The Plain English Speaking Award

Latest Competition News

The Plain English Speaking Award was conducted this year, entirely online. The state final took place on Friday 7 August, with the chair and panel in the studio at The Arts Unit, and the 8 finalists scattered around NSW.

Congratulations to all participants and state finalists.

The 2020 Plain English Speaking NSW State winner for 2020 is Olivia Harlamb from Abbotsleigh

 The 2020 Plain English Speaking NSW State Runner-up is Flora Tucker from Brigidine College, St Ives 

The 2020 State Final film is available on this link.

Plain English Speaking Award Information

Every year since 1978 students have been developing arguments and public speaking skills by competing in the Plain English Speaking Award. As with all things in 2020 the award can’t go ahead in its usual format, but we’re excited about a new way for students to practise those skills, get some feedback so that they can keep developing as speakers, and compete against other students around NSW even if they won’t be able meet up in person. This year, we’re asking all interested students to submit a video of their speech for adjudication, feedback, and a chance to proceed all the way to the Virtual State Final. Please note that you can download this information as a PDF by clicking here

Who is eligible to compete?

The 2020 Plain English Speaking Award is open to NSW government and non-government secondary school students. Contestants must be either Australian citizens or permanent residents of Australia and must be between 15 and 18 years of age (inclusive) on 1 January 2020 (note that the Legacy Junior Public Speaking Award will also be running later in the year for speakers too young to qualify). 

How much does entry cost?

he cost for NSW government schools is $15.00 per student, and this will be charged through the sundry tax invoice process after receipt of the video submission. The cost for non-government schools is $30.00 per student. Non-government schools will be sent a tax invoice upon receipt of the video submission.

How should videos be submitted? 

After completing the application teachers will be sent instructions on how to upload and the link to the site where they can upload their students’ video speeches. Speeches need to be submitted by 3pm on Friday 12 June. You will then receive an acknowledgement through email that your submission has uploaded successfully to the site. If you do not receive this or experience any technical difficulties uploading to the site, please contact the Speaking Competitions Officer immediately on (02) 8512 1172. 

What are the speaking requirements?

For the first round, contestants need to write and submit a video of their prepared speech. That speech can be on any subject they choose, with a time limit of 8 minutes. If speakers progress to the next level, there will be a warning bell at 6 minutes, two bells at 8 minutes and a continuous bell if the speaker exceeds the maximum time by more than 30 seconds, so it is important that contestants are aware of this and do their best to adhere to the time limit in their initial submission. Ideally the video would be a shot of the student from the knees to the top of their head, but the judges won’t be taking into account the filming or the lighting – just the writing of the speech and the manner and style of the actual speaker. It’ll be fine if the video is shot on whatever device and in whatever format is easiest.

Speakers are not required to deliver an impromptu speech in the first round. However, if they are chosen to progress to subsequent live rounds of the competition, a 3 minute impromptu with 3 minute preparation will be a requirement. 

It should also be noted that contestants are not allowed to use any props or external aids such as Power-point presentations during their speeches – it really does just need to be an 8 minute long shot of the contestant speaking. They are encouraged to speak from palm cards and must not have anything like a lectern in front of them. Finally, a reminder that there are no restrictions on the subject of the speech, though speakers are of course encouraged to choose entertaining and thought-provoking topics to address.

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.

How does the competition run?

The deadline to submit videos is Friday 12 June 2020. Entries will be sorted into groups of approximately ten. The organisers reserve the right to place students from the same school into the same group and these speeches will be adjudicated by a panel, with a maximum of four speeches chosen to progress to the next round. Each video submitted will receive a reply with some personal feedback on how to keep improving as a speaker. 
Winners of this first round will proceed to preliminary finals where they will be placed in groups of ten to twelve speeches. They’ll be sent an invitation to the online platform where they will present their speech live, having updated their speech in line with feedback received and any changes in the world, so that the speech remains relevant. The prepared speech will again have a time limit of 8 minutes and speakers will be given a warning bell at 6 minutes, with 2 bells at 8 minutes to indicate that their time has expired. A continuous bell will be rung if the speaker exceeds the time limit by more than 30 seconds.

At this level, speakers will have the added component of the impromptu section and will be asked to dial in to deliver an impromptu speech on a topic given on the day. In this section, speakers will be given 3 minutes to prepare for a 3 minute speech. A warning bell will be rung at 2 minutes, with 2 bells at 3 minutes and a continuous bell if the speaker exceeds the time limit by more than 30 seconds.

From these preliminary finals, two speakers from each event will proceed to the Virtual State Final on Friday 7 August. These speakers will again be asked to present both their prepared and impromptu speeches through a digital platform. At this live streamed virtual final we will crown a state champion.

Who are the organisers?

This competition is organised by The Arts Unit of the NSW Department of Education. If you have any questions about The Plain English Speaking Award, please don’t hesitate to contact Justine Clarke, Speaking Competitions Officer on (02) 8512 1172 or email her at justine.clarke@det.nsw.edu.au. You can also head to www.vimeo.com/showcase/3601163 to watch previous New South Wales public speaking finals for some inspiration. Best of luck for the competition!

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!

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