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Written by Anthony Harris and Roger Tilbury

CONTENTS Introduction 04 Using the videos


General speaking skills


The role of the Chairperson


The role of the Speaker


The role of the Questioner


Guidance for coaches


Credits 35

Book and video content Copyright Š The English-Speaking Union 2011 All rights reserved. No part of this book or the accompanying videos may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or recording, or otherwise without prior permission in writing from the English-Speaking Union. This book and video is distributed subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior permission in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published, and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. Notwithstanding the above, pages from this book may be copied in reasonable quantities for the purpose of non-commercial, educational use only by the holder of this book. For the avoidance of doubt, photocopying is not permitted for any other purpose whatsoever. 2

Welcome to the ESU Public Speaking Competition for Schools Training Handbook. This training handbook was first published in 2009 in celebration of 50 years of the ESU Public Speaking Competition for schools. This book has been designed to take you through the the public speaking competition, focusing on the individual roles, offering hints, tips, and advice to help you prepare for the first rounds. We advise you read through the rules and format of the competitions listed in the Speech and Debate Competition Handbook for Schools, available on, before reading this book.



INTRODUCTION The ESU Schools Public Speaking Competition gives competitors the opportunity to demonstrate and develop fundamental skills in public speaking. Entering the competition is an achievement in itself, and the skills learnt will be invaluable in later life.The competition was started by the Brighton and Hove branch of the ESU in 1960, and has since grown to be a major stimulus of effective spoken English in British schools. Many former winners have gone on to achieve prominence as Members of Parliament, household names on television and radio and countless other professions.

Competition Handbook The overall format and rules of the competition can be found in the schools competitions handbook, which is sent to all entrants and can be downloaded from This training handbook is intended to provide a more in-depth look at the roles and skills needed to do well in the competition.

Video Material Attendees of ESU workshops on public speaking say the most useful part was the chance to listen to and comment on actual examples recorded at past competitions. To accompany this training handbook we have picked the best examples to include as video clips throughout the book.

Variety This book is not intended to prescribe a single approach to each role. There is no such thing as the best technique as a Speaker, Questioner or Chairperson. Certainly there are lots of things to avoid, but also many ways to do it right. Instead the book explains that there are many different ways to fulfill your role, and the videos include several examples. Every competitor must relax into the role and adopt the techniques that they feel most comfortable with. You will be a better public speaker when your personality and genuine passion for the subject shine through in what you are saying. 4

Using the DVD

USING THE VIDEOS The ESU website contains over 3 hours of video to help your team in preparing for the competition.

Content All participants should watch the introductory overview. There are sections on each of the three roles, and a section covering some of the general skills common to all roles.

Role Introduction: A ten-minute section containing advice and comment from some of the ESU’s expert trainers and some former competitors.


How to use it The videos are not designed to be watched in one sitting. To get the most out of it:

Read the handbook section for each role, then watch the relevant clips. The Speaker and Questioner can go through all their material in one sitting. This will take about half an hour. The role of Chair is more complex and they may want to review the material in two sessions.

As you progress watch the ‘More Examples’ sections. With your coach, pretend you are on the judging panel and make your own notes on the good and bad points of each clip.

Most videos relate directly to chapters in this handbook. Throughout the book you will see a play button. Click it to be redirected to the video linked to the individual sections.

More Examples: Three unedited examples of each role, without commentary. One of the best ways to practise the skills you have learnt is to listen to others and try to judge them for yourself.

The whole team, including the coach, should watch the overall introduction, the introduction to each role and the General Skills section. All members of the team should understand each role, not just their own.


Key Skill Demonstrations: Over 250 individual clips from past rounds of the competition demonstrating the most important skills for participants to master. These clips have been grouped into sections for Chairs, Speakers, Questioners and general skills. The sections vary in length from two minutes to about eleven.

When your team has gone through the material, spend time as a group discussing and practising what you have learnt.

When you discuss your results at the end, remember there isn’t always one best way to do things, so you may not all agree on every aspect. You should be able to come to a consensus as to who is the best overall, just as a real judging panel have to do.

For each of the role-specific sections, there are three types of material: •





All members of the team are expected to demonstrate the same speaking skills on the platform, not just the speaker. The judges will allocate some of the marks for each role for the quality of delivery.

This section explains some of the ways you can vary your voice to make your delivery more interesting and to emphasise the important messages you wish to convey. It also describes some simple exercises you can use to warm up your voice.

These sections focus on some of the core skills that every participant should demonstrate:

Pace, tone and pause

Clarity and voice projection. The volume and pitch of your voice are integral.

Setting the right pace and varying it when necessary is a vital skill for any speaker.

Confidence. Persuasive speakers show authority and command of the audience.

Vary the pace

Tone and pace. A flat, tedious or monotonous speaker will not grab the attention of the audience no matter how worthy their content.

Vary your speed as you deliver different parts of your speech. For example, you may slow down at a point of emphasis, or pause briefly afterwards.

Humour. Audiences can appreciate the introduction of a light hearted side to even the most serious of topics.

Use of notes. You should not learn your speech word-for-word, so you will need to use your notes to prompt you without them becoming a barrier between you and audience.

Pauses are particularly important. Readers can go back over bits they have not understood, but listeners cannot do that with a speech. Not only must you make your argument easy to follow by structuring it well, but by varying the pace at the end of each section you give your audience time to absorb what you have said before you move on to your next point.

Stance. The way you stand on the platform can add to the authority with which you deliver your speech.

Gestures. Audiences take note of much more than just what you say. Gestures and facial expressions can reinforce your words.

Pauses are also vital when using humour. If you are expecting to raise a laugh from the audience, make sure you allow time for them to get the joke!

Vary the tone for emphasis In a five minute speech every sentence is important if you are to convey complicated ideas. Each section of your speech should contain one key idea. Build towards that idea and emphasise it with a succinct phrase. No matter how passionately you feel about your subject, you cannot emphasise every point you make. Build in some lighter sentences between the key messages. Vary the tone of your voice when you are including a quotation or telling a story to illustrate one of your points. This helps the audience to make sense of what they are hearing, and in the case of a quotation the change of tone signifies that these are not your own words.


General Speaking Skills

you breathe out think about the control of that outgoing breath. If you feel faint you are overdoing it.

Writing vs Speaking Spoken English requires a different approach from written English. Commonly when speaking we use conjunctions in places where we would not write them. Do not be afraid in the formal conversation you are having with your audience to begin a sentence with “and” or “but”. “So” can be used as you start your closing sentences, summing up what you have just proved in the rest of your speech. When you prepare your speech, ask yourself, “Would I say that?”

Vocal Exercises Try to arrive at the venue for the competition in good time. Stand where you will be speaking from and ask someone at the back to tell you when they can hear you clearly. If you have warmed up your voice and are using the right muscles you will not need to strain your voice to be heard.


Many good speakers, and writers, present ideas in threes. The conclusion to your speech may be based on a rising pattern which says (not necessarily explicitly), “I have told you this. I have told you this. But above all I have told you this.”

vary the tone and pace of your delivery.

work out which parts of your speech need emphasis and use a variety of techniques including tone and pause appropriately.

release as much tension as you can before you speak.


think about posture for a natural voice.


get a feel for the room before you start.

Speaking in public makes you tense, however often you have done it. Just as you would before a sporting contest, spend a little time warming up. If you are embarrassed by this, find a quiet corner somewhere out of sight.


General Skills: Using Your Voice

Stretch to ease tension. Shake your arms. Stand tall, roll your shoulders and then lift each one and let it drop. Stretch your head up and release the tension in your neck. Tension can also be reduced by the way you stand. Your feet should be slightly apart­—about the width of your shoulders. But you do not have to stand like that throughout your speech. Relax and move, but do not distract from your message. Keep your head level. If you raise your head your sound will become thin; if you lower it the sound will become strangled.

Breathing Remember that your breath comes from your lungs which are pushed by your stomach muscles. Expand your chest and feel your shoulder blades drop but do not pull your tummy in. And as 7

try to cram in so much material that you will have to rush through your speech.

rely on volume for emphasis. Use tone, pace and pause as well.


GESTURE Regardless of your role, you never need to take notes mid-speech, so avoid the temptation to hold a pen in your hand as well as your notes. Chairs and Questioners in particular can be tempted to fiddle distractingly with their pen whilst speaking.

Gestures come naturally when we speak. They will reinforce your words and help your audience to understand your argument. However, bad habits and articificial gestures will have the opposite effect.

Gestures to avoid •

General Skills: Gesture

Do not repeat one gesture constantly. If you wave your hands in time with your speech your listeners will not be able to be decide which words are important and the effort of trying will mean they will stop listening. You can use a gesture to emphasise a few points but do not use it too often.


Some repeated gestures may be unintentional, such as, for example, flicking long hair away from your eyes. Get your teammates to spot your bad habits in rehearsal and try to avoid them.

use gestures to reinforce your message.

get your teammates to spot any unintentional or repeated mannerisms that will be distracting.

hold your notes in one hand to leave the other free.


Stance Keep your hands free by your sides when you are not using them to gesture. Your stance includes your movement on the platform. Standing behind the table is fine, as is moving to the front of the platform. Try not to pace when you talk; some movement is positive, but constant pacing can be distracting for you and the audience. However you choose to stand it is important to do so in a way that feels natural and comfortable to you.

Use of Notes If you use notes to remind you of the key ideas in your speech, hold them in one hand. You can use your other hand to gesture. Read the guidance in the Speaker’s section to ensure your notes are an appropriate size and format.


use the same repeated gestures throughout your speech.

put your hands in your pockets.

General Speaking Skills



A well-chosen joke can make your point clear or give your listeners a moment of relief from concentrating on your argument.

introduce some lighter points in your speech even if it covers serious issues.

make sure your humour is relevant and appropriate.

Humour is a very useful tool in public speaking. Most audiences appreciate a speaker who can introduce a lighter side to a serious topic. It helps the speaker build a rapport with the other participants and the audience.


However, it is important to ensure that any jokes are appropriate, relevant, inoffensive and well delivered.

Be appropriate Make sure that nobody in your audience could be offended by your remarks. This means not only avoiding jokes at expense of groups of people, but also ensuring that your humour will be considered suitable for a formal public occasion, by audience members of any age.

Be relevant Make sure all your remarks are relevant to the subject or to the context of the event. •

Include an anecdote with an amusing ending to illustrate a point.

Check a dictionary of quotations to see if anyone famous has made a comment that would lend itself to your topic.

Consider introducing one of your points with a brief but amusing sound bite, perhaps in the style of a tabloid headline writer.

Delivery It may sound obvious, but you must make sure that the audience knows when you are joking. The audience needs clues from your facial expression, body language or tone of voice that a joke is coming. General Skills: Humour


say anything that could offend anyone



You should not learn your speech off by heart, but if you are too dependent on your notes it will be hard to demonstrate confidence and a natural speaking style.

If you hold your notes low you will look down at them and project your voice towards the floor, again making you hard to hear.

If constantly raised and lowered or waved around, your notes may become a distraction to the audience who will not then pay attention to what you say.

Don’t recite Actors learn their lines and are expected to repeat them flawlessly each time. Public speakers are not delivering a dramatic performance. They want to see that you are an expert and that you are passionate about your subject, not merely that you can recite some pre-prepared remarks.

Getting it right •

Use cards that are not too big or small. If they are too large they will be difficult to handle, but too small you may find them hard to read.

If you also participate in school drama activities it is important that you understand the difference between the two styles. Judges will be able to spot someone reciting a learned speech, and they will mark that performance down.

Don’t try to hide your notes. The judges will realise you have them and won’t penalise you for using them well.

There are, of course, parts of your performance that you should know very well, even if you don’t learn them word-for-word, so that you do not have to refer to notes at important moments:

Have just the right amount of detail on your cards. They should be able to jog your memory for key ideas and facts, but not tempt you into reading written sentences.


the Chairperson should learn the name of their guest speaker, school and topic.

Headings to remind you of the main sections in your speech.

the Speaker may learn the first and last sentence of their speech so they can feel confident that they will get off to a good start and can end powerfully without running out of things to say.

Key points. Don’t be tempted to write out too much detail or you will start to read it.

Any statistics you intend to include. Don’t try to learn them because you may forget them or get them wrong, and the audience will have greater confidence in your argument if you refer to your notes to get complex facts right.

Your notes should contain:

Don’t read At the other extreme, a speaker who is so reliant on notes that they read their speech will lack effectiveness for many reasons. •

It is much harder to introduce appropriate variation in tone and pace when reading, and you are likely to pause in the wrong places.

If you raise your notes in front of your face the audience will not be able to see your facial expressions, and that card may block the sound of your voice making you harder to hear.


General Speaking Skills

DO •

become familiar with a handful of the most important sentences of your speech so you know you will get them right without notes.

prepare your notes with just the right amount of information to guide you through the speech.

use appropriately sized cards that won’t be a distraction.

Use simple visual techniques to represent interconnected ideas. For example:

DON’T • •

Use lines or arrows to show how different points relate to each other or lead to the same conclusion.

Highlight important points that the speaker relies on to build their case.

Consider using a different colour to mark points that you want to be able to find quickly again.

Before you begin to speak look over your notes and put your cards in the right order. You may want to number the notes so you do not lose your place.

learn the entire speech by heart. read the entire speech.

NOTE TAKING Succinct and accurate note taking will prove invaluable not just in the competition but in your further education and beyond.

Common Pitfalls You do not need to write down everything that is said. Note the main themes and just one or two key points you wish to refer to later.

The Questioner needs notes from the speech in order to formulate and structure their questions. The Chairperson needs notes from the question period for their summary.

You should concentrate on what the speaker is saying throughout their argument. If you miss a particularly important, diffcult or interesting part of the speech you will run the risk of losing marks.

General Skills: Notes

Ask yourself how much detail you need to remember to make a useful comment on what was said. For example, as Chairperson, you might say in your summary that, “S provided a global perspective by recounting a similar experience in Australia,” but you don’t have to remember what his experience was, just the fact it was in Australia.

Techniques Focus on the content of what is being said, not the delivery. Structure your notes as you take them, rather than writing thoughts in the order you had them. If you are lucky, your speaker will have structured their speech well, and will present their material in a logical order. If they don’t, you will have to apply some logic to it yourself.

Do not jump to conclusions by assuming that the speaker has said something which they have not. When you hear the first part of an argument, you may leap to a conclusion based on your own views of the subject, but this may not be the conclusion the Speaker reaches.

Make a new card for each section of the speech you wish to cover and add to it when the speaker elaborates on each issue. You can reorder your notes if you need to.



DO •

focus on content not delivery.

jot down your notes in a logical order, which may be a better order than that in which the speaker actually delivered them.

use visual clues like colour and highlighting to annotate your notes as well as just writing the words.


let your mind wander.

try to capture unnecessary detail.


The Role of the Chairperson



The role of Chairperson requires you to demonstrate your skills throughout the entire presentation. The Chairperson is the first and last person to speak. They set the tone of the presentation, and control all the other contributions to ensure the session is brought to a satisfactory and timely conclusion.

You will not know in advance who you will be introducing, so there is little specific content you can prepare in advance. In the 30 minute period between the announcement of topics by the competition organiser and the start of the first presentation, find your guest speaker and talk to them. In the spirit of the competition we expect Speakers to be forthcoming with information about themselves and their topic. The one thing they might choose not to divulge is which side of the topic they will support.

The Chairperson’s role encompasses: •

Introductions: Introducing the Speaker and their topic.

Controlling the meeting: Keeping control of the timing, introducing the question period, and managing the time for audience questions.

Summary: Reminding the audience of the key themes and conclusions of the meeting and thanking all the participants.

Find out how the topic is relevant to the Speaker’s life. For example, if it is an environmental topic find out what the speaker does to help preserve the environment; if it is a military subject, then perhaps the speaker is a member of the cadets. For political topics, find out if they have ever stood for an election to a school group or a local club, and so on.

Remember; this is not a debating competition. Do not call the topic a motion, imply that the speaker is a proposer, or that the Questioner will oppose the Speaker.

Your aim is to convince the audience that your guest (the Speaker) is suitably qualified to address them on the topic. Find out from the Speaker what in particular interests them about it, and how they went about their research. Here are some questions you might ask:

Marks The Chairperson’s role is allocated a possible 30 marks out of the team’s total 100. There is no set ratio between the introduction and summary; rather, the overall performance is assessed under the standard headings of content, effectiveness and style. •

Content: the information provided in the introduction on the speaker and their topic, including the selection of themes to include in the summary.

Effectiveness: the ability to demonstrate the skills described in the competition handbook, linking the contributions together during the session.

Style: a polite and friendly but authoritative and confident approach. Rapport with the audience and other participants.

What made you choose this particular topic from the shortlist?

Were you interested in the topic before you started researching it?

How easy did you find it to research the topic?

Have you been involved in something related to the topic before? Role of the Chair: Role Introduction




Who to introduce?

The introduction sets the tone for the meeting. It needs to be informative. You should be friendly and welcoming whilst making it clear that you are in control. Having set the tone, give some basic information about the Speaker and their topic. One minute is not long, so make sure every sentence counts!

Tell us your own name and school. Introduce the Speaker. You may wish to refer to the Questioner. For example, “On my left is our Questioner, Amanda, whom I will introduce later.” When you introduce the Speaker, make sure you state their name and school clearly. Avoid the temptation to look down and talk into your notes or the table at this point. Their name and topic are the two most important things you have to convey. If you need to check, look first, then look up again as you say it. If you find it hard to pronounce the Speaker’s name rehearse it with them during preparation time. If necessary, ask them to write it down phonetically for you.

When to start The organiser will have told you to wait for a signal from the judges before starting. Wait patiently, perhaps offer water to your Speaker and Questioner and make it clear to the judges you are ready to start. Once the judges give you the signal, take a moment to check your Speaker is ready, collect your thoughts, make sure you have your opening line ready, double check your notes for the Speaker’s name, school and topic, and then stand up.

Tell us about the topic You should make the topic sound interesting. In particular tell us why it is relevant and deserves our attention today. Here are some examples to start you thinking:

Firm but friendly Make sure you smile and open with a cheery, “Good afternoon” (or “evening”). Say it in the most confident tone you can manage, a little louder than you think you would deliver the next sentence. This will catch the attention of the audience and let them know the presentation has begun and that you are in control of the situation. There is no need to explain the format of the session. Even if you are the first team, the organiser will have explained things beforehand, or it will be written in the programme. Key Skill Demonstrations: Opening Remarks


Has there been something in the news recently that makes it a topical subject?

Is it something on which lots of people have strong views, or something that affects everyone? This may be the case for environmental or rights issues.

Is there a programme on television at the moment related to the subject? Or a even a storyline being played out in a soap opera!

The Role of the Chairperson

Building Credibility


You need to establish the Speaker’s credibility to address the audience on the topic. Based on the information you got when you met the Speaker in preparation time, tell the audience why they are knowledgeable or interested in the topic. Be as specific as you can given the information you have obtained.

set a friendly but firm tone right from the start. Make sure you smile!

say the name of the Speaker and their topic clearly.

explain why the Speaker is interested in, knowledgeable about, and therefore qualified to talk on, the topic.

end your introduction with a rousing handover to the Speaker, leading the audience in applause.

Avoid irrelevant detail. For example, unless the topic is related to sport, describing their prowess in representing their school at football or cricket is irrelevant. Do not give your own views on the topic.


Key Skill Demonstrations: Linking topic and speaker

Handing over Every speaker will be nervous, but it is much easier to start your speech if you get a rousing introduction and have the audience applauding before you even start speaking. Do sit down too quickly at the end of your introduction; stay on your feet for a few seconds to lead the audience in a brief round of applause as the Speaker gets up. Try phrases like, “so now we’re going to hear that speech, from our guest Ali Smith,” making sure to say the name loudly, clearly and with a sense of excitement.

waste time talking about the procedure for the evening.

give irrelevant biographical information about the Speaker.

spend too long talking about the Questioner at this stage.

tell us your own views on the subject.

DURING THE MEETING As Chairperson you are constantly in the spotlight. Even when you are not speaking, the judges may be looking at what you are doing. You should stay alert and look interested in what is being said. You will need to be listening in order to take notes for your summation. Your role is to ensure that the meeting proceeds smoothly. You must keep control of audience questions and timings throughout.

Key Skill Demonstrations: Handover




Taking Notes

As well as your own introductory remarks and summary, you must time the Speaker and the Questioner to ensure they do not overrun.

You will need to take notes during the speech and the questions so that you have material for your summary. Refer to the earlier section on note taking (p12).

Bring a stopwatch. The organiser should ensure there is a clock on the wall but don’t rely on it. Make sure the timer you use does not beep too loudly or otherwise become a distraction.

Introducing the Questioner When the Speaker finishes you need to create a link to the Questioner’s part of the session. As they sit, stand up, briefly thank the Speaker, and announce the name of the Questioner. If you have time, say a few words about them.

In the event that a Speaker or Questioner overruns the judges will expect you to be firm without being rude. Give a signal like tapping the table. If they show no sign of stopping, wait for them to pause for breath and politely announce something like “I’m afraid we’re out of time and I have to ask you to conclude now”. You can be flexible if they appear to be reaching their conclusion.

During the questions you should be interested in the proceedings and take notes for your summary. Key Skill Demonstrations: Introducing questions

The judges receive a record of times from the separate timekeeper. If they see a part of the session has overrun they can penalise both the participant who overran and the Chairperson who let them.

Audience Questions When the Questioner finishes, you need to take control of the audience’s question period. Remind them that all questions should be kept brief to give as many people as possible the opportunity to speak.

Key Skill Demonstrations: Timekeeping

It is important that you are in control. Be very clear how you select members of the audience. Avoid confusing phrases like, “you over there…” whilst pointing vaguely. Be more specific by using phrases like, “the gentleman in the back row” or “the lady in the red jumper”. You are not expected to give preference to the judges if one of them requests to ask a question. You must make your own decision. If someone starts to ask a long question or rambles without posing a question you must step in. Say something like, “Could I ask you to be brief so we can fit in as many questions as possible”. If the Speaker is giving a rambling answer you could ask them to give a briefer response. Once the Speaker has responded to a question, you should not allow the same member of the audience to reply with a further question. Although we encourage a dialogue between the official 16

The Role of the Chairperson

Questioner and the Speaker it would be unfair to let one member of the audience monopolise the time.

When repeating or paraphrasing a question, be careful not to alter its meaning. Identify the point of the question and phrase it as simply as you can.

When you judge that the period for audience questions is nearly over you may want to announce that, “we have time for just one more brief question.” The judges will give credit for any ways in which you demonstrate your ability to control and manage the meeting.


In the unfortunate event that nobody has any questions, or the questions dry up before the end of the allotted time, try to have a question of your own ready. You might want to say something to the audience like, “While you take a moment to think of some more questions, I would like to ask…”

Keep a close eye on the time and warn the other participants if they are about to overrun.

