'I've learnt so much by just asking': world champion speaker Dananjaya Hettiarachchi

Emily Bartlett Feb 1, 2022 1:55:45 PM

In 2014, Dananjaya Hettiarachchi became the Toastmasters International public speaking world champion. He now travels the world as a motivational speaker and coach, helping others find that something special inside.

But it wasn't always this way. By 17, he had flunked high school and been arrested.

How do you go from rudderless youth to world champion?

I spoke to Dananjaya about his journey and about the mantras that bring the best out of himself and others.


'Everything in life that is moving is fearless.' How do we start moving again when we've become still?

It's important to understand the forces that will prompt you to shift. Any object in rest needs a force to trigger movement, and you must identify the forces that will give you that little push.

When I look at myself, I realise I am extrinsically motivated. I consciously surround myself with people I want to live up to and, in turn, who hold me to a high standard. My urge to move comes from that.

My closest circle is made of people I don't want to disappoint, and when I lose momentum I always get a nudge from my immediate 'ecosystem'.

If you are intrinsically motivated, go back to why you started your journey of excellence. Remember the vigour, the vitality, and the energy you had at the start. Let that feeling generate the momentum you need.

You must also get close to the result you want to achieve. Unless you smell, feel, and touch the result you need to achieve on a constant basis, it's easy to lose the drive needed to achieve it.

When I was competing for the WCPS, I went to see it live every year whether I had been chosen for the semi final or not. I saw the result I wanted to achieve in front of my eyes. That desire, that push, came back to me.


What's the most rewarding thing about what you do?

It's when people begin to see the possibilities of their future potential. We all have different fates and destinies in life, and as a coach you can't guarantee success. Nobody can.

But you can help people connect with a higher self, a better version of themselves. Once they are able to see that, they can reach one inch more than they thought they could. Then they keep reaching till they achieve their vision of success.

The biggest reward is to help the people I meet see something in themselves that they have turned a blind eye to. To ignite that spark into a fire, to set in motion a small change that can create big results for the people I coach.


'Surround yourself with people who give you courage and make you feel rich.' How do we assess our relationships?

I have trained myself to become aware of the limited time I have left on this earth. No matter how hard you pray for it, nobody can give you back the 24 hours that just went by.

If the relationships you have are creating a negative impact, it's time to burn those bridges. These relationships make us focus our energy in the wrong places – on doubt, pressure, and stress.

A positive relationship is characterised by three elements:

1) It isn't a burden on you. A good relationship is not weight you carry, it's a release. It is a place where you go to unburden yourself. Take conscious steps towards controlling the time and energy you invest into relationships that burden you.

2) It helps you discover the truth. Positive relationships give you an honest opinion about why you are where you are. They don't try to please you. They say it as it is. They help you reflect and realise that, in any situation, you can only influence the things that are within your control.

3) It doesn't expect anything in return. None of the people who have helped me have ever asked for anything in return. I don't feel obligated. In an honest and positive relationship, there is no pressure, and when you help others you too will have no expectations.


'People need to buy into you before they buy into your product or service.' What's the cornerstone of trust?

Trust has four cornerstones. If you possess these four fundamental elements in your character you can build trust with people that matter, people with a higher state of being than you.

1) Consistency in your behaviour and your commitments. I competed for 10 years, and I was consistent in competing. So when people dedicated their valuable time to coaching me, they knew I would show up next year. This built trust and meant they were more willing to guide me.

2) Humility disarms people and allows them to bond with you. Simplicity is a key feature of humility. Being simple and humble go hand in hand with trust. It's difficult to form a relationship with a person who has an over inflated ego.

3) Empathy. Having the sensitivity to move through the emotional ups and downs in a relationship is a key pillar of trust. When you are not emotionally sensitive you often do things that inadvertently hurt the person you are trying to build a relationship with.

4) Vulnerability. A perfect version of yourself may be admired – but always at a distance. Showing your weak side allows individuals to connect with you because they too may have the same vulnerabilities.


