This year, educational charity The English Speaking Union (ESU) marked its centenary and last month hosted their 38th International Public Speaking Competition in Mayfair. Amongst the 53(54?) young participants from all over the world was a representative of England/Wales, Chorleywood resident and St Clement Danes (SCD) Head Boy Maxwell Duncan.
Maxwell’s passion for public speaking started in Yr 7 of SCD and he has had considerable success over the last four years as part of a school team verbally battling against hundreds of teams in national competitions, culminating in him winning the Outstanding Personality award at the national ESU finals at Cambridge last summer. As a result of this he was invited to take part in the 2018 International Competition.
In a week of intense heats from 14th to 18th June, Maxwell delivered two speeches, one entitled ‘The greatest undiscovered art is critical thinking’ under the theme of ‘Great artists have no country’ and a second impromptu speech following the theme of ‘Self-control’. He also prepared a third speech titled ‘I think my phone is trying to kill me’ under the theme of ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it’, but unfortunately did not get an opportunity to speak on the topic.
The seventeen year old demonstrated first class skills in presentation, delivery, research and critical thinking and entertained the audience admirably in the process, and came top of his heats in the prepared speech.
The ESU prides itself in not only building skills in confidence and communication but in bringing together people of different languages and cultures. The event is both an impressive celebration of the spoken word and an uplifting experience for all.
Maxwell tells us about the competition and the camaraderie of his week.
Although a lot of people often disregard the phrase ‘it is not the winning but the taking part that counts’, there is no other sentiment better suited for this competition. The impressive public speaking rounds were obviously important (and caused me to stay up until the early hours of the morning to prepare for), but they were secondary focuses compared with the cultural exchange between (51?) different nations representing 600,000 entrants.
To be able to hear a whole variety of perspectives and the lived experiences of 16-21 year-olds from across the globe was an opportunity that I was extremely fortunate to have.
Together, we visited Shakespeare’s Globe, went bowling and watched a spectacular West End performance of the Lion King. Perhaps the most notable event was meeting HRH The Princess Royal at St James’s Palace – it’s good to be recognised by royalty!
We ended the week with a circle of languages in which all of the participants got very tearful. Each person took a moment to speak into the silence and say what they gained from the week. I found it hard to put everything into words, but (however cliché this might sound) I knew that I was no longer surrounded by public speaking rivals, but an international group of friends.
Imagine if every child/teenager/young adult could be provided with the opportunities that I’ve been lucky enough to have. It’s very easy to become prejudiced and polarised by become ignorant to international issues, and the work of the English Speaking Union has made great strides to address that. I hope that we will see the organisation grow (they seem to understand education better than our own government) and provide these opportunities for an increasing number of young people across the world. We’re not that different, after all.