National Champions. I still can’t quite believe it! Yet along with the shock, I feel a huge sense of pride in what our team has managed to accomplish. Ellen, Dami, and I have been working as a team for nearly three years now, after having been rounded up and put forward by our mentors, Mrs. Canney and Mr. Woods. We were only Year 10s, and didn’t know quite what to expect. Since then, I’ll admit, we’ve had little success at competition. We’ve spoken on the topics of strange laws, societies view on the younger generation, bananas… none of which brought any victory to Concord’s name. But yet, despite all those years of never getting much further than the local heats, it was a long but vital learning experience for us. We got a sense for the competition, and with each event we walked away from empty handed, we always told ourselves not to worry, because we would be ready by 6th form.
Sure enough, this year has been the year for Concord’s humble public speaking team. Despite so many years of never expecting much more than a participation certificate, we found ourselves soaring through locals, then regionals, and finally yet amazingly landing ourselves at both the BPW and Rotary National finals. The topic of my speech, of which I’ve loyally stuck to the whole way through both of these competitions, is rats. More specifically, human’s hypocrisy and ignorance regarding the treatment of rats, and the fact that they aren’t actually as bad as we give them credit for. The topic is of particular interest to me, as I aspire to a career as a veterinarian, and although neither Dami nor Ellen share my same passion for furry creatures, I’m fairly sure that the both of them could recite my speech backwards, the number times they’ve heard me rehearse it!
That said, with two national finals looming, we knew that our usual last minute gluing of cue cards en route to the competition tactic wasn’t going to be enough for us this time. So we got down to work. We had several late night meetings, pestered Mr. Woods in the English office whenever we could, rushed through lunches to find time to run through our parts. I personally had a whole day with Mrs. Canney to myself to rehearse my speech and questions. Ellen and Dami went through their parts meticulously, and although a lot of their role is spontaneous, Ellen made list upon list of possible topics that she could be given, and Dami practiced writing his vote of thanks by watching famous speeches on the Internet. Mr. Woods did a fabulous job of adding extra humour to our parts by writing in some brilliant jokes and wordplay, yet in the same respect Mrs. Canney had the important job of making sure that he didn’t go too overboard on the ‘rat’ puns…. There are more out there than you might expect.
Eventually, the morning arrived. Mr. Woods rocked up outside school, in the college Land Rover ready to whisk us away to the BPW national final. Once having arrived at Moreton Hall, we met the three other teams. Colchester Royal Grammar School represented London, Anglia, and the South East, and eventually came runners-up in the event. The other two schools participating were Portadown College, representing Northern Ireland, and Howell’s school, representing Southern England and Wales. In this competition, the speaker is split from their chair and vote of thanks and put with the chair and vote of thanks from another team. So, having said goodbye and good luck to Dami and Ellen, I went over to sit with my new, temporary teammates in the audience, and we were ready to start. The competition was fierce, all three of the other teams being strong in all areas, with some superb deliveries from everyone. Colchester Royal Grammar School spoke confidently on the topic of ‘Lessons learned from History’, Portadown College produced a humorous speech about ‘Scottish Independence’, and Howell’s school delivered a poignant talk about ‘Political Correctness.’ By the end, we all knew that the judges had a very tough decision to make
Yet, after over an hour of deliberation, after three years of trying, we ended up taking away first place. I must, of course, credit my teammates on their amazing performance. The both of them were stunning. Ellen, our chairman, spoke with great humour and eloquence. She made the whole audience feel at home in the old school auditorium, and despite the buzz of nerves hovering around the room listening to her open her meeting really seemed to put everyone at ease. She was in complete control over her proceedings, and yet somehow still managed to keep smiling, and seemed intently interested in what the speaker had to say throughout. She even managed to sneak in a question of her own, something uncommon but wonderful to see. Then there was Dami. He gets better and better every time I hear him speak. His role of vote of thanks is arguably the hardest, as it has to be almost completely crafted during the duration of his speakers speech. Yet, he nailed it, and had the whole audience laughing along with him. His presence filled the room, and you could tell that he had everyone on his side from the outset. The two of them worked incredibly as a duo, and I was so happy for the both of them when they won the best chair AND the best vote of thanks trophies respectively.
I hate to talk about myself, but I suppose I should write a little something about my own performance. I’d like to think that I put 110% effort into making it the best that I could. It was my first time performing it without the aid of cards, but thankfully my memory held strong and all went well. I answered my three questions with as much conviction as I could muster, and did feel proud of myself not to fumble for words, as I sometimes tend to do when asked complicated questions! In the end, the ‘best speaker’ trophy was awarded to the speaker from Portadown College, who honestly and undoubtedly thoroughly deserved it. I have no regrets about not having won that small personal prize, as I am much more overwhelmed with pride for Ellen and Dami on their fantastic achievements, and I know that if I hadn’t put in the effort that I did to do the best that I could, we may have just missed out on that national title. That, and because I didn’t already have my hands full of other trophies like Ellen and Dami did, I was the one designated to hold the glorious National Champions trophy in all the photos, so I, for one, was more than happy!!
I can speak for the whole team when I say that we would never have made it so far or done so well as we did without the huge amount of support we’ve had over the past three years. Firstly, we cannot thank Mr. Woods and Mrs. Canney enough for giving up their time to work with us and stick with us, and never losing faith through all of our defeats up until now. Support from the entire college community has furthermore done so much to boost our confidence before these events. Teachers and students alike have been wishing us good luck in anticipation for all of our competitions, and I’ve received so many warm and hearty congratulations since winning the event. We were even lucky enough to have an entourage of supporters to join us at he final, including Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins, Mr. and Mrs. Kerslake, and Mrs. Williams and her daughter. It’s wonderful to tell people about the event once returning to campus, but having supporters there to see you for themselves somehow just makes it that little bit more special.
I think what really makes the Concord team stand out at these events is that we are genuinely in it for the fun. Yes, winning is a glorious and desirable bonus that we strive to achieve, but at the end of the day that’s not what it’s about. We enjoy speaking, and despite the temptation to try and make these events unnecessarily formal and serious, we have a very relaxed and humorous attitude that we maintain throughout. Not only do we load our speeches full of gags and puns (the credit goes to Mr. Woods for most of those), but we also try to have the best time that we can. As Mr. Woods and Mrs. Canney repeatedly tell us ‘you can’t craft the funnies’… And I think it’s completely true. We can’t expect an audience to enjoy watching us if we aren’t genuinely enjoying the event ourselves and I think that’s what really put us ahead of the other teams when it came down to the judge’s decision.
So what’s next for the public speaking team? Well, with upcoming A-levels and one national championship secured, this may just be our retiring year. However, if that is to be the case, I would like to think that we could help mentor another group of young public speakers. I’m absolutely sure that in a college full of such talented people, there must be three year 10’s out there waiting patiently to take Concord by storm with their public speaking prowess, and I can’t wait to be one of he ones who discovered them.
But before then, and after a busy Easter holiday of revising for our AS exams, Ellen, Dami, and I still have a lot of work to do. A four hour drive down to Kent for the Rotary National Finals on the 10th of May…
…Bring it on!
Emma Huntley 6.1