The BBC's recent competition to find the UK's best young speaker gave 14 to 18 year olds an opportunity to demonstrate their speaking skills and learn from experts. It was inspiring to watch.
Is this your greatest fear?
Have you been watching The Speaker on BBC2 over recent weeks? I found it one of the most enjoyable reality shows on TV. Why? Because it was inspirational, motivating and educational, writes Hilary Jeanes of PurpleLine Consulting.
In 2008 the BBC launched a competition to find Britain’s best young speaker. Applicants aged between 14 and 18 were invited to submit a one minute speech on video on any subject they chose. From these, 160 were invited to audition with judges Jo Brand, Jeremy Stockwell and John Amaechi. 20 contestants were selected and then whittled down to 8 by the first extremely daunting test – delivering an impromptu speech from the stage of Wembley Arena.
The 8 finalists were put through their paces with various challenges. These involved working with expert mentors like Deborah Meaden, from Dragon’s Den, journalist and presenter Kate Silverton and Alastair Campbell, speechwriter for Tony Blair, with one contestant leaving after each challenge. The final 3 – Duncan, Irene and Kay Kay, spent a week in Malawi to research their final speeches on children’s rights. Duncan, the winner, is just 14 years old.
So what made The Speaker so enjoyable?
Firstly, the diversity of applicants. They came from all over the UK, from a wide variety of backgrounds and ethnic origins. They spoke on so many different subjects – serious and lighthearted, quirky and mundane. It was inspiring to see so many of them demonstrating such confidence and skill and to hear strong views on subjects that mattered to them.
It was motivating to see the finalists learn and grow through the competition. These young people faced some pretty daunting challenges – and rose to them, despite their setbacks and anxieties. They were coached by some excellent role models who gave them straight feedback – not always positive – and encouragement to rise to the challenges. The final speeches were particularly impressive in their delivery and content. And as Barack Obama has reminded us, excellent speaking skills are critical if you are in a leadership role.
Speaking in public is something many people fear. Many of us apparently fear it more than death! How fantastic then, to have an opportunity through this competition to develop this important skill at such a young age. It is by pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones that we derive our best learning – and which provide us with our greatest opportunities and triumphs.
If you are someone who finds speaking in public a daunting prospect, you can find a huge amount of information on the website. For example, this view from Jeremy Stockwell, one of the judges in the competition who is, amongst other things, a teacher at RADA, that nerves are vanity. He says “They are all about "me". Turn your nerves around by thinking generously of your audience. You'll find your nerves go because, psychologically, you can't be generous and selfish at the same time.”
And consider joining your local branch of Toastmasters if you’d like to improve your public speaking skills in a supportive environment. Their regular meetings and structured programme give you plenty of opportunity to develop and enhance your skills, both with impromptu and prepared speeches and presentations.
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Hilary Jeanes is Director of PurpleLine Consulting. A business coach, facilitator and HR consultant, she helps organisations get the best from their people.
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