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Home > News and views > ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition Top Tips 

ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition Top Tips 

With the ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition Regional Finals looming, ESU alumnus James Thompson has been kind enough to share his expertise with us. James took part in the ESU House of Lords Chambers Debate and won the ESU Schools’ Mace as well as the ESU International Mace. He is currently in the final year of his Economics degree at De Montfort University in Leicester. He is also a capable and talented judge for our Mace and Public Speaking Competitions, which he has been doing for three years. Please see James’ top tips below – we are certain that these will benefit budding Public Speakers and competitive speech makers alike!


  • Minimise your notes
    It can be quite tempting to have pages full of notes prepared in case you forget anything, but don’t fall into this trap. Minimising notes helps you focus on the presentation aspect instead of constantly looking down at copious pages of text.
  • Practise your breathing
    A common sight to see in budding public speakers is the all-too-common, out-of-place pause for breath. This may come from many places: nervousness, speaking too fast, or simple lack of practise in good breathing techniques. However, exercising your breathing techniques can calm your nerves and improve your speech.
  • Hand movements and gestures
    In the world of Zoom meetings this is becoming harder to utilise, but hand movements are a crucial tool anyone can use to improve their public speaking. Hand movements and gestures are a natural part of human communication and you can think of them much like how a conductor uses their baton to control an orchestra: to control the flow and speed of your speech. Your hand movements convey a message to your audience (it would look pretty odd to be waving your hands about while speaking at one mile an hour!) and perhaps more crucially help to control your speed.
  • Utilise pauses
    While this is a public ‘speaking’ competition, not speaking at all can be just as effective. Effective pauses (not to be confused with out-of-place pauses for breath) are a great tool when you want the audience to consider what you have just said; if the speaker goes on and on and on with no pauses, everything they say ends up tangled together in the audience’s brains. A few pauses at the right moments burn that point into the viewer’s mind, underlining that what was just said was important and letting them think about it for themselves.
  • Remember what is interesting!
    Fundamentally, public speaking is incredibly similar to drama – it is simply giving a one (wo)man show. So you must remember to keep it interesting, keep it to the point and ensure you don’t get lost in the mud of the topic. Keeping the audience (and the judges’) attention is the most crucial element, as if your speech isn’t interesting people will simply switch off.

Top Tips for Chairs:

  • Jump in at the right times
    All too often I see Chairs give time warnings at just the wrong moment, whether it is just as a Speaker is getting to an interesting bit or even sometimes mid-word. Instead, wait for a natural lull in the speech and give your announcement there.
  • Be snappy with timings
    For a Chair, it is important there is no downtime when nothing is happening. Be on the lookout for when things are ending and be ready to jump in when it does to keep the discussion moving.

Top Tips for Questioners:

  • Be consistent
    While prepping you might think of an amazing question. But when the Speaker concludes and you jam in a question that you thought was relevant at the beginning – but wasn’t really once you had heard the speech – it doesn’t come across as very engaging. Instead, try to ask insightful questions that build on what was said in the speech, making matters fresh and relevant.
  • Identify the interesting sections of the discussion
    In many ways, the Questioner’s main job is not to ask the questions, but to identify the interesting ones. By listening to the discussion there are often areas that are incredibly interesting that have been glossed over, or unanswered questions mentioned only briefly in the speech. It is your job to find those interesting nuggets and bring them to the surface.
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