When competing in speech and debate, Desert Vista High School senior Kohi Gill has one surefire remedy for stage fright.

Gill turns to Twitter or YouTube, reading over funny tweets from satire news site “The Onion” or clips from his favorite sitcoms.

“If you’re laughing and having fun with a smile on your face, other people will feel the same and it’s a much easier way to communicate,” he said.

Gill recently came back from the Montgomery Bell Academy Southern Bell Forum in Nashville, where 16 of the top debaters in the country competed during the first week of January.

He placed 11th at the competition.

“It’s such an honor, just to be considered in that group is so amazing,” said Gill, who is president of the speech and debate team at Desert Vista.

He also competed in the final round last summer at the National Forensic League National Tournament.

During the Southern Bell Forum, Gill was accompanied by his parents and debate coach, where the event included a formal dinner, a “marathon” day of about six rounds, and then ended on the third day with final competitions and winner results.

As he remembered looking around during the tournament, with attendees complimenting him on his speaking style, Gill was reminded that hard work does eventually pay off.

“I used to be a really introverted guy, and this opened a lot of doors for me,” he said of speech and debate. “It’s certainly an empowering experience.”

Though Gill described himself as being initially a shy person, he said that public speaking and learning about the art of debate can help anyone, whether “introverted or gregarious.”

“It refines you as a person, and it helps show you that you have something to communicate with people, and they want to hear what you have to say,” he said.

Giving credit to his team back at Desert Vista, his coach and teachers, Gill said that he plans on finishing his last year strong. The team will be heading to the Harvard National Invitational Forensics Tournament in Massachusetts next month, among others.

Returning to the competition after placing seventh two years ago, Gill said he is ready to give his best this February with his team.

“This year, I really want to go out with a bang and make sure it’s one of the best tournaments I have,” he said.

With his combination of a “laid back” speaking style yet an assertive debate style, Gill said he plans on sticking around the speech and debate community after high school, though he wants to try his hand at more community outreach.

With a plan to study international relations at the University of Chicago in the fall, it seems Gill will forever be altered by his experience as one of the country’s top debaters.

“Speech and debate is one of those things that shows you have nothing to fear,” he said. “It’s been a really exciting ride.”

Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or dmartinez@ahwatukee.com. Follow on Twitter: @_dianamartinez.

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