Pay attention to the Speaker and the audience.

Take good notes that you can use for the summary.


Key Skill Demonstrations: Audience Questions

Look bored at any stage of the proceedings.

Fidget or do anything that will distract the audience from the Speaker.

Interrupt the Questioner unless absolutely necessary.

Paraphrasing questions


In general, you should not need to repeat or paraphrase questions. Allow the Speaker to respond directly even if the Questioner has begun their remarks formally with a line such as, “Madam Chair, I should like to ask your speaker…”

You have two minutes to sum up everything the audience has heard, as well as thanking everyone involved. The summary differentiates the ESU competition from others where a vote of thanks is called for. It makes the role more challenging but the skills you learn will stand you in excellent stead for other situations where a summary of events is required.

There are occasions where it may be appropriate to intervene. You should use your judgement to determine if it is necessary. Consider: •


Was the question spoken quietly and hard to hear? If you didn’t hear it yourself then you will have to ask for it to be repeated more loudly. If you only just heard it, there is a good chance that others didn’t. In this case you should repeat it for the benefit of others who did not hear.

Take notes during the speech and the question period. Don’t try to capture everything. Focus on the key areas mentioned by each participant. Listen carefully to the end of the speech. Make sure you understand what the Speaker has concluded and what message they want to leave the audience with. Your Questioner may also have been able to clarify the Speaker’s position by asking a good final question (see “Final Questions”, p31).

Was the question long and complex? If so it may help the Speaker for you to simplify it. If it was a multi-part question, focus the Speaker on what you judge to be the most important part, as in the time available they are unlikely to have time to answer all of them.



If the Speaker and Questioner were unable to reconcile their differences on some aspect of the topic, don’t be afraid to draw attention to it. You might say something like, “clearly … was a contentious issue and I am sure the discussion will continue long after we leave here today.”

Getting started When the time for audience questions is over, you should transition into your summary. Draw a line under the questions by briefly thanking the Questioner and the audience. If people still have their hands raised, explain that there is no more time for questions.

Make sure you reiterate clearly what conclusion the speaker came to about the topic.

You may remind the audience of the relevance of the topic, especially if you did not have time for that in your introduction.

Key Skill Demonstrations: Content of the summary

Key Skill Demonstrations: Starting the summary

Thanks Bring the session to an end by thanking the participants and the audience. The main thanks go to your Speaker. Remind everyone what a good speech they gave.

Summarising Use at least a minute of your time to summarise content.

You may want to thank the host school for their hospitality but the chances are that you won’t be either the first or last person to do that. The same goes for the organisers. The purpose of the summary is not to thank everyone involved. Do not be tempted to fill in time instead of giving a proper summary.

Avoid the temptation to repeat each point in the speech or list questions. The Speaker may will have summarised their own content in their concluding remarks, so use that as a guide. Don’t summarise the speech and questions separately. Try to interweave themes that span the speech and the questions. Summarise by theme or issue.

Key Skill Demonstrations: Thanks

Here are some good phrases to consider (where S and Q are the names of the Speaker and Questioner): • • •


“S was able to demonstrate why … although Q challenged whether … was really relevant.” “When Q pressed S for facts for ...she provided more evidence to support her case.” “The man in the audience wanted to understand … but S was able to reassure him by expanding on …”

Take notes during the speech and questions.

Spend at least one minute to summarising the content of the speech and questions.

Summarise the content by theme or issue and interweave participant’s views.

Thank the main participants.



Repeat each point made by the Speaker and Questioner.

Summarise all the Speaker’s material first and then move on to the Questioner.

Offer thanks to absolutely everyone.

The Role of the Speaker

Quick Reference Guide: Chair


1. Start with a friendly, clear and confident opening line. Make it sound like you are in charge but remember a smile goes a long way.

The Speaker is a guest who appears on the platform with a Chair and Questioner from another school. You will only know who will introduce and question you 30 minutes before the event starts.

2. Tell us about why the Speaker is interested in the subject.

Role summary The Speaker’s duties are to:

3. Make the subject sound interesting and relevant but don’t give us your own opinion. Remember that this is a public meeting not a debate so avoid talking about “the motion” and other debate terminology. 4. Don’t tell us about the Questioner or yourself. 5. End your introduction with a clear handover to give the Speaker a signal you have finished.

Select a topic

Research the topic, prepare notes and rehearse the speech in advance

Deliver a speech for five minutes

Answer Questioner and audience questions

Topic Selection

6. Remember you are in control and that it is part of your role to control the timing so give an indication to the Speaker or Questioner if they overrun.

The ESU produces a list of topics every year. In the local rounds of the competition speakers are given a choice of six to choose from. If your branch has heats and a branch final, you are allowed to keep the same topic in both rounds.

7. Act with confidence during the open question period, identify questioners from the audience clearly and politely interrupt them if they start to ramble. Repeat or paraphrase only if the question was hard to hear or was too complicated.

In the regional finals you will be given a choice of further new topics. Speakers who reach the UK final are allocated a new topic and do not get a choice. This is decided by the organisers a few weeks beforehand.


8. The summary should give us the gist of the speech without simply repeating what we have heard. Think in the style of a news reporter who has to summarise a lengthy press conference in a few “sound bites”.

The Speaker is allocated 40 marks out of the total 100 marks for the team. As with all roles this is split between content, effectiveness and style.

9. Finally end with brief thanks to everyone and close the meeting. Don’t rush off the platform – wait for your Speaker and Questioner to collect their papers and walk off together.


Content: ability to demonstrate an understanding of the issues and construct a logical argument. Use of carefully selected and relevant evidence.

Effectiveness: ability to hold the audience’s attention and apply a clear structure to the speech. Backing up statements with evidence to build a convincing and credible case. Demonstrating an ability to think on one’s feet and give suitable answers during the questioning.


Style: general speaking ability, degree of rapport with the audience and Questioner. Appropriate use of humour. Choice of language and fluency.

Preparation You will need to do some detailed research on your subject. You must demonstrate credibility as a speaker. State your sources, and give expert opinions rather than colloquial examples. Statements like,“My Dad said…” are not particularly persuasive compared to something like, “The president of the World Bank believes…”. Similarly, assertion is a weak tactic, so avoid saying things like, “It is clear that...” without backing your argument up with facts.

Role of the Speaker: Role introduction


For most topics, the web will be a great source of research. But do be selective about what you read and be sure to verify facts and quotations from more than one source. Remember that sources like Wikipedia can be incorrect or present an individual’s subjective viewpoint.

Choose a topic from the list which interests you. Perhaps you have background knowledge from one of your school subjects, or a personal interest or experience that you can draw upon. Remember that there are many ways to address any topic. You might think of an unexpected way to interpret the topic that allows you to discuss issues you do feel strongly about.

You are expected to cover both sides of the topic, so make sure your research explores opposing views which will also help you in the question period.

If you are stuck, take time to share the list with your coach, fellow team members, family and friends. Those who know you well may well be able to help you think of some angle on one of the topics that would interest you.

Gather different types of information. Statistics or results of opinion polls are interesting, but need good analysis. Also include a mixture of relevant stories, anecdotes and quotations.

It is also important to discuss both sides of the argument, but your speech must lead to a conclusion on one side or the other. If your first reaction to one of the topics is, “I certainly don’t agree with that” then don’t discount it. You clearly have a strong view on the subject, so it might be an ideal choice.

DO •

Select a subject that you will enjoy researching.

Look for unusual ways to interpret a subject if you see none that immediately appeal to you.

Ask friends and family for help and advice.

Research different sources to support your views.



Try to bluff your way through a topic without doing proper research.

Rely on anecdotal or uncorroborated evidence, or mere assertion.

The Role of the Speaker


There are advantages and disadvantages of each way:

When setting out your speech, you should always structure it around three parts: the introduction and definition, the key points and the conclusion.

