Silver tongues and sharp minