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The prepared speech

The prepared speech

The Plain English Speaking Award requires students to speak clearly and convincingly, in plain English, on an issue that shows an awareness of a world beyond their immediate environment.

General guidelines

There are four key components to a successful speech.

  1. The subject matter should be worldly and should concern a social issue.
  2. The subject matter should be well constructed.
  3. The delivery must be convincing and engaging.
  4. The words of the speech must be in plain English.

Read the adjudication criteria to see how you will be marked at the Plain English Speaking Award.

Length of prepared speech

In the Regional Finals  and Semifinals the prepared speech should be on a topic of your choice and no longer than 6 minutes. A warning bell sounds at 5 minutes and a final bell at 6 minutes. 

Adjudicators will allow students to finish a sentence or thought if it means going over the time limit but they will not take into account anything substantial that is spoken after the bell.

Choosing a topic

The Plain English Speaking Award requires you to speak convincingly in plain English on an issue that shows an awareness of a world beyond your immediate environment.

This competition places no rigid restriction on topic choices. You are free to speak on any topic, provided that it focuses on a social issue.

Your ideas are crucial to making a good speech. Aim to tell your listeners something new. There are many ways to do this. For example, you could raise awareness about a little-known issue, or give a new angle on a well-known one. Feel free to use personal experiences to illustrate your issue – these examples give the listeners an insight into who you are.

In contrast, clichés and platitudes make dull speeches. An example is a speech which tells us that homelessness is bad. This might be a topic that interests you greatly but simply telling the audience that homelessness is bad will not provide the audience with any insights because everybody knows that already. Ask yourself: what will be new to the audience?

The two steps for choosing a speech topic:

  • Choose a topic that genuinely interests you. Your own passion for that area will automatically infuse insight into your speech.
  • Ask whether your choice demonstrates social awareness. If it is overly personal, can you instead use your personal experiences to illustrate your view on a wider issue?

The best speeches will combine worldly issues with personal experiences to give the listeners a package of ideas that they may have never heard before.

Constructing a speech

Structure

Structure in a speech is essential because it makes the content of your speech more understandable to the listener. There is no single right way to structure a speech, but always ask whether your structure enhances the comprehension, effectiveness and persuasiveness of your speech.

In constructing your speech, consider these elements of structure.

Purpose of the speech
It is crucial that you establish the purpose of your speech within the first 30 seconds, that is, what you will achieve by the end of your speech. Establishing a purpose early is important because each subsequent sentence should then help to fulfil that purpose. Without a clear purpose, listeners will not appreciate the full power of your words because they will not know what you are trying to prove.

Logical structure of ideas
There should be a smooth flow from one idea to the next. Lead the listener to follow your train of thought. Whether or not you ‘signpost’ your ideas is up to you. Signposting is when a speaker succinctly summarises his or her points at the start of the speech before expanding on them. An example of signposting is: “Today I have three points to discuss. First …; second…; and lastly…" (all in two sentences). Signposting can be effective but you might find it too blunt for your speech. Ask yourself: will signposting enhance the comprehension of the information or will it jar too much to be useful?

Engaging opening to the speech
As well as establishing your purpose, your opening should capture the interest of the audience. Consider ways of doing this, for example, with an anecdote, a memory, a quote.

Powerful conclusion
Your conclusion should remind the audience of the purpose of the speech and reinforce your message. If you have not timed your speech to make sure that it goes no longer than six minutes, you may find that the powerful conclusion is made too late – well after the six minutes. That would result in you losing points.

Content

In constructing your speech, consider the elements of content.

Message of the speech

Decide what you want your message to be and prepare your speech around that message. The message is the one idea you want your listeners to remember if they remember only one thing from your entire speech. This is also known as your ‘contention’. The message of the speech is closely associated to its purpose. The purpose of a speech should be to make the audience remember the message. But the two are not always the same. Sometimes the purpose is to weigh up a conflict of ideas, but the message resolves that conflict. For example, if the purpose of a speech was to explore the difficulties in balancing economic growth with environmental sustainability, then the message could conclude that environmental sustainability is a prerequisite for long-term wealth. If you struggle to articulate your message, look to the insight that motivated your topic choice. Often the two are the same – if your fresh thought drives your speech, the chances are that you will want the audience to remember your fresh thought. In other words, make your insight the central message of your speech.

Authoritative opinion
Adjudicators expect you to have a deep understanding of your issue. You can demonstrate your knowledge and understanding by supporting your analysis and your assertions with thoroughly researched evidence. Using a variety of sources will help you achieve this.

Humour
Humour in a speech can be enormously effective in capturing audience attention. However, the humour must be relevant and witty. Irrelevant comedy routines will sap meaning from the message and damage your credibility. Humour must also be natural and not forced. If you are not funny, then perhaps your speech will be more persuasive without jokes and that is fine too.