If you decide to be clear from the outset, make sure you do still consider both views during the speech. Also make sure you have enough relevant material to keep your audience interested to the end.

If instead you choose to delay revealing your own views until the end, be careful how you structure the main part of your speech so that the audience do not get confused about your message.

Introduction and defintion There are many techniques for a good opening. Perhaps you will tell a story, give a quotation or ask a rhetorical question. Whatever you do make sure it is delivered confidently to grab the audience’s attention.

Key points


This is where you must set out your views and supporting evidence, and develop your case in support of or against the topic. You need to build a logical flow through your various points so the audience is clear where you are going and how you are getting there. Every point should be backed by some supporting evidence.

Think carefully about the structure of your speech.

Decide whether you will let the audience know from the start what your conclusion will be and structure your material accordingly.

Although you may be clear which side of the topic you favour, you are expected to refer to the opposing view and address those arguments that support it.




Leave time for a proper conclusion at the end of your speech. Five minutes may not seem long, but the audience may still have forgotten some of the early points you made. Spend about 30 seconds recalling the main points you covered. Leave the audience clear about where you stand on the topic.

Your opening words give the audience and judges an opportunity to form an immediate impression of you. Be clear and confident.

Try to include too many complex ideas and end up confusing your audience (and maybe yourself).

There are many different way to make an effective start. The start you choose depends as much on your personality and style as a speaker as it does on your subject. You must be comfortable in what you are doing if you are to relax easily into your speech.

Which side are you on? You may decide to let the audience know from the start what your conclusion will be. You could even ask the Chairperson to make it clear in their introduction. Or, you might choose to keep the audience in suspense whilst exploring both sides of the argument and then let the conclusion emerge as the speech progresses.

Getting Started When your Chairperson has finished their introduction take a moment to compose yourself, wait for quiet in the audience. You might want to turn to the Chairperson and say thank you for their introduction.



Opening lines

Ask a Rhetorical Question

The headings below suggest several possible ways to start your speech. There are far more options than we can cover here. These are just some suggestions.

A rhetorical question is one that does not expect an answer. It may be a question that is impossible to answer or one where the answer is obvious. The question may follow a statement, or may lead to a humorous follow up. At first glance the question may seem irrelevant to your subject, but that in itself will grab the audience’s attention as they then listen intently to see how you will make the connection.

Use a Quotation If you have found a particularly apt quotation that sets the scene for your remarks, you could start with that. Make it obvious that these are not your own words so the audience is not confused. Keep quotations reasonably brief.

There is no such thing as society… or is there? How long is a piece of string?

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. In the words of William Shakespeare: ‘…’”

Why are we all still here?

“’…’ according to …” Key Skill Demonstrations: Opening remarks

You might even start with a quotation that goes completely against your own views. This can sometimes be a good way to get started: “’…’ according to … What utter rubbish! Today I intend to show you the error of this judgement…”


When opening with a quotation you should vary your tone and pause to make it clear which words you are quoting and which are your own.

Sound Bite

Compose yourself before your first words so that you will get off to a good start.

Chose an opening style you feel comfortable with.


This approach is similar to opening with a quotation, except that you are the one making up the phrase yourself. It should be bold and dramatic, maybe even radical or controversial. As with quotations, keep it brief and make it clear by varying your delivery when you are moving on to start the main part of your speech.

Tell a Story When you paint a picture the audience can relate to, they will be curious to see where it is leading. What is the punch line, and what does it have to do with the subject? Personal stories are effective because they demonstrate your connection with the subject and your passion for it. You could relate a story you have encountered in your research or even make something up!


Make your opening remarks too complicated

Waste too much time before you get into the substantive points of your topic

The Role of the Speaker



You have about four minutes for the main part of your speech, once you allow time for the opening and closing remarks. That might sound like quite a long time when you first sit down to draft your speech, but once you start practicing, you will realise there is only time to do justice to a few points. You need to select the best from all the material you have researched and arrange it in a logical order building to your conclusion.

There is definitely no prescriptive rule about how many points to cover and how to organise them. Consider:


If you rely on just one or two arguments you are probably not taking a broad enough view of the topic to give a winning speech.

If you try to cram in more than half a dozen main points, you are unlikely to have time to really do justice to any of them, or to demonstrate how they relate to each other.

Some speakers will impose a formal structure on their speech: for example, “Today there are three main issues I intend to cover.” This has the advantage of warning the audience what is coming and means you can tick off the points in your head as you go through them. This approach may help you to remember your speech.

Just as important as the number of areas you cover is the sequence in which you cover them and how you link from one to another. If you jump rapidly between different aspects of the topic, the audience will get confused or lost. If all your points are too similar they may loose interest or not realise you have moved on.

The disadvantage is that it can seem formulaic. It can be harder to work in comments looking at the opposite side of the topic since you may not want to emphasise this as much as those points which support your view.

During your preparation, sketch out the various key points you want to make, then consider the most logical order in which to tackle them. Look for ways you can link them together to lead to your conclusion. If you find you have some points that do not really fit in, consider replacing them and taking a different, simpler, approach instead.

If you do announce up front how many points you have, make sure you stick to them.


Other speakers take a different journey through their material. They may use an ongoing story or theme to relate the various points together. Rather than saying “My third point…” they will use phrases like, “So now we have looked at… let us move on to consider…”

Your speech must persuade the audience of the merits of your view on the topic. You should sound like an expert. In an earlier section we have already discussed the need for thorough research and evidence to back up your statements.

It is vital to use delivery techniques such as pause and variation in tone or pace to make it clear to the audience when you are wrapping up one line of thought and proceeding to the next. Use phrases like, “Next let us…”, “We can also consider…”, “As we move on…”

Avoid statements like, “Lots of people think.” They only beg the questions, “Who?” or, “How do you know?” Refer to your research. You can use quotations from well known sources, the media, references to academic papers or recent television programmes. There is a balance, though. You should try to avoid bombarding the audience with too many detailed statistics or they will most likely switch off. You may find it is enough to refer to an appropriate survey without actually quoting it in full.

Key Skill Demonstrations: Structure




When you have finished drafting your speech, make sure to read it through with the rest of the team and ask them to challenge any unsubstantiated claims you make.

The final few seconds of your speech are arguably the most important. They are what the audience will remember when they leave.

Key Skill Demonstrations: Evidence

Timing A good speech must have a conclusion and it must always be obvious when you have finished. Even if you are running out of time towards the end, do not just stop talking after your final point and sit down. The audience will be very confused as to why you stopped so abruptly.

DO •

Pick an appropriate number of points to address in your speech. Between three and five is about right.

Work out the best order for your points and ways to link them together.

Make sure you set out each point clearly and provide justification for your view and how it leads to your conclusion.

Ideally, you will have rehearsed your speech well and know the timings are correct. But perhaps you got carried away and said more than you planned on one point, or perhaps the audience spent too long laughing at your jokes! What can you do then? •

First, make sure you have asked the chairperson to give you a warning of about thirty seconds before the end. There are more notes on this in the “Role of the Chairperson” section of this handbook. If you are still delivering the main body of your speech when you get this warning you should:

Wrap up the current point as quickly as possible. Perhaps omit some more detailed statistics or other evidence that will take time to explain.

Omit any points that you haven’t even started yet. Perhaps you could make a comment like, “There are several more aspects of this topic we should address but in the interests of time we will have to cover those another day.”

Move directly to your conclusion, shortening that too if necessary.


Try to cram in too much information. You will end up rushing and not do justice to the key issues you need to address.

Jump unconnectedly from one point to another.

The judges will not worry too much if you go a few seconds over the allotted five minutes as long as they can tell you are coming to the end of your speech. But if you appear to keep talking regardless or overshoot by thirty seconds or more you will lose marks.


