Winston Churchill, arguably our greatest orator of the 20th century, famously observed that ‘a good speech should be like a woman’s skirt - long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.’
I was reminded of these words on Saturday when I had the privilege of helping to adjudicate the Rotary Intermediate Southern Semi Final of Youth Speaks held at the Weald Community School at Billingshurst.
Teams from five schools in Sussex had made it through to this round - representing Rotary clubs from Billingshurst, Chichester, Lewes, Burgess Hill, and East Grinstead.
County Times’ readers will be proud to learn that James Brew from the Weald won the Best Speaker category.
But all the school teams - which comprised a chairperson, keynote speaker, and proposer of the vote of thanks - gave polished, distinctive and distinguished presentations on a range of subjects from ‘Super-Size Nation’ to ‘Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover.’
Public speaking should be mandatory in every school curriculum.
It not only gives youngsters supreme confidence and self-assurance, it prepares them for a host of challenges from job interviews and work presentations to ensuring their voice is heard.
The pen is mightier than the sword, but a powerful speech delivered to the right audience is the most potent tool of all.
As Churchill also commented in reference to public speaking: “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time - a tremendous whack.”
Saturday’s speakers all delivered that ‘tremendous whack’. I hope more young people living here might be encouraged to do the same.
I congratulate and thank all the schools that participated, the local Rotary clubs that organise Youth Speaks, and my fellow adjudicators Jackie Charman and Lucy Cooper.
But I throw down a challenge too.
How do we encourage wider participation in public speaking in this newspaper’s circulation area?
Wouldn’t it be tremendous if in addition to the already magnificent work done by Rotary we could put in place a showcase competition here?
If schools show interest, we will put up a trophy - and if the business community wishes to support us I am convinced we could make a real difference to the lives and futures of many young residents.
In an age of the slang language and abbreviations bred by texts and social media, improving standards of communication and literacy is not just the responsibility of our excellent schools.
We all have a part to play - don’t we?
Winners at Billingshurst were: Overall prize: St Philip Howard Catholic High School in Barnham which will now go through to the District Final in Haslemere next month with the runner-up. Best proposer of the vote of thanks, Morgan Steele (St Philip Howard Catholic High School); Best chairperson, Dominique Froud (St Paul’s Catholic College, Burgess Hill - which also came second overall); Best speaker, James Brew (the Weald Community School, Billingshurst). The other schools participating were Lingfield Notre Dame School and Priory School, Lewes. Special thanks to Billingshurst and District Rotary Club which organised this event.