Public speaking competitions adapt to life without audiences

The Arts Unit has taken its speaking competitions into the virtual realm.

Image: Plain speaker: 2019 Plain English Speaking Award NSW champion Himaja Dave from Crestwood High School.

The Arts Unit has kicked off its public speaking competitions with students delivering their speeches remotely without an audience.

Arts Unit speaking competitions officer Justine Clarke said the format of this year’s competitions had changed significantly to overcome social distancing and lockdown laws during the pandemic.

For the Plain English Speaking Award competition, entrants were asked to submit a recorded video of their eight-minute speech, which was then judged by a team of adjudicators.

Ms Clarke said they had received more than 113 entries and last week announced the 44 students who would progress to Round 2 in the first week after school holidays.

There was no impromptu speech in the initial round and Ms Clarke said many students found it difficult to hit the right tone without an audience.

“A few of them were quite informal and were put off by not having an audience, while others recorded themselves at home in their school uniform,” she said.

“There were some really good speeches,” Ms Clarke said.

“There was not as many speeches focused on climate change this year, which surprised me given it was such a big thing at the start of the year.

“I thought there would be more about COVID-19, but overwhelmingly students responded to the Black Lives Matter issue and systemic racism and equality.”

Four public schools – Sydney Girls, Sarah Redfern and Baulkham Hills high schools and Braidwood Central School – were successful in getting two competitors into Round 2 of the Plain English Speaking Awards, which are open to students from government and non-government schools.

Ms Clarke said the next round would include four preliminary finals, with both prepared and impromptu speeches, that would be conducted live before the judging panel via a video-conferencing platform.

Two students from each preliminary final would be selected for the State final on 7 August, which would be streamed to schools.

The Arts Unit also last week launched the 2020 multicultural perspectives public speaking competition, now in its 25th year and open to public primary school students.

The Legacy Junior Public Speaking Award will also be launched on 20 July at the start of Term 3.

Ms Clarke said the competitions would follow a similar format to the Plain English Speaking competition with the first round involving video submissions of speeches.

More information about the competitions is available from the Arts Unit.

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