The Role of the Speaker

When you finish your speech, try not to bolt for your seat. Stay standing for just a moment as the Chairperson should lead the room in applause. Acknowledge their thanks and resume your place next to the Chairperson. Gather your notes and take a moment to prepare yourself for the question period.

Content You only need a short summary. Pause after your final point. Then you might consider saying something like: •

“So let me now remind you why I believe we should…”

“Let us finally review the evidence I have presented to show…”

“As we have seen, it is clear that we should …”

Key Skill Demonstrations: Conclusions


Make sure it is very clear which side of the topic you believe in. Although you must reach some kind of a conclusion, you can certainly apply conditions to it. For example you might conclude that you:

Practice your timing in rehearsals.

Agree with the topic but only in certain circumstances or when certain pre-conditions are met.

Make it clear when you have finished your main points and are drawing the speech to a close.

Summarise your main points and evidence in a few sentences.

Disagree in principle, but acknowledge there are practical difficulties in meeting this ideal.

Make it clear what your conclusion is.

Accept that the proposal is a laudable aim but concede that it might not be viable.

Deliver your final words in your most confident tone.


Any of these approaches may lead to an interesting exchange of views with your Questioner who may challenge the terms you have set out. Whatever conclusion you reach, remind the audience of a couple of your key points. You could introduce a final anecdote, perhaps an amusing or thought provoking one, with which to end. Equally, a quotation may be a good way to wrap up.

Stop talking abruptly when the bell goes off. Always take a few seconds for at least a brief conclusion before you sit down.

Attempt to mention every one of your points. Just refer to the most important.

Run for your seat the second you finish.

ANSWERING QUESTIONS Speakers are questioned both by the Questioner and by the audience. For the judges, this is a critical opportunity to see how well you know your subject and how you deliver unprepared remarks.

Delivery Your closing remarks need to sound authoritative. Convince your audience there is an answer to the dilemma, and you are the one who has it. Make sure you rehearse these last few sentences really well so you can deliver them perfectly. Look straight at them, increase your volume slightly to project your voice right around the room, and really grab back their attention as you reach the conclusion. 25


During the questioning period, remember:


Not to say so much that you monopolise the time.

Introducing new material but also referring back to relevant points in your speech.

Addressing your remarks to the Questioner but also including the whole audience and projecting your voice clearly around the room.

The question period is not intended to be adversarial. The Questioner is supposed to seek clarification and elaboration on the subject, not to try and defeat you in a debate. Some of their questions may be challenging but they should always be courteous. You should respond in a similar way. Even if you are asked what you consider an irrelevant question, do not criticise. Give a brief answer and wait for the next one.


The judges will be impressed if you and the Questioner manage to build a good rapport. Relax as much as you can, and introduce some humour if appropriate. Informal comments also help to lighten the tone.

When researching your subject, you will probably have found more material than you were able to cover in your main speech. Don’t discard the rest. Keep your notes and hope that you get the opportunity to use some of the points when answering questions.

Sometimes you may not understand a question. It may be long or complicated, or perhaps you couldn’t hear it clearly. Politely ask the Questioner to repeat the question, or say, “I’m not sure I quite understood, are you asking if…”

You should be able to predict at least some of the questions you will be asked. Make sure that during your preparation, you have thought about these carefully and are familiar with the answers.



Do remember to include the whole audience in your responses. Look at the person asking the question whilst they are speaking, but then turn to project your voice around the whole room when you answer. When answering a question from the Questioner, adopt a stance where you can turn to them as well as looking out into the room.

Do not try to make a second speech during the time allowed for questions. You will be penalised if you do not allow the Questioner opportunity to ask their questions. It is likely that the Questioner will ask you about something that you have already covered in your speech. If you have more relevant material to add then you can elaborate but if not, do not be afraid to say “I covered that aspect earlier.” If you don’t have an answer, admit that you don’t know for sure. The period is not a test.

Key Skill Demonstrations: Answering Questions


Vary the length of your answers. Often a Questioner will ask a simple question, seeking a brief answer which they can follow up with a more detailed question later. There may even be some questions where a simple yes or no will suffice. You are likely to be penalised if you make your answers too long. It is tempting to spend as long as possible demonstrating your new-found knowledge of a subject but concise answers are positive.

Keep your answers brief and relevant.

Introduce new material where possible, but don’t digress from the question.

Do not be afraid to politely ask the Questioner if you don’t understand their question or why it is relevant to your speech.



Monopolise the session with long answers.

Make the question period adversarial.

The Role of the Questioner



1. Start by grabbing the audience’s attention with your opening words: perhaps with a rhetorical question, a quotation, or even a relevant example or story about the problem you are discussing.

The Questioner’s role is to question the Speaker on behalf of the audience. You are not expected to give a separate speech and you are not the opposition. The Questioner asks for elaboration, clarification, correction and alternative lines of argument, as an informed interviewer rather than as an adversary.

2. Try to vary your tone and pace during your speech. 3. Include three to five key points and structure your speech around these. Don’t rush. Take pauses between key sentences to let your points sink in or to get a reaction from the audience.

The Questioner has a challenging role as they cannot prepare for the competition until the evening itself. However, the skills can be well practised and this will make the role easier to manage on the evening.

4. You should consider both sides of the subject but ultimately show that your points lead to one clear conclusion. You may decide to let on from the start what your conclusion will be or you may let this emerge as your speech progresses. Just be sure the audience is not confused as to what you think.

The Questioner must balance:

5. Don’t be afraid to use appropriate humour. 6. Use your notes wisely. Don’t read your speech out from notes but try to avoid learning it by heart as well.

Entering into a dialogue with the Speaker directly but making the audience feel they are included and that questions are being asked on their behalf.

Asking questions that expand the topic by drawing new material from the speaker whilst also showing you have listened to the speech and referring back to aspects the speaker has already covered

Varying the types and depths of questions that are asked

Saying enough that the judges can score your content and delivery but not saying so much that you monopolise the platform with your own views.

7. Leave time for a solid, clear conclusion. 8. Give brief but relevant answers to questions. Introduce new material that wasn’t in your speech where possible but don’t digress from the actual question. 9. Don’t be afraid to politely ask the Questioner if you don’t understand their question or why it is relevant to your speech.



Here are some specific suggestions that you may wish to try:

Marks The Questioners role is allocated a possible 30 marks out of the team’s total 100. There is no concept of marks per question or an expected number of questions. Nor is there a check list of techniques you must demonstrate. Judges rate the overall performance under the standard headings of content, effectiveness and style. •

Content: what you say – taking into account the overall quality, depth, relevance and variety of the questions.

Effectiveness: ability to demonstrate many of the skills set out in this handbook. Amount of new information obtained from the Speaker, breadth of the subject addressed.

Style: general speaking ability, degree of rapport built up with the Speaker. Ability to demonstrate a polite but challenging approach.

Listen to other speakers and practice taking notes as if you were going to ask them questions.

Take any opportunity you get to ask questions at school or public events.

Watch other people conduct interviews or question periods. You will find lots of suitable programmes on TV. Although you should not model yourself on combative interviewers, you may still find it enlightening to listen to them in action so you can compare their style with that of more relaxed exchanges.

Without knowing the Speaker’s stance on their subject, you cannot prepare specific questions in advance. But it may be helpful for you to prepare one or two general questions that you can fall back on if you get nervous or temporarily run out of inspiration on the night. A question like, “What do you think is the most important aspect of this subject” is useful to give you time to gather your thoughts, but of course the judges will penalise you if too many of your questions are not specifically related to what you have just heard!

Role of the Questioner: Role Introduction

PREPARATION You will only know the specific topic you are questioning half an hour before the competition begins, when the organiser hands out the programmes. Your work can still begin long before you find out your topic.

