of places, and I love that. 


TC: If you could go back in time and have dinner with any individual in history who would it be?

DD: That’s a great question. Any individual in history. This is probably a lame answer because it’s really recent, but honestly Steve Jobs. I think the fact that he was someone who was willing to defy all odds at the very beginning and take on such a challenge as bringing up a computer company that no one believed in and then being pushed out of his company and then to come back [is incredible]. That drive is something that I would love to incorporate into my life. So just talking to him about how you go from someone who was pushed out of your company, to come back, to loving it and changing how you approached your employees, while also analyzing his failures and put backs and then trying to see how you can learn and grow from them [would be a valuable discussion]. 


TC: What advice would give to someone who is looking to get into speech and debate or become a better public speaker?

DD: This is a tough one because I think there is this misconception that you can’t stutter or that you can’t make these mistakes in speech and debate to be good or to be competitive. I think that’s not something you should allow to hold you back in any way because I stutter all the time and I make mistakes all the time, but it’s more about putting yourself out there and allowing yourself to fail and then recovering. I find myself in the middle of speeches all the time making mistakes, but it’s more about how I respond and how I bounce back. I think that’s a valuable thing that you can learn in life and presentation is something that’s involved in everything that you can do. So even if you’re not looking to do it to be the most competitive person in the world, doing it so you can further your presentation skills and your communication skills is something that can be beneficial regardless of what you do. 


TC: If you had to eat one fruit for the rest of your life what would it be? 

DD: I would go with grapes. I have a weird ability to just eat as many grapes as possible to the point where I get very sick, so it would have to be grapes. Interestingly enough, I don’t like a wide variety of fruits — it’s grapes, oranges and that’s about it for me. So, it’s pretty limited.  

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