The Plain English Speaking Award

Latest Competition News

The Plain English Speaking Award has finished up for 2018 with Justin Lai from Sydney Boys High School declared the state champion. At the bottom of this page there's a video of all the action from the final, including some thoughts from the adjudicators on each speaker towards the end. Congratulations to Justin and also to the other five speakers who won their way into the state final: Ashna Hedge (Sydney Girls High School), Jinyoung Kim (The King's School), Sophie Mok (Pymble Ladies' College), Sophie Shead (Hornsby Girls High School) and Charlee Sutherland (Crestwood High School). Best of luck to the graduating speakers with the rest of their careers, and to everyone else we look forward to seeing you back again for an even bigger and better 2019 tournament!

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 receive a medallion along with a cash prize of $250 courtesy of the Australia-Britain Society. 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 2 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 2018.

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 22 March 2018. 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 present from a stage 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 manner, matter 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 2 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 in early May. 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 in early June. Regional winners and local winners from outside the Sydney metropolitan area will proceed to the state semi-finals which will be held in the Maiden Theatre of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney on Friday 22 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 6 July. The winner of the state final will compete in a national final which will be held in Darwin on Monday 13 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 Youth Support.

If you have any questions about The Plain English Speaking Award, please contact Andrew Lasaitis, 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 2018 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!