We've all been there. You're moments away from having to deliver your 5-6 minute long oral to all of your classmates and your teacher, and you're still trying to memorise that one bit that you just can't seem to get down pat. It sucks.
For many VCE English students, the oral presentation is the scariest part of the course; it’s often also the first.
Doing a speech can indeed be daunting— you’re marked in real time, you can’t go back and edit mistakes, and the writing part itself is only half the battle. Nonetheless, the oral SAC can also be one of the more dynamic and engaging tasks you complete in VCE English, and there’s plenty of ways to make it more interesting and also more manageable for yourself.
We’ll break the whole process down into three parts (don’t worry, one of these will be the delivery itself) and have a look at ways to tackle each; hopefully, you’ll feel more empowered to give it a go on your own terms.
Part One: Choosing a good topic
(In this section—researching events & issues, topic ideas)
For a bit of a head start on this step, be sure to check out our blog post filled with Oral Presentation Topics for 2020. It's one of our best kept secrets!
In the study design, the description that’s given for the Oral Presentation is:
“A point of view presented in oral form using sound argument and persuasive language. The point of view should relate to an issue that has appeared in the media since 1 September of the previous year.”
Besides this restriction on how current/recent your issue is, the expectations themselves for this task are pretty standard (and therefore pretty broad): you
- select a topic or point of view
- research arguments and supporting evidence; and
- position the audience accordingly in your speech
Getting started on this first part can be tricky though, especially if you want to choose something a bit more original or fresh.
In any case, the first thing you need is an event. As a reminder, an event in the VCE English context is anything that happens which also generates opinionated media coverage—so, it’s not just an event but it has to be an event that people have published opinions about, and they have to have been published since September 1.
You might wonder why we don’t go to the issue straight away. Here’s a hypothetical to illustrate: if you asked me to name an issue, the best I could probably come up with off the top of my head is climate change. However, if you asked me to name an event, I’d pretty easily recall the bushfires—something much more concrete which a) has generated specific and passionate opinions in the media; and b) can easily be linked to a wider issue such as climate change.
So where do you find an event? If you can’t think of a particularly interesting one right away, you could always try Wikipedia. Seriously, Wikipedia very helpfully has pages of things that happened in specific years in specific countries, so “2019 in Australia” might well be a starting point. The ABC news archive is also really helpful since you can pick dates or periods of time and see a good mix of news events from then.
I wouldn’t underestimate your own memory here either. Maybe you attended the School Strike for Climate and/or you feel vaguely disappointed in the government. Maybe there was something else happening in the news you remember (even though it is often about the environment these days). It doesn’t have to be from the news though—maybe there was a movie or TV show you watched recently that you have thoughts about. You could really do a speech on any of these, as long as you suspect there might be recent, opinionated media coverage.
Only once you have an event should you look for an issue. This will be a specific debate that comes out of the event, and can usually be framed as a “whether-or-not” question. The bushfires, for example, might generate debate around whether or not the Australian government is doing enough to combat climate change, whether or not Scott Morrison has fulfilled his duties as Prime Minister, whether or not it’s appropriate to discuss policy already when people are still grieving. All of these issues are going to be more current and more focused than just ‘climate change’, so pick one that resonates for your speech. For a list of 2019-20 issue-debate breakdowns (i.e. topic ideas!), give this a read!
From there, you might delve a little deeper into viewpoints around your chosen issue, and you’d do this mostly by reading opinion or analysis articles (rather than hard news reports). Opinion is great to see what other people are thinking, and could help you bolster or reinforce your own arguments, whereas analysis is good to get a little deeper into the implications of and evidence behind the issue. The actual contention itself comes last—even though you might already have an idea what you think about the issue, you’ll be best prepared to articulate it after doing the research first.
Part Two: Writing a good speech
(In this section—register/tone selection, personas, openings, how formal you need to be, drafting & rehearsing)
For this part of the task, I’d keep in mind a specific snippet of its description: the need to use sound argument and persuasive language.
To be fair, persuasive language mightn’t necessarily be something you actively think about when you write persuasively—you wouldn’t ever really be like “hey, this is a great spot to include an appeal to compassion.” However, while you don’t need to start now, it’s good to have in mind a general register for your speech before you start. It’s one of the first things you might analyse in a written essay for good reason—it’s broad and it sets the tone for your argument/s.