'Everybody has a story to tell, and that story can have a positive impact on the lives of many.' Which stories inspire you?

I think every human story has one fundamental common element: struggle. A struggle to make tomorrow better than today, for themselves as well as their loved ones. This inspires me. I believe it is through struggle that we are able to discover and define ourselves.

I am inspired by individuals who look at struggle in a positive way. They see it as a process by which they will unearth the skills, talents, and truths needed to achieve success.

You need a tremendous amount of courage and acceptance to look at life that way, to persevere even in the hardest of times with a positive mindset.


'We fear the improbability of achieving our vision for success.' Why do we see things in others and doubt them in ourselves?

Fear and self-doubt are very important in your journey of success. These are internal compass readings that tell you to start moving. The trick is to manage the emotion and act on the signal your internal compass is giving you.

I often doubted myself when I was competing, but then I went a step further and asked myself, 'Do I lack a specific piece of knowledge or a skill that's creating this self-doubt?' Asking that question eventually helped me become more knowledgeable about my area of expertise.

As soon as that happens, the self-doubt disappears. You have self-doubt and fear because life is telling you that you need to learn something in order to become more certain.

We are able to see things in others because we can empathise with their success. We desire the same thing. But what holds us back is our inability to act on our feelings of fear and self-doubt.

Some simply succumb to those feelings and just 'wait it out', convincing themselves they will never discover the knowledge and skills needed to achieve their vision of success.

You only have to do one simple thing: just ask.

Ask people for help, ask for advice, and ask how you could be better than you are now.

Whenever I saw an awesome speaker I admired and who made me doubt my ability, I walked up to him and asked, 'How did you just do that?' Believe me, I've learnt so much by just asking.

Sometimes I've had to invest to get that knowledge. But what's important is that I am acting on the fear, acting on my self-doubt, and not succumbing to it.


You talk about the people who influenced you to change your ways. Who gives you courage now?

Earlier in my life, I had no courage. I didn't know what courage was. I was bold, rebellious, arrogant – but not courageous. I only understood what courage was much later in life.

At that stage of my life I just had nothing to lose, I was a drifter going where the wind took me. I was like a wounded soldier, a rebel without a cause.

But even though I was lost and broken, I always knew what type of man I wanted to become. I didn't know what type of job or profession I wanted to have – but I always knew I wanted to become great.

So I was on a search for that greatness. I wanted to prove the people around me wrong. I wanted to show my parents that I was worth it. I wanted to show myself that I have some sort of worth.

It was a mixed bag of emotions that pushed me forward – but it was not courage. Courage is what propels me now, to keep going forward into the world inch by inch when I could just sit back, kick off my shoes, relax and settle for mediocrity.

My son and my wife give me courage. Every time I look into their eyes I know that everything is possible. They are the source of quiet energy that helps me refine myself 1% at a time.


What can a nervous speaker do to find the courage they need?

The best recommendation I can give you is to join the Toastmasters programme. Get the basics you need from this programme and then you can build on this.

To be an impactful speaker you need two things:

1) A specific domain and area of knowledge that you have credibility in. You need to start investing in your field of expertise to increase your visibility and credibility as an opinion leader or subject expert.

2) At the same time, work on your craft of speaking. This is where you can obtain the basics from Toastmasters, then move on to more specialised coaching. Overcome your nervousness by acquiring the right knowledge and mentoring.


Finally, what excites you about 2016?

I think 2016 is a going to be a defining year for me. I will be speaking at the Rotary International Convention, which will be my largest audience – 10,000 or more. And I have many other engagements that will test my limits and capabilities like never before.

Am I nervous? Yes! Am I doing something about my nervousness? Yes! I am surrounding myself with people that can get me closer to my next destination. And I'm investing time and energy to grow my skills and capabilities, which will help me achieve my vision of success.

Visit iseesomethinginyou.com to find out more about Dananjaya Hettiarachchi.