Public Speaking Competition

The next annual competition will be held

Date: Spring 2018

Time: 5.45 – 8.30/8.45 pm (approx.)

Place: tbc

Please contact Pam Taylor (Court Assistant) if you are interested in this event.


Worshipful Company of Educators Public Speaking Competition Report

Gresham College, 13th March 2017

Organiser: Pamela Taylor, Court Assistant

Adjudicators: Lyn Williams, Liveryman (Chair), The Master Dr Martin Gaskell and David Taylor, Past Master

To the gradually swelling band of regular afiçionados among the Educators, this annual event in the Company’s programme has a number of reassuringly unchanging features: the panelled walls of Barnard’s Inn Hall, dating from the 14th Century; the blend of 14-15 year-old students from London’s maintained and independent schools; a highly diverse range of topics - unpredictable and at times astonishing; the authoritatively unmissable feedback to the speakers from the superb chief adjudicator; the Master’s encouragement and presence as judge and prizegiver (Masters change annually, of course: it is their support which is unswerving); the beautifully crafted Michael Virden glass trophies; excellent assistance from the staff of Gresham College and from Educators Ann Bell and Pat Sales; and of course the constant leadership of Pam Taylor. A notable feature this year was a generous donation towards expenses from Freeman Matthew Breslin, a fierce advocate of the event. However, the evening missed greatly the gravitas and wisdom of its staunch adjudicator, Honorary Liveryman Francis Bergin, who, alas, had to withdraw shortly beforehand for medical reasons, leaving his place to be inadequately filled by amateur David Taylor. He is determined to return next year.

Those who have attended since the earliest days will also have traced a number of changes:

The number of schools taking part has grown and, if all those who have now competed in at least one competition were to attend simultaneously, the event would exceed its current bounds;

From a time when a small audience rattled around in a large room, the Hall this year was very well filled, with some 75 – assorted competitors, friends and family, and Educators – crammed in to hear the students;

And the standard has risen dramatically, with those present remarking on the extraordinarily high quality, maturity and engagement of the young speakers, as they fearlessly tackled issues which might well have daunted those seniors who hung on their words. (This year, many of the schools had held internal competitions, thus putting forward the two who performed the best.)

Emails from Educators and schools to the organiser:

“I really do believe that yesterday evening was the best ever. The standard of speaking was exceptional and your organisation superb – how on earth did you manage to get it all completed in the allotted time? We both enjoyed every moment of it. My husband is now completely converted and will undoubtedly want to come again.”

“Many congratulations and many thanks for such a splendid evening yesterday - highly successful and most enjoyable, indeed inspiring- I think the best ever of the 10 occasions you have so brilliantly master-minded from the day you first offered to take the project on board. You completely confirm the old adage that "the best committee is one of one!" Thank you so much for all you have done.”

“Another resounding success last night! They do seem to get better every year, if that is possible. We both very much enjoyed the whole evening.

Our thanks to you for organising such a pearl in the Company's yearly activities.”

“I wanted to say many thanks and congratulations on a marvellous evening, yesterday. For sure, it was a Mad March Monday tonic for all those who had come from work.

The entire event is a masterpiece from the organisation through to listening to the wonderful and engaging speakers. I'm sure that when all the participants look back in years to come, they will highlight the evening as one of their seminal memories.”

There are reasons for the continued improvement that has been noted: first, events such as this take time to establish their momentum and character – and they do take sustained hard work; secondly, the past decade has seen in London a burgeoning interest in promoting public speaking among the young, through the efforts of such bodies as the English Speaking Union and the Jack Petchey Foundation; we learnt last week of a new and in many ways parallel initiative for sixth-form students, emanating, it appears, from the Lord Mayor’s office with the particular backing of Sheriff (and Educators’ Court Assistant) Peter Estlin and taking place in the Inns of Court; and, thirdly, the schools which take part regularly have upped their game, with some excellent preparation and commitment from teachers – what was striking this year was that many of Lyn Williams’s exceptionally wise and practical tips were clearly being taken to heart. It was rather uncanny to hear from the deserving winner an object lesson in the principles and practice of effective communication – delivered from centre stage, with no notes and an acute awareness of the power of modulation of pitch, speed, timing and body language: brilliant! This year, a noted feature was the deftness of so many when responding to some really challenging questions: the capacity to extend ideas with fresh insights, and to think on one’s feet with no time to prepare – and they acted as a kind of informal tie-breaker when the judges were desperately seeking to separate the good from the great.

With these challenges the judges wrestled mightily while the competitors and audience enjoyed socialising and refreshments (musing, apparently, on the complete impossibility of the judges’ task). When they returned, there was breathless anticipation and a hushed atmosphere. In the end, the judges felt compelled by the sheer excellence of the presentations to stretch the awards to the max: a winner, two runners-up, and two highly commended (and it could easily have been six, so close were the judges’ marks). 

The contestants, the titles of their talks and the results are given below:

(Running order drawn by lot):

1 Oliver Lavelle Merchant Taylors’ School Consumption: why 

(HIGHLY COMMENDED) materialism has spoilt our 

generation 

2 Rezwana Rahman Little Ilford School Memories

3 Noor Sawhney Latymer Upper School Why we need to learn about the

British Empire

4 Maddy Banner James Allen’s Girls’ School The presentation of women in the

media

5 Lily Gordon Corelli College Read between the lines 

6 Matthew Pease Ibstock Place School Greed is Good (Sometimes) 

7 Chethaka Hewarathne Corelli College Limits 

8 Harriet McDonald Eggers City of London School for Is Feminism taught enough? 

Girls

9 Waheeda Khatun Mulberry School Is space exploration a good use of 

our time and money?

10 Kajuli Claeys James Allen’s Girls’ School The problem with labels (RUNNER-UP)

11 Ameera Shaik Little Ilford School Gender inequality 

(HIGHLY COMMENDED)

12 Oliver Gallen Ibstock Place School The mirror is not the true 

reflection

13 Lila Mahdi Latymer Upper School Why the unfair balance of media 

coverage of women’s sports 

matters

14 Harrison Robb Merchant Taylors’ School From Og to Blog: what 

(WINNER) constitutes good

communication? 

15 Sadia Kamaly Mulberry School Nuclear weapons – deterrent or 

danger?

16 Rachel Zerdin City of London School for How democracy is failing 

(RUNNER-UP) Girls young people 

All contestants received a certificate which rightly emphasised their ‘successful participation’, and the Master wrapped up the evening admirably with a suitably eloquent tribute (if, alas, curtailed by the relentless flapping of Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near) to all those involved – especially the organiser, Pam Taylor, whose role in the evening and efficient preparation were seen, indisputably, as indispensable. His words included the expression of his firm belief that this was an event fully deserving its place in the Educators’ programme since not only is it a demonstration that educators themselves are constantly being educated – but on this occasion it is the students who turn out to be the educators. Indeed they do.

David Taylor