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Wenona’s Junior School speaks up

Our panel of judges were blown away by the level of sophistication and engagement at Wenona’s Junior School Public Speaking Competition Grand Final last Thursday.

In the words of Tom Stoppard, “Writers aren’t sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might just nudge the world a little.” The judges at Wenona’s Junior School Public Speaking Competition couldn’t agree more as they listened to a wide variety of powerful speeches in the Independent Theatre, with parents watching via livestream or Zoom.

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While public speaking is something some of our Junior School students enjoy – and others dread – they are all aware that public speaking and presentation skills are incredibly important. After all, in an age saturated by information and opinion, it has never been more important (or difficult) for their voices to be heard. The Wenona Junior School Public Speaking Competition is just one way that students learn to improve their oratory skills and their ability to win over an audience. And of course, they – and their peers – learn a lot about their chosen subject, improve their research skills, and have fun in the process.

The students kicked off the term with a brainstorming session to workshop their ideas. They talked about the factors that make a great speech, such as interesting or topical content, insightful observations, rhetorical flourishes, poise and control. While Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and Winston Churchill’s ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches’ are often cited as great examples, there are plenty of speeches made by women that are equally worthy of recognition. For example, Queen Elizabeth I’s ‘The Tilbury Speech’ (1588), Emmeline Pankhurst’s ‘Freedom or Death Speech’ (1913), Hillary Clinton’s ‘Women’s Rights are Human Rights Speech’ (1995), and a speech that is legendary at Wenona, Julia Gillard’s ‘On Misogyny’ (2012).

Students spent the first four weeks of term, researching their topics and preparing their speeches. Topics for the first round were nominated by class teachers to reflect their current units of inquiry. Students who progressed to the next round, had to select a speech from the following topics:

• Favourite things
• How far I’ll go
• You have to see it to believe it
• The greatest idea of all time
• How stuff works
• Let it go
• It was so funny
• A most significant moment
• I remember when
• When the going gets tough
• If dreams came true
• The person I most admire

Semi-finals were held in Week 4 and the level of competition was fierce. Judges looked at each speaker’s subject matter to see the complexity of their ideas and their use of language. They considered the structure of each speech and the way it was delivered, including the student’s use of eye contact, pacing and pausing. They then reflected on each speaker’s overall performance and their ability to enhance the audience’s experience of their chosen topic.

Congratulations to Sophia and Pietra (Kindergarten), Ruby (Year 1), and Evie (Year 2), who were semi-finalists for Stage One; to Lily, Harriet and Amelia (Year 3) and Freya (Year 4) who were semi-finalists for Stage Two; and Zoe, Tahlia, Daisy, Charlotte, Adelaide, Sophie, Zara and Abigail (Year 5), and Juliet, Clemency, Isabel and Rose (Year 6), who were semi-finalists for Stage Three.

Our Junior School Public Speaking Competition finalists for 2020 returned to the stage in Week 5, where they certainly made an impression on the judges, with the sophistication of their thinking, and their exceptional presentation and oratory skills. As they all demonstrated, a good speaker cares whether their audience is bored or not. Without exception, their speeches were engaging and compelling, with a clear story or an angle that drew the audience in. Most importantly, they created an emotional connection with the audience, by making clever use of humour, interesting facts, and rhetorical devices to make an impact.

Finalists Stage 1 and 2

Congratulations to Sophia (Year 1), Evie and Samantha (Year 2), who were finalists for Stage One; to Sienna (Year 3) and Nina and Cassie (Year 4), who were finalists for Stage Two; and to Annie, Saskia, Lexi and Isla (Year 6) who were finalists for Stage Three.

Stage 3 Finalists

Of course, there can only be one winner. A huge congratulations to Samantha (Year 2), who was declared the winner of Stage One; Lucia (Year 4), who was the winner of Stage Two; and Annie (Year 6), who was the winner of Stage Three.

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Well done to all our Junior School students, and to their teachers – and parents – for helping them to research, polish, practise and perfect their speeches. We will leave you with Annie’s winning speech, just to highlight the calibre of this year’s content. Enjoy!

“You have to see it to believe it. Like, for example, when your mum tells you that if you eat too much chocolate at Halloween then you might get sick and you don’t believe her, until your cousin Zara eats too much chocolate and actually vomits and some of it lands on your shoe…

But it’s not just shoe vomit that we need to see to believe…

There are some big things, some important things, that we need to see before we’re ready to believe. One of these things is that women make great political leaders.

Scientists say that when we select leaders, we choose people who are confident and charismatic.

Sadly, for us, scientists also say that confidence and charisma have absolutely nothing to do with being a good leader.

Instead, it is the competent and humble who actually do a good job.

Guess which group of people show higher levels of confidence and charisma? Men.

Guess which group of people show higher levels of competence and humility? Women.

So, this means, at least according to the scientists, that women should be much better leaders than men.

But, let’s be honest, people don’t really seem to believe that.

Women make up 50.2% of the world population, but only 6% of national leaders are women.

It seems pretty obvious to me that we’re not going to believe that women make great political leaders, unless we see it with our own two eyes.

But guess what?

We just did.

This year we have all been living through the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID has tested every government across the globe in roughly the same way, at roughly the same time… and this means that we can see which leaders are doing the best job.

And what do we find?

Research published by the University of Leeds analysed data from 194 countries. The research found that COVID outcomes were “systematically better” in countries with female leaders.

In Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen has kept the number of COVID cases under 600 – in a country of 24 million people!

In Germany, Angela Merkel has done a much better job than any other European leader.

New Zealand is COVID-free thanks to Jacinda Ardern.

And here in NSW, Gladys Berejiklian has managed to avoid a second lockdown.

All of these female leaders were successful because they listened to experts, took the threat seriously and were prepared to think of new solutions to a new problem. They were competent and humble.

Over the last year, we’ve seen with our very own eyes that women are effective political leaders.

So, now we’ve seen it, the only question is… will we finally believe it?