English Speaking Union Winners

9th Feb 2024




On Thursday evening, three of our year 11 students – Theo, Elliot, and Toby – took part in the branch finals of the English-Speaking Union’s Public Speaking Competition for the second year running. Held at the Hove Club, this year’s competition saw our students pitted against students from Uckfield, Brighton College, and Willingdon School, with six different teams in the running for the all-important trophy. Toby, Elliot and Theo are veritable veterans of oracy by this point and retained their composure against stiff competition. Their previous triumphs (they reached the regional finals, held at the ESU headquarters in Mayfair, last year) had prepared them well: they were crowned the well-deserved winners of this heat and will be proceeding onwards in the competition to the regional finals again this year.

The Public Speaking Competition is a challenging competition that demands confidence, eloquence, and insightfulness from its participants. The speaker from each team is paired up with the chairperson and questioner from a rival team. Despite only meeting the speaker approximately 20 minutes prior, the chairs are expected to host the presentation. They must introduce the speaker, ensure a neat handover to the questioner, and direct the audience’s questions, before summarising the key points and thanking all involved. Ultimately, the chairperson’s role is to ensure the smooth running of the debate. When done well, it will appear seamless, well-coordinated, and effortless. Theo delivered the role with aplomb and maintained a masterful command of the room – no mean feat when it’s packed with fellow competitors, along with the judges – throughout his assured performance. Theo is a natural in the role of chairperson which was noted in the judges’ feedback: they commented on the ‘air of confidence’ and authority he exudes.

Elliot’s role as questioner is no less demanding – the judges themselves admitted in their feedback that the questioner is ‘asked to do almost the impossible’. Despite this, Elliot was one of very few participants on the night who was credited by the judges for being conscious of including the audience when presenting his questions to the rival speaker. Elliot displayed the crucial, sought after listening skills and demonstrated his how perceptive he is by using the speech as a springboard to relevant but refreshing angles on the speaker’s topic.

Toby captivated the audience with his spellbinding speech, entitled, ‘Is extinction natural or a concern for mankind?’. Although Toby’s speech touched on complex issues such as climate change, he dealt with potentially heavy subject matter with a light hand, deftly weaving a beautifully crafted extended metaphor throughout his speech. Toby is not only a skilled writer but an expert performer. While considering the possibility of our impending doom could feasibly plunge the audience into agonised contemplation, Toby’s (by now) trademark positivity shone through, imbuing his speech with an uplifting glimmer of hope for the future and a rallying cry for the power – and responsibility – we wield as the human race. In their feedback, the judges praised Toby’s storytelling skills and commended his ‘tremendous confidence’. Toby’s responses to the questions put to him were measured, considered, and balanced: he shone further light on the issues his speech had unearthed and introduced the audience to the Maori concept of ‘kaitiakitanga’ or ‘guardianship’, urging us all to take care of the earth that we share.


 We are so proud to have had these three students represent Chailey School in the Public Speaking Competition and we wish them all the very best for the next stage of the competition.