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Comments and advice from the 2020 selectors

All of us in Seinan Jo’s Department of English were surprised when we ended up with 93 entries for this year’s contest! We knew it was going to be difficult to choose the 15 finalists from among so many excellent submissions. In these notes, we would like to explain the process, and give you all some advice. Before we do that, however, please understand that even if you were not accepted this year, do not take that as a rejection. Almost every submission was of a very high standard, and often the difference between accepting or not was a very small distinction. So, don’t give up! Keep attempting other contests, because you will surely improve your skills each time, and if you keep at it, you will succeed.

The Process

There were two parts to the submission process: The script and the audio file. For this selection process, we focused mostly on the scripts. This was because we could then see your thinking, your ideas, and your English skills. Also, from this point the script can only change slightly, while your oral presentation will improve much with practice! For this selection process, two of the English teachers from our Department of English each separately evaluated the submissions, and then compared notes to make the final selection.

The Scripts

In the selectors’ evaluation of the scripts, we focused on 5 criteria:

  • English: For this, we looked at how well edited your writing was… the grammar, use of vocabulary, structure of the speech, and general layout
  • Style: This area looked at HOW you wrote your speech. Did you make interesting use of words and sentences? Was your speech easy to read, with a good flow of ideas? Did you show versatile writing techniques?
  • Message: A good speech should have something to say; it should deliver a clear message that shows the writer’s points of view and feelings on a subject.
  • Originality: As both the selectors have judged many speech contests before, plus helped our own students to prepare, we wanted to see something new in your speeches, something that caught our attention because we hadn’t seen it before.
  • Relevance: The final criteria was an important one. We wanted to see topics that are relevant to our lives, to this time in history.

The Audio Files

After making a first selection from the script files, we then listened to all the audio files. As we said before, this wasn’t our main focus, because we know the finalists will work very hard before the contest to improve their performances. However, we did look for clarity of voice, good pace, naturalness in intonation and fluency, and lots of passion and excitement in the audio. Presentations that made us sit up and listen scored much higher.

General Comments and Advice

Here are some notes we wrote while we were going through the 93 submissions. We hope they help you understand how you could improve your speeches in the future.

  1. Before you submit your script, check it carefully. Ask other people, such as your teachers, to check it also. There should be no careless spelling and grammatical errors. Also check that your script is formatted as the guidelines tell you. First impressions count!
  2. Choose your topic carefully! You need to find something that is unique and original, that you can relate to, and that you have an opinion on. A lot of people chose similar topics, such as the environment, bullying, and COVID-19. If you are going to choose one of those popular topics, you need to give it an original twist.
  3. Remember, a speech is not a lecture, it is a performance. Yes, it is great if you can share knowledge and teach us something. But you need to do that in a way which is also entertaining and engaging.
  4. Organize the flow of your speech so that it moves from your introduction to your conclusion in a logical and understandable way. Many of the best speeches submitted were almost like a circle, with the flow coming back to the starting point so it all made sense.
  5. Spend a LOT of time thinking about your introduction. Starting with “Today I’m going to talk about…” will put the audience to sleep. Imagine you are a fisherman, and you must hook your audience with the first few sentences. When we are judging a speech contest, much of our score is decided in that first paragraph. Make an impact!
  6. At the other end of the speech, finish strongly. Don’t just use your conclusion to summarize your speech, but to motivate the audience into a response.
  7. Don’t make vague references, such as “I heard…” or “A website said…”. Be specific. Where did you get the information from?
  8. And finally, take some time to get your audio file right! As we said, we know you will improve with practice, but you still need to show us that you can speak clearly and smoothly. We need to hear your pronunciation of all those tricky sounds, such as ‘r’ and ‘l’, ‘b’ and ‘v’, ‘th’, etc. We are looking for naturalness in intonation and rhythm. But the biggest thing we are looking for is passion and enthusiasm. That shows us that you are confident, and that you really want to do your best! So, go for it.