You might also want to prepare some generic question “formats” that could be adapted on the night depending on the subject and the speakers approach to it. Here are some examples:

Before the event Preparation is necessary in order to know how to pick out the key points from a speech and think of questions whilst still listening to new information. Listen to your own Speaker practice and question them as though you are in the competition. This is helpful to both team members. In particular you can hone your questioning skills by helping your Speaker predict what questions they may get on their topic, so they can be pre-prepared with good answers for the most likely ones. Prepare questions for all the other topics on the list, so your work on the evening will be simplified.

“Why do you think X is more important than Y?”

“You have made clear that you believe X but who do you think should take responsibility for implementing it?”

In the days leading up to the competition, you should try and read a newspaper or watch the news. Although most of the topics are decided in advance, you may find some aspect of what the speaker says is relevant to issues being discussed in the media at the time. The judges will be impressed if you make a relevant connection.


The Role of the Questioner

During the event


When you are allocated topic, your preparation can start in earnest. Work with your team mates and coach to think about different aspects of the topic and identify possible questions.

Your Chairman will go and meet the Speaker and learn more about them and their topic so make sure that they feed any relevant information back to you.

STYLE The style in which you deliver your questions is just as important as the questions themselves. All the standard delivery skills covered at the beginning of this guide are applicable but the Questioner has some additional challenges.

You still cannot write many specific questions at this stage because you won’t know what points the speaker will raise, but you may be able to sketch out some aspects of the topic that you want to learn about. Once the speech starts, you can tick off those that the speaker covers and then you can work the ones that are left into your questions.

Stance The question period is an opportunity for you to examine the subject more closely on behalf of the audience. Therefore, make sure you include the audience in your exchange. Look at them as well as the speaker.

Once the event starts, there is not much you can do until it is your turn on the platform. Some Questioners like to just wait their turn, others find it helpful to practice their skills. You may ask another team a question during the audience question period, but not your own Speaker. You will not get any extra credit from the judges for these questions, however.

Notes You will have half an hour prepare your notes in advance. Typically most of them will have been written during the speech itself.

Study the section about note taking on p12. Make sure you have enough of the key details but don’t try to write down every point. There are more ideas about how to make up good questions later.

If you need to check your notes, you could do so when the Speaker is answering the previous question, so you are ready with the next straight away. Take care to listen to what they are saying though!

DO •

Work closely with your team mates once you get your topic.

Practice by listening to your own speaker but also any other speeches you have an opportunity to hear.

Watch interviews and question sessions on TV for ideas.

Keep up to date on current affairs.

Prepare some generic questions in case you get stuck on the day.

Once you find out the topic, note down as many ideas and aspects of the subject as you can think of.

Try to write too many specific questions in advance. The judges will certainly spot if your questions do not seem to relate closely enough to the topic or the points raised by the speaker.

Always Be Polite The question period is intended to be a dialogue. You can certainly be firm and challenging to your speaker, but always be polite. Try to build up a rapport with the speaker that will make both of you, and the audience, feel relaxed. Since you are not an adversary, you can certainly say, “I agree” to some of the responses. If possible, try to introduce some more light hearted comments into your questions, this will go a long way towards dispelling the idea that you are trying to defeat the Speaker. If you feel that the Speaker does not answer a question adequately, you should of course 29


continue to probe for more information. However, you should avoid making confrontational comments. Instead you could say something more like, “Well, clearly this is a tricky area so…”.

Key Skill Demonstrations: Style

You may wish to start your question time with brief thanks to the speaker. If you choose not to do it at the start, make sure you do thank the speaker at some point – perhaps if they give a particularly informative answer to one of your questions.

DO •

Make it clear by your stance and your phrasing that you are speaking on behalf of the audience.

The competition allows four minutes for your question period. Keep an eye on the time. You cannot predict how long the answers to your questions will be so you won’t know exactly how many questions you will be able to ask.

Use your notes wisely.

Treat your speaker with courtesy.

Keep an eye on the timing and try to curtail the Speaker if they give very long answers.

You may wish to arrange with your Chairperson that they will give you a signal when you have only a minute or 30 seconds left. Once you know you are nearly at the end, ask a final question that you think the speaker can answer fairly quickly. Try to select that final question wisely. Make it selfcontained so that it is unlikely to prompt follow up questions that you would not have time to ask.



If you think the Speaker is giving answers that are too long, you should try to politely ask for shorter answers. Use phrases like, “Could I ask you to briefly…”. In a worst case scenario, you may need to interrupt them in order to get your next question in. The Chairperson also has a role to play in monitoring this. The timing of the question period can be tricky for the judges to mark. If the Speaker’s answers are too long they can be penalised for monopolising the session, but on the other hand if you did nothing to try and curtail them then you too may be penalised. Plus, if you do not get a chance to ask as many questions as you would like, the judges will have heard less of you to form a valid opinion on your skills. If you interrupt the Speaker too abruptly or are impolite in your approach, you can also lose marks.


Treat the question period like a debate.

The Role of the Questioner


Length of Questions


You should not monopolise the platform, and must give the Speaker time to answer. Make sure you have time for enough questions. Whilst some questions may need an introductory sentence or two, avoid giving a speech. Here is the same question phrased in different ways from the brief to the verbose:

The key to good questioning is to ask a wide variety of questions, and phrase them in different ways too. •

Ask a mixture of open and closed questions.

Ask both shorter and longer questions.

Ask questions that relate directly to material in the speech and questions that show you have thought about other aspects of the subject.

“How would you help the two out of ten people upset at this?” “In your speech you told us that eight out ten people agreed with the plan. So that means twenty per-cent of the population are pretty upset about this. What suggestions can you offer to help them?”

Ask follow up questions that build on the answer to the previous question, but also move on to other areas of the topic.

“You quoted a number of statistics in your speech. Your statistic from The Times showed, that about eight out of ten people were happy with the government plan. So if my maths is correct that presumably means two out of ten, that’s a massive twenty per-cent, are probably feeling pretty unhappy at the moment. Perhaps you could let us know what suggestions you might have that could help to get them on board with the plan?”

Open and closed questions A closed question is one that can only be answered with yes or no. Of course, you would hope that the Speaker will elaborate a little to justify their answer, but fundamentally these questions should elicit short responses. An open question is one that cannot be answered with yes or no. They require the Speaker to provide more detail or describe a potential solution to an issue. These questions typically start with words like how, why or what.

Which is right depends on the circumstances. In general, shorter questions are probably better when asked as a follow up to an earlier question, or when running out of time towards the end of the session. Long and rambling phrases like the last example above are best avoided.

Closed questions are good when you decide it is time to open up a new line of questioning. They establish where the Speaker stands on an issue. Very often you will find it appropriate to follow an initial closed question with an open one to explore the Speaker’s answer. Here is a typical exchange:

Strike a balance between questioning in depth on material covered in the speech and covering new aspects of the subject that the Speaker may have ignored.

Q: “You didn’t have much time to cover X in your speech. Do you think this is very worrying?” S: “Yes, very worrying. We must get a grip on it quickly before it becomes a big problem” Q: “Well then we agree it’s a big problem. What are you proposing that the government should do

Relevance You need to make sure your questions are relevant to the Speaker’s topic. As discussed earlier, you cannot prepare too much in advance or rely on generic questions so you must listen throughout their speech.

about it?”

However, your role is not only to probe or challenge the assertions the Speaker has already made but also to seek for further information 31


and clarification. Some of your questions should therefore relate directly to the speech:

Here are a few suggestions:

“You mentioned that … but I hoped you could give us a little more detail as to how that would work in practice.”

“So we have heard what you think X, Y and Z should do about this issue, but as we wrap up here today, could you tell us what else you are going to do about it yourself in the coming weeks?”

“You said that seven out of ten people agreed with …, but do you feel that survey was really suitably representative, given that it only covered the 1825 age group?”