With the bushfires for instance, you might contend that even though grief is a strong emotion, it should also be a trigger for resolute, permanent policy reform. But will you come from a frustrated, this-is-what-we’ve-been-saying-for-years register, or a compassionate look-at-the-damage-caused register, or an assertive, we-need-to-bring-the-community-together-first register?
Maybe you can incorporate a bit of each, or maybe (probably) there are more options, but in any case, making this decision first will help with stringing together arguments and incorporating more persuasive language techniques (PLTs). Note that most PLTs can be used across a number of registers, but there are some that might work more effectively with some of these.
These are things you’ll have to think about for your written explanations, and might also help you shape future research if you need to shore up the speech a little more.
Something you may consider as well is adopting a persona, that is a character and a context for your speech. You don’t have to, but it may help you get started. It can be hard to just write a speech from scratch, but if you’re the mayor of a township affected by the fires and you’re outlining a course of action, it’ll help with your register and outlook.
Openings in general can be tricky though. Try to avoid stating your event, issue and contention outright—the audience doesn’t need to know that “recently, Australia experienced a horrific bushfire season and I’m going to talk about why now is the time to act on climate change.” They’ll figure it out.
Instead, try to start with something that clearly communicates your register and/or persona (if you have one). If you’re a frustrated climate activist, start by illustrating the historical patterns of bushfires getting worse and worse. If you’re a compassionate community-builder, start with anecdotes of the damage. If you’re an assertive leader, explain who you are, what your experience is and how you want to create change. Don’t worry if you feel like the issue won’t be clear enough—again, they’ll figure it out!
The opening also sets the bar for formality in your speech, and it’s honestly up to you how formal you’ll want to be. As a rule of thumb, don’t be so formal that you can’t use contractions (such as “you’ll” and “can’t”)—avoid those in essays for sure, but they’re a natural part of speaking and it’ll feel strange if you don’t use them.
I’d also recommend you draft and rehearse in front of others, highlighting areas where you think are the weakest and asking them for specific advice on those sections at the end. Having specific questions to ask, such as “should I include more data/quantitative evidence in x section?” or “is this specific appeal to x obvious enough?”, also means you get better feedback (since these are much easier to answer than “Was that fine?”).
Part Three: Delivering an engaging presentation
(In this section—body language, eye contact, rehearse rehearse rehearse, tone variation)
Most of you probably find this the most daunting part of the SAC—honestly, me too—but this is the part with the most tried-and-tested tips for success.
With regard to body language, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and, more importantly don’t move your legs. Especially if you’re nervous, swaying or shuffling will be noticeable and make you appear more nervous—when you practise, pay attention to the lower half of your body and train it to stay still if possible. That being said, do use your arms for gestures. Those are more natural and will help engage the audience, though don’t overdo it either—usually, holding cue cards in one hand frees up the other but also stops you from going overboard.
And cue cards brig us up to another important consideration—eye contact. Hold cue cards in one hand as high as you can without it feeling uncomfortable. This means you don’t have to take your eyes away from the audience for too long or too noticeably to check your notes.
Of course, knowing your speech better means having to check your notes less frequently. When I did my speech, I’d read it out aloud to myself 3-5 times a day for a week or two in advance, which made me feel like I was going insane but also meant that my speech was basically memorised. The cue cards were there in case of emergency, but I really didn’t need them at all. Absolutely make sure to rehearse your speech.
Further, when you rehearse, try to pretend that you’re actually delivering the speech. This means:
- looking up ahead
- holding the cue cards in the right spot; and
- not just reading the words but speaking as if to an audience.
This last point is really important—tone variation might come naturally to some but not to others. I always found that building it into rehearsal helped with getting it consistent and natural. Tone variation involves things like emphasising certain words, using pauses or slowing down for effect, or modifying volume. Incorporating some of these elements—even writing them into your notes by bolding/italicising/underlining—will help you break out of monotony and make the speech more engaging as well. Be sure to emphasise things like emotive language and any evidence you might use to illustrate your arguments.
And one last thing—don’t speak too quickly! Easier said than done, but often the icing on the cake for a speech that is memorable for the right reasons.