Speech and debaters team up as a duo and qualify for nationals

February 8, 2024 — by Emma Fung and Anthony Luo
Courtesy of Timothy Leung
Leung and Potluri pose with their first-place plaques from the John Lewis Invitational outside of Silver Creek HS.
Juniors Timothy Leung and Kinnera Potluri won 1st place in the Duo Interpretation category at the John Lewis Invitational.

Juniors Timothy Leung and Kinnera Potluri are now preparing  for the National Invitational Events Tournament of Champions (NIETOC), which will be held in Bellevue, N.E., on May 10-12. They earned their bid to NIETOC through a first-place win at the John Lewis Silicon Valley Urban Debate League (SVUDL) Invitational held at Silver Creek High on Nov. 19. 

Leung and Potluri, who are also president and vice president of the team, participated in the Duo Interpretation category, which consists of two people delivering one 10-minute long speech. 

The duo attended numerous speech tournaments in the past as individual contestants, but the John Lewis Invitational was the first time they competed together. They spent hours after school practicing their speech, refining movements and speaking style to perfectly capture the right emotions, whether it was joy, grief or humor. 

With mixed responses from their preliminary round judges on the Saturday before the competition, Leung and Potluri were excited when they found out they made Sunday’s elimination round, but still did not have any large expectations. Potluri described the win as unexpected. 

“You can’t see yourself performing, so we went into the tournament pretty much blind,” Potluri said. “We didn’t expect to win, and once we did, we thought maybe this speech can go somewhere.”

Leung and Potluri are both accomplished speech and debaters and have won numerous tournaments over the last three years. Leung, who specializes in Program Oral Interpretation, won the state championship in the category last year. Potluri, who specializes in Humorous Interpretation, joined Leung in attending the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Phoenix last June.

The two had originally planned to compete together in their senior year for fun, and began brainstorming ideas for what they could do as far back as last year. However, since Potluri plans to perform her arangetram (an on-stage debut performance of an Indian classical dance student) next year, they decided to team up this year.

The Duo Interpretation category comes with a few specific limitations that competitors need to keep in mind. Team members must tell a story through their speech, and they are not allowed to touch each other or make eye contact. 

In order to communicate effectively during their performance, Leung and Potluri used strategies that include maneuvering on stage and stopping just short of touching, or facing 45 degrees toward each other to avoid eye contact while recognizing and responding to each other’s emotional cues; executing these cues requires extensive preparation and chemistry.

The premise of every Duo Interpretation speech varies greatly as well, ranging from humorous to dramatic and anywhere in between. Leung and Potluri spent weeks brainstorming possible ideas for their speech, watching previous national champions to seek inspiration. Ultimately, the pair settled on adapting “Click,” the 2006 film featuring Adam Sandler, whose character, a workaholic who struggles to find time to spend with his family, discovers a remote to fast forward through time.

“I had just watched the movie, and I thought it was pretty funny, but also that it had a really good message about living in the moment, so I told [Kinnera] that maybe it would be something we could do for our speech,” Leung said. “She really liked that idea, and so did our coach, so we just went with it.” 

In the speech, the pair explores how being a workaholic can affect one’s personal life, showing their story’s main character abusing his time-traveling remote to skip past all the “boring” parts of his life until he eventually dies. Leung acts as the protagonist, Michael, while Potluri plays the role of his wife, Donna. To make their message of living in the moment more powerful, they are working to get further in tune with their characters’ emotions and make certain parts of their speech clearer.  

The pair hopes to take their speech to the next level of tournaments, including the California High School Speech Association Championship in March and the NIETOC in May.

“I want to make sure that our speech can make an impact on people and make them reconsider how they approach their own lives,” Leung said.

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