“Sadly, we are running out of time. If we could only take one thing away from today’s discussion, what would you suggest is the most important point?”

Follow Up

“You have made your views on this subject clear. As we wrap up now, what would be your final word to those you have not managed to persuade?”

The judges will want to see a dialogue between you and the Speaker. That means you need to listen and respond to their answers as well as to their original speech. Just as a Speaker needs to present a logical argument that leads to their conclusion, you need to follow a line of related questioning that leads the discussion in a helpful direction to understand the subject further.

You can also ask some questions that will go beyond the material covered in the speech. Referring to the topics applicability in other countries, to other age groups or at other times in history are all good avenues to explore. However, it is not usually helpful to set off on a line of questioning completely at odds with the Speaker’s interpretation.

Don’t fire a series of unconnected, random questions at the Speaker. However, nor should you keep to the same line of questioning throughout. After two or three questions on one aspect of the topic, move on to something else.

Key Skill Demonstrations: Questions

The final question DO

Think carefully about your final question. Along with your opening question, it is the one the judges will remember most. Some Questioners choose a more light hearted question to end, or some may ask a more direct or personal question of the speaker. Try to make it something that neatly wraps up the event. Since the last word ultimately goes to the speaker in their answer, you could give them a question that allows them to sum up their main point. That would also give your Chairperson a good reminder of what to put in their summary.

Mix and match different types of questions.

Make sure there is a logical flow to your questions so you don’t jump randomly around the subject.

Keep an eye on the time and have a suitable final question ready when you are down the last few seconds.



Stick to one aspect of the topic for the whole question period.

Ask questions that are irrelevant to the way the speaker has addressed the topic.

Guidance for Coaches



1. The question period is an opportunity for you to examine the subject more closely on behalf of the audience. Therefore, make sure you include the audience in your exchange. Look at them as well as the speaker and remember to make sure your voice is loud and clear enough to carry to the back of the hall.

Selecting a team If your school has not entered before, you will need to get an interested group of students together. A large squad can be created from which you choose your final team. Getting students interested in public speaking gives them the chance to compete in internal competitions as well as intervarsity ones.

2. You can be firm and challenging to your speaker, but always be polite and try to build up a good rapport.

Winning teams need to have three strong performers. Students often show a particualr skill for one role, but being trained in all three is useful not only from the point of view of doing well in the competition, but for their skill set. Although the Chair and Questioner will not know their topic in advance, this handbook will hopefully have showed you there is still a lot they can do to prepare.

3. Try to strike a balance between asking questions and giving the speaker enough time to answer them. Keep note of the time, and don’t be afraid to ask the speaker for a shorter answer if they tend to talk for too long 4. Ask a mixture of closed questions (ones that can often be answered with a simple yes or no) and open questions (ones which force the speaker to elaborate such as, “Why…”)

If you have entered public speaking competitions before you will be off to a great start. Make sure you familiarise yourself and the team with ESU rules. The ESU format is intended to relate closely to aspects of the National Curriculum for speaking and listening.

5. Strike a balance between probing in more depth material already covered in the speech and covering new aspects of the subject. 6. Similarly, balance following up an answer with a further question and moving on to explore another point.

Topic Selection You will receive a list of first round topics several weeks before the competition begins. If not, contact your local ESU branch or the national organiser. No two teams will be speaking on the same topic. Talk through the key issues of each topic with the group. Do they understand what they mean and why the topic is relevant? Do any of the team have strong views on any topic? Do any of the topics relate to any other projects or activities within the school? You might shortlist two and suggest the students do some preliminary research to see which appeals most to them. There are some more hints about choosing a topic in the Speaker section of this handbook. You will be given a deadline to confirm your team’s names and the topic to your local organiser. 33


The videos that accompanies this handbook can help. It shows examples of the techniques described in the book, with commentary.

Preparing the speech

We recommend that you allow the students to spend some time on their own watching the material, and also get together with the whole team.

Once the speaker and topic are selected, the fun can begin. Ask the team to start by researching the topic and making a presentation to a larger group of students. Whilst they should not receive help writing their speech, your role as coach includes advice at this point. Make sure to give them a deadline to complete the research which will allow plenty of time to learn the finished speech.

For each role, the videos include a small number of examples in full, unedited and without commentary. These are intended for you to review and discuss with the group towards the end of the preparation time. They can have a chance to play the role of the judge, using the skills they will have learnt.

Have a creative session where everyone presents the results the material they have found. Help the students to group all the ideas together and select the most important information. Make sure they have found solid evidence for any assertions they will make.

On the day If possible, meet with the team earlier in the day. In the event of illness contact your local organiser, only in very few circumstances can an arrangement not be made. If you selected your team from a larger group of interested students you may find a last minute substitute, or your local organiser might be able to reschedule your school to a later heat.

It is important that the speaker develops a style that they are comfortable with in order to be natural and convincing. Again, be sure you give them a deadline, and get together for a few minutes regularly. It is also a good idea to get the whole team together when the speech is nearly ready. Feedback on the first draft from their peers as well as the coach is invaluable.

on the day, the team will need their notes, the Chairman will need a watch or stopwatch, and any other material they may need. Usually, schools wear their uniforms. if your schools does not wear a uniform, the school dress code would be appropriate. Make sure everyone knows what time the competition starts. Remember, the half hour before the first speech is essential for your Chair and Questioner!

Preparing the Chair and Questioner There are lots of ideas in this handbook to help the Chair and Questioner practice the skills they need. The whole team needs to listen to a range of discussion, presentation and oratory programmes on radio and TV to hone their skills. You may be able to combine this with other school activities or projects.

Remind the team to check out the room they will be presenting in before the start. You can help them by standing at the back and signalling to tell if they are speaking loud enough to be heard.

Understanding the roles

Once the other topics are announced you can help your Chair and Questioner to prepare their material. You might want to bring the day’s newspaper with you in case there are any relevant articles that they could refer to. No other preparation materials are allowed.

It is important that all three team members understand the format and requirements of the competition, and practise the specific skills the judges will be looking for. This is especially important if you or the students have participated in other competitions with slightly different formats. 34


This guide was written by Anthony Harris and Roger Tilbury, of the ESU committee for the schools public speaking competition. Written with thanks to all those coaches and competitors, current and former, who contributed to the video footage.


THE ESU SCHOOLS PUBLIC SPEAKING COMPETITION FOR SCHOOLS TRAINING HANDBOOK First published in celebration of the 50th anniversary of The ESU Schools Public Speaking Competition 1960-2010 The ESU exists to create global understanding through the shared use of the English language. We achieve our aim through conferences and seminars, scholarships and exchange programmes, debating and public speaking activities and our network of tens of thousands of members worldwide. The young people who take part in our programmes nationally and internationally emerge better equipped to contribute to their society and to a better understanding of the world, by using a shared language to reach across the barriers of geography and traditional divisions. The ESU in London works in partnership with over 50 ESUs worldwide, which have been established, since our foundation in the United Kingdom and United States in 1918, in every continent; most recently we have seen rapid expansion in East Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America. The ESU is a registered charity, dependent on the generosity of our members, alumni, volunteers and individual donors and corporate sponsors. With their support, using communication to build trust, tolerance and understanding, we are taking advantage of the powerful currents of twenty-first century globalisation to tackle social and educational exclusion and empower individuals worldwide.

The English-Speaking Union Dartmouth House 37 Charles Street London W1J 5ED T: 020 7529 1550 Registered Charity No. 273136

The ESU Public Speaking Competition for Schools Training Handbook  

This book has been designed to take you through the the public speaking competition, focusing on the individual roles, offering hints, tips,...

The ESU Public Speaking Competition for Schools Training Handbook  

This book has been designed to take you through the the public speaking competition, focusing on the individual roles, offering hints, tips,...