Whether your students dream of being surgeons, climate activists, politicians or the next big YouTube star, public speaking competitions can be a vibrant opportunity for learning. Here at the English-Speaking Union (ESU), we believe that oracy should be at the heart of every classroom, and that oracy competitions can help bring it to the heart of every school. Students can take part in our Schools’ Mace, Performing Shakespeare, or ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition and learn some key skills while taking part.
Six benefits of public speaking competitions for students
1. Public speaking competitions give different ways of engaging with skills
For some students, oracy activities can be daunting. However, by taking a slightly different approach, we can often help these students feel more comfortable and confident. For example, immersing presentation and speech skills into part of a dramatic performance can be helpful. Other students may find their feet within the controlled role as a public speaking chairperson.
Finding a new way for students to express themselves can help unlock achievements in other areas too.
2. Public speaking competitions are social and interactive
One of the most alluring things about public speaking competitions for students can be the social interactions offered. They can offer students the chance to socialise not only with classmates but with different year groups and with a range of other schools from right across the country.
Those participating in debating will go head-to-head with opponents, while public speaking teams will host and welcome speakers from other schools as part of the contest. These interactions benefit students as learners, as they can observe how others approach similar tasks, share ideas, and use their words and actions to motivate and inspire.
Students – and teachers! – who have taken part in our competitions frequently tell us how much they’ve enjoyed meeting others with similar passions. Many teachers comment on this too, pointing out that students typically have very little opportunity to talk to other children their age whom they don’t already know. ‘It’s nice that they are experiencing, very clearly, schools that are from a very different background, seeing the differences, and also knowing that there isn’t as much of a difference as they previously thought,’ says Grace Aldridge, teacher, Kensington Aldridge Academy.
3. The post-Covid learning environment
After the barriers to learning created by Covid, many learners are showing reduced confidence and capability in speech and communication. Oracy competitions provide a structured, supported means of rebuilding skills. The ESU’s four skill sets help students to identify strengths and weaknesses and to take scaffolded steps to develop.
Our competitions allow students to hone their communication skills via video calls and in person, and crucially support the transition between the two, taking skills out from behind the screen and into live, vibrant spaces.
4. Public speaking competitions can be a motivator
It’s widely understood in the world of education that each student learns differently. When it comes to oracy, competition can be a great source of motivation for many students.
Throughout the process: preparations, practice, and then performance, having the opportunity to compete, progress and win acclaim is transformative for many. As Simon Porter, headteacher at De Aston School in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, says: ‘The students really enjoy the ESU competitions. They get to have their voice heard on important topics and it’s been transformative for their confidence and their self-esteem.’
5. Public speaking competitions provide challenge
Central to our mission, we believe that all students deserve access to oracy education. But, for those who are particularly engaged, classroom opportunities just might not be enough. Public speaking competitions give students a place to really stretch themselves and to take on bigger challenges. Coming up against peers at local, regional and even national levels means that there’s always more to strive for.
6. Public speaking competitions provide focus for year-wide activities
Finally, it’s important to note that, while the end result may be a team of students going to a competition, the process is an opportunity to bring oracy to much larger groups.
Many of the schools that take part in our ESU competitions use the competition season as a time to get everyone involved in oracy activities. For example, the entire school could enter the first round of our Performing Shakespeare Competition. Also, teachers often use our ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition as a chance to get everyone giving speeches in class.
And of course, a winning team showing off their newly polished oracy skills makes for a fantastic assembly highlight.