BY GLORIA J. KATCH
Special to the VOICE
It’s becoming a “lost art,” but judging by the audience’s response on the weekend of February 23, the public speaking contest involving nine schools under the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN), in conjunction with the Fonthill Legion, is still entertaining and inspiring.
Jacqueline Schwenker, Coordinator for Youth Services for the Fonthill Legion, Branch 613, has been organizing the event for about four years, and has noticed the drop in participants.
“I don’t know if it’s stage-fright or what, but the schools just don’t seem to be pushing it enough,” she said. The students usually learn about the contest through English classes, but the event is entirely voluntary.
Jim Garner, Third Vice-President of the Fonthill Legion and Event Moderator, noted the “outstanding jobs” the students had done in presenting their speaches, which averaged about five minutes in length.
Jim Summersides, a decorated veteran with the Legion, said he has been involved with its Youth Education programs for about 20 years, and, “They do a fabulous job.”
“If you can talk in front of a group of people, it helps ensure your success in the future,” he said.
Over the years, Summersides has learned to sharpen his speaking skills through many public engagements.
This year, there were only 12 contestants in the public speaking contest that covered Grades 1 to 9, and they were grouped by age-ranges. The students chose topics which were interesting or important to them, and these varied from educational to curious oddities. Many speeches included humorous trivia.
Andreas Morgenstern delivered an account that could’ve been an excerpt from the Guinness Book of World Records on the biggest bubble gum blown, and the history of gum chewing, which dates back to ancient Greece, he said. Currently, the snapping, chewing and popping of gum is highest per-capita in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. He also talked about its pros and cons, and its addiction.
One of the winners in the Intermediate Category from Grades 7 to 9, Braden Kingston, talked about the five categories of “Sports Parents,” from the best to the worst. Then he gave tips on how to be a positive role model for children, who are involved in sports. He reminded the parents in attendance that local sporting events are not “the Olympics,” and to just “Let your kids play and have fun.”
Taking first place in his category, Connor Anderson, a Grade 5 Student, discussed a wide-variety of norms and behaviours, from why doctors wear white lab coats to the custom of handshaking. He also discussed the colours of toilet paper in different countries, including a variety that glowed in the dark. If readers aren’t aware, falling coconuts kill people far more often than sharks do. Garner noted that it was interesting trivia.
“If you ever get on Jeopardy, I think you’ll do well.”
Natalie Anderson, Connor’s older sister, discussed what it meant to be Canadian beyond the typical stereotypes of poutine, beavers and maple syrup. In addition to our beautiful, scenic landscapes and diverse communities, there are also many inventions created by Canadians, which are not commonly known, like the electric roller and instant replay, she said. She took first place for her oratory.
Isaac Khan placed second in his category, discussing the importance of electric versus gas automobiles to prevent pollution, prevent health issues, and preserve the environment. His animated talk pointed out the benefits of each model, and ended with families benefitting by purchasing one of each model, at least at this point in time.
Winner in the Primary Category, Madeline Leigh in Grade 1, talked about the care, grooming, and protection of pet bunnies.
Four judges scored the students on delivery, which included appearance and mannerisms; on their material, which included the worthiness of the topic, its organization, suitability, and originality; and on literary form, meaning how effective and clear they communicated their thoughts and ideas. Garner noted the judges difficulty in making a decision.
Similarly, many winners from the Legion’s contest entered The Fonthill and Fenwick Lions’ Effective Speaking contest, winning more cash and ribbons. This year this event was conveniently held at the Legion the following day.
“It’s not usually held back-to-back, ” said Eleanor Arbour, Lioness’ District Chair, who’s been organizing the event for about six years. The Lion’s contest hosted 14 youths, but this year there were no speakers in the Senior category, which is Grades 10 to 12.
When asked why the two service organizations don’t combine events, Arbour said, “We run our events totally different from each other.”
The Lions include all the schools in Pelham, including two French schools—Ecole Elementaire Nouvel Horizon on Quaker Road, and Ecole Secondaire Confederation in Welland. This year, there were no French speakers, or home-schooled children, she noted. In the past, the Lions have used three English- and three French-speaking judges to score the contest.
Contrary to the Legion, the Lions allocate numbers to their contestants and don’t use names to try and eliminate any favouritism, noted Arbour adding, “The judge might happen to know or recognize one of the students names.”
The Lions also include an impromptu component to its speaking contest, which involves the intermediate entrants randomly drawing a topic written on pieces of paper out of a bowl. They can draw twice, and pick which topic they prefer, but then they have 15 minutes to write a speech and present it to the audience. This follows their original five to seven-minute speach, so the contest lasts all afternoon, explained Arbour. Despite the length of the contest, she said, “It always amazes me the ideas they come up with to talk on every year.”
Many of the winners have an opportunity to compete in their respective district and provincial finals, if they so choose.
For adults who want to develop their leadership and confidence in public speaking, Rose City Toastmasters meets from September to June every Thursday evening at Niagara College’s Welland Campus off Woodlawn Rd. Please visit online, or call 289-213-9395 for more information.
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