The young ones

Yesterday, I attended one of the preliminary heats of the Telenet – BBC Public Speaking Awards, a competition in which 16 to 20-year old non-native English-speaking students speech about technology, society, philosophy and culture. About challenging topics such as “Education kills creativity”, “Culture is not a luxury, but a necessity” and “Ignorance is bliss.”

Belgium is a small country, and English is taught as a second or third language at school. But still, the richness of idiom and vocabulary of these adolescents on stage was beyond impressive. I heard some excellent and some not quite so good speeches. But overall I was surprised and delighted to see how most of these young people (among which one of our sons) presented more-than-worth-to-listen-to content and showed a remarkable mix of character, creativity and confidence.

Still, let me share some points for approval I jotted down:

  • Practice makes perfect. And without doubt all the competitors practiced a lot. But if a speaker over-rehearses his or her discourse, it may start to sound inauthentic or even theatrical.
  • Speaking in public without slides or without cheat sheet is certainly not easy. When you pencil the key points of your talk in the palm of your hand, however (which is not necessarily a no do,) don’t spend the whole presentation with your hand palm-up.
  • Less than 10% of a message is conveyed by actual words or content. The rest is delivered through non-verbal means. Most presenters controlled their body language well and kept good eye contact with the audience, but some of them neglected the expressive power of their voice pitch, intonation and volume of speech.
  • The end of some monologues could have been more inspiring. A sincere “Thank you for listening” or a dry “This concludes my speech” is hardly ever enough to engage your audience or call them to action (or help you to the second round of the competition.)
  • A poor response during the Q&A at the end may ruin the whole of your performance. Make sure you know your topic extremely well, and be ready for some provocative or even weird questions from the jury.

But most importantly, I heard a lot of good stories. Filled with ethos, pathos and logos. And seasoned with personal examples, anecdotes and metaphors. Each of those 18-year olds managed to deliver a great performance on stage. My Saturday morning in the audience was well-spent. So, let me close by paraphrasing the title of one of the speeches: “Storytelling can teach as well as entertain.” Yes, it can.

And our son Robin, he made it to the quarter finals! Congrats from his old dad for an outstanding performance.

BBC_winnersPhoto: courtesy Telenet – BBC Awards