Academic Decathlon students get tips on speech making

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Hendricken junior Miles Tremel imagined what it was going to be like to deliver a four-minute speech before a panel of judges, and it wasn’t a good feeling.

So Tremel asked a question that had to be on the minds of many of the 40 high school students attending the kickoff event for the Rhode Island Academic Decathlon hosted by the New England Institute of Technology Tuesday afternoon in East Greenwich.

Tremel asked Adam David Roth, PhD, interim director of URI’s Harrington School of Communication and Media, what to do to overcome nervousness.

Roth had just completed a 45-minute presentation on the elements of developing and delivering a good speech, and like students everywhere, his audience took notes on their laptops and in their notebooks. As members of their school’s Academic Decathlon team, the students had a vested interest in learning how to perfect speechmaking. Speech is one of the 10 areas of the competition that will be held Sunday, March 15 at the Knight Campus of CCRI. Students are required to give a prepared speech followed by a two-minute impromptu speech.

Thus far, 16 high schools have indicated they will field teams in the 2015 Decathlon. In addition to Hendricken, Warwick Veterans Memorial and Pilgrim High Schools are planning to compete.

Roth’s PowerPoint didn’t cover Tremel’s question, but from personal experience he had some suggestions.

“Do you know deep breathing?” Roth asked.

No one ventured an answer, yet if there was a secret, the students wanted to know it. Might this make the difference between a good and excellent speech or, perhaps more important, not totally embarrassing oneself in front of a panel of strangers?

“Take a deep breath through your nose and hold it for four seconds,” Roth instructed. Then, he advised the students to exhale slowly through your nose for eight seconds without opening their mouths.

The technique, he said, will help bring composure and relieve stress. He said that when one is afraid, blood rushes to the body core to protect the vital organs, leaving the hands and feet cold. In this case, he advised running warm water over the hands and splashing it on the face.

Finally, he said, “You need to convince yourself you’re going to do a good job…visualize it.”

Roth touched on the points judges will use in scoring the speech, including the effectiveness of the speech, correctness, appropriateness, value and its development in terms of its organization, body and opening and closing. Students will also be rated on voice, appearance, movement and assurance.

As for the speech content, Roth urged students to focus on three key points and the thesis of the speech.

“There is nothing wrong with simplicity,” he said.

His list of don’ts is saying “in conclusion,” reading a speech or memorizing a speech. He urged students to work from an outline, stick to their points and “practice, practice and practice.” Another bit of advice is to revisit and, if necessary, revise the speech on the morning it is to be delivered, memorizing the main points only.

During the competition, students are handed a card from which they are to select one of three topics for their impromptu speech. They are given a minute to prepare a speech. Note cards can be used for the prepared and impromptu speech. Props are not allowed.

Speech is most often identified as the more difficult aspect of the day-long Decathlon, and it was for that reason the state organization focused on a speech presentation and workshop as an opening event to this academic year’s competition. This is the second year Roth has addressed the Decathlon.

Following his presentation, students worked in breakout groups conducted by URI graduate students from the Harrington School. In that session, students got to deliver impromptu speeches and to critique one another. And no coaxing was needed when pizza arrived and there was time for students from different teams to meet one another – the chatter flowed.

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