Summary: Constructing your speech

In constructing your speech, consider the elements of structure and content:

  • Have a logical structure.
  • State the purpose of your speech early.
  • Engage the audience from the outset.
  • Conclude by reinforcing your central message.
  • Research is important.
  • Humour is valuable but not mandatory.

Delivering the speech

The goal in effective delivery is to increase your credibility and to hold the audience’s attention. Remember always that you must create the impression that you are an authority on your topic.

Eye contact

People do not listen to speeches; they listen to people speaking.

In face-to-face human communication eye-contact is essential. Eye contact shows confidence. It suggests that you have nothing to hide, and increases the sincerity and credibility of your speech. It also engages your listeners because you will be speaking to them individually. Keep in mind that you are speaking to all the individuals in the audience. Focusing solely on a group of friends or the adjudicators will ostracise the other audience members and will destroy the attentive, intense atmosphere of your speech. The best speeches seize and hold the entire crowd’s attention. You can only do that if you involve the entire crowd.

Stance

The way you stand affects the image you project. Your stance should reflect the point you are trying to convey. If a speaker slouches while talking about the importance of discipline in everyday living, then he or she will lose credibility. Your stance might shift at different parts of the speech. That is fine, but always ask whether the way you stand, move or gesture enhances your credibility with the audience.

Voice

The audience must hear you. Ensure that you speak loudly, slowly and clearly. Your lowest pitch may be the most effective, especially if you are nervous. Practice presenting your speech in different sized rooms. Use a test audience to ascertain whether or not you can be heard clearly.

Make sure that you pace your speech so that you are not speaking too quickly or too slowly. Variety of pace is important and often used to make a point in the speech. A pause can also be used to stress a point.

Variation is the key - any vocal style, no matter how engaging initially, will fade into background noise if sustained for six minutes without variation. Light and shade are crucial.

In summary, to make your speech interesting, vary the pace, pitch and volume of your voice to suit the emotion you want to elicit at a particular point. 

Affectation

Sometimes a speaker will dramatise his or her speech and act as though they were playing the orator in a melodrama. While this approach would certainly require abundant eye-contact and vocal variation, it fails the test of believability. Dramatised deliveries are always artificial and are not in the spirit of plain English speaking.

Summary: Delivering the speech

  • Make eye contact with your audience.
  • Your stance and gestures should match the point you are making.
  • Your words must be clear and audible.
  • Vary your vocal delivery.
  • Avoid dramatising your speech.

Using plain English

Plain English is using language that makes your message easy to understand. It involves being concise, being precise and avoiding inflated words.

Be concise
Being concise means using as few words as possible, without sacrificing meaning. You might need to cull words or sentences that do not add clarity or emotion to your speech.  

Being concise is important for two reasons:

  • Short sentences are easier to follow. In a speech, an audience has no opportunity to revisit what you have said. Long sentences require a listener to keep track of the whole sentence; short sentences register points quickly and allow the speech to maintain momentum.
  • It adds power to your words. You only have six minutes to speak and you want to pack as many ideas as possible into those minutes. To do that you must be concise. Excessive use of words dilute the power of your speech.

Be precise
Being precise means using words and sentences that have clear and unambiguous meaning. Words that are vague plurals, like ‘emotions’ or ‘policies’ are imprecise. If a speaker said that ‘government policies have failed to protect human rights’ then the audience would want to know which government, which policies and what precise human rights were being talked about.

Inflated words
Choose short words over long words if they have the same meaning. For example, use ‘improve’ rather than ‘ameliorate’; ‘buy’ rather than ‘purchase’. Short words are concise and more hard-hitting.

Avoid jargon as much as possible. Be sure to explain any jargon that is unavoidable because it is part of your topic. So if you use jargon, either you leave the audience ignorant, or you explain it. Unnecessary explanations take time without adding much meaning; too many explanations results in a speaker confusing the audience.

Summary: plain English

  • Be concise.
  • Be precise.
  • Use short words where possible.
  • Avoid jargon.

Quotation and plagiarism

You must acknowledge your source when using the words of others. A brief reference can easily be made in the context of a speech to acknowledge authors of phrases and sayings.

The deliberate unacknowledged use of the words of other speakers or writers in order to claim ownership of those words is a serious infringement of accepted ethics in any context and will result in the disqualification of Plain English Speaking Award participants.

Notes and prompt cards

The use of notes, in any form, is permitted. However, it is difficult to give the appearance of knowledge and sincerity if speeches are merely read, or if there is excessive use of prompt cards. Excessive reading of speeches and referral to notes also interrupts and adversely affects presentation.

Use of microphones, lecterns and props

In the Plain English Speaking Award:

  • A microphone is not permitted in regional finals. Sound amplification may be provided by the VCAA at Semifinals and the State Final.
  • A lectern should not be used at any level of the competition.

Props are not permitted at any level of the competition, including visual aids such as slides or PowerPoint.

Read the speeches of state finalists.