The Plain English Speaking Award

Latest Competition News

Entries for the 2020 edition of the Plain English Speaking Award are now open and you can find the entry form by clicking here. All the best for a fantastic and rewarding 2020 to all our public speakers!

Just in case you missed it, last year's competition culminated in Himaja Dave from Crestwood High School being named the NSW champion. You can watch a video of the state final she won at the bottom of this page. Congratulations again to her and best of luck to all the speakers who'll be looking to emulate her this year! 

Plain English Speaking Award Information

The Plain English Speaking Award aims to encourage the use of clear and effective spoken English. Since its inception in 1978, the competition has provided an opportunity for NSW senior students to improve their confidence and to develop their speech-writing and public speaking skills. Please note that you can download this information as a PDF by clicking here

What are the prizes?

The eventual national winner of this competition will win the right to compete in the international final in London and will receive return flights to London courtesy of BBM Ltd. The NSW winner will represent the state at the national final in Brisbane in August, receive a medallion along with a cash prize of $250 courtesy of the Australia-Britain Society and $300 courtesy of the NSW English-Speaking Union. The NSW winner’s school will also receive the Australia-Britain Shield for Plain English Speaking and the Westminster Stone. The six state finalists will receive medallions and a cash prize of $100 from the Australia-Britain Society. All students involved in the competition will receive a certificate acknowledging their participation, with certificates of congratulations awarded to all local and regional winners.

Who is eligible to compete?

The Plain English Speaking Award is open to NSW government and non-government secondary schools. Each school can enter a maximum of two contestants. Contestants must be either Australian citizens or permanent residents of Australia. Contestants must be between 15 and 18 years of age (inclusive) on 1 January 2020.

How do schools enter the Plain English Speaking Award?

The online entry form for the competition can be accessed by clicking here. Entries should be submitted before close of business on Thursday 19 March 2020. Please ensure that you include contact details for the teacher who will be looking after the entry. All teachers must provide a direct email address (preferably your departmental address for government school teachers) to assist with our organisation.

How much does entry cost?

The entry fee for the award is $28.00 (including GST) per government school student and $56.00 (including GST) per non-government school student. Government schools will automatically be debited for this amount once they submit their entry form (please advise your school’s finance department that this will occur). Non-government schools will be invoiced after their entries have been received. Please note that fees are due on entry and cannot be refunded even where students might subsequently withdraw.

What are the speaking requirements?

At each stage of the competition students present both a prepared speech and an impromptu speech. The prepared speech can be on any subject chosen by the contestant. The speaking time for the prepared speech is 8 minutes with a warning bell at 6 minutes, two bells at 8 minutes and a continuous bell at 9 minutes. The impromptu speech is on a subject chosen by the adjudicator. Contestants receive 3 minutes of preparation time to write their impromptu speech. The speaking time for the impromptu speech is 3 minutes with a warning bell at 2 minutes, two bells at 3 minutes and a continuous bell at 4 minutes. Note that speakers are expected to finish at or just beyond the official speaking time, and it will be considered poor timing to reach the continuous bell.

What are the rules of the competition?

Other than the eligibility criteria and speaking times detailed above, it should also be noted that contestants are not allowed to use any props or external aids such as Powerpoint presentations during their speeches. They are encouraged to speak from palm cards and must present without the use of a lectern or microphone. As mentioned above, there are no restrictions on the subject of the prepared speech, though speakers are of course encouraged to choose entertaining and thought-provoking topics to address. In the impromptu section, all contestants in a final will receive the same impromptu topic.

What are the adjudicators looking for?

The adjudicators will make their decision based on the matter, manner and method the contestants employ in presenting their speeches. They will expect contestants to be confident and engaging speakers. The speeches themselves should be developed logically to a convincing conclusion in the time allowed. The adjudicators will in particular be looking for knowledge of the subject matter, skilful development of the theme and the effective use of plain English. Successful contestants are also expected to demonstrate a balance of personal opinion and information in their speeches, as well as a balance of humour and sincerity. Finally, it should be noted that adjudicators are required to give equal consideration to the prepared and impromptu speeches in making their decision.

How does the competition run?

Schools may conduct their own internal competition to select two representatives for the Plain English Speaking Award. The Speaking Competitions Officer will then advise all contestants of the date and venue of their local final which will be held between Monday 27 April and Friday 8 May 2020 (Weeks 1 and 2 of Term 2 for government schools). The winners of local finals held in the Sydney metropolitan area will proceed to regional finals which will be held at The Arts Unit, Lewisham from Monday 18 to Thursday 21 May. Regional winners and local winners from outside the Sydney metropolitan area will proceed to the state semi-finals which will be held in the Wilkins Gallery of NSW Department of Education’s Parramatta Offices on Friday 12 June. Three contestants from each semi-final will then be chosen to proceed to the state final at the NSW Teachers Federation Conference Centre on Friday 26 June. The winner of the state final will compete in a national final which will be in early August (please note that contestants may only appear once in the national final).

Who are the organisers and sponsors?

The competition is organised by The Arts Unit of the NSW Department of Education, and is proudly supported by the Australia-Britain Society and the NSW English-Speaking Union. The national competition is also proudly supported by BBM Ltd.

If you have any questions about The Plain English Speaking Award, please contact Justine Clarke, Speaking Competitions Officer on (02) 8512 1172 or email:

Who are the past winners of the competition?

A list of all previous winners of The Plain English Speaking Award is available here, and below is the video of the 2019 state final. If you prefer you can click here and you'll be taken to Vimeo to watch the final. There you'll have more options like being able to download the video or jump between speakers by clicking on their times. Congratulations on behalf of The Arts Unit to all six finalists on a great event!