Speaker beware: Verbal missteps will take you viral


The casualty number so far in Singapore is two valedictorians.

Darren Woo Hon Fai was the valedictorian this year from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) School of Humanities and Social Sciences in Singapore. He made news headlines for his controversial valedictory speech in which he unwittingly poked fun at his fellow graduates from the Chinese division, by suggesting they might not be able to understand English.

Here is a full video of his speech. Watch from the 8:00-minute mark for the highlight:

After reminding everyone to honour thy parents, Darren went on to add these hurtful words: “This is especially so for the Chinese majors who probably have not gotten what I just said in English... (translation: Every parent would want to see his or her child succeed in life). I can speak Mandarin, too.”

His comment was deemed offensive because English is the working language in Singapore, and all university students, including the Chinese majors, would have to at least pass A-level English to gain admission.

Trinetta Chong, on the other hand, was a valedictorian in 2011 from my alma mater, Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, also from NTU in Singapore.  At the end of her valedictory speech, she blurted out the F-word: “We f***ing did it!”

In a similar vein, her speech created a media frenzy two years ago, sparking a public debate on when it’s appropriate to use the F-word.

The power of social media resulted in both Darren and Trinetta’s speech videos going viral in less than 24 hours. Both ended up apologising for their careless words the next day.

Without passing judgment on either of their actions, I think these two incidents demonstrate the power of social media to propagate messages with lightning speed and repercussion.

Next time you are up at a podium giving a speech that is being video-recorded, be careful of what you say. You are not speaking only to the audience present — YouTube, Facebook, and other social media might be watching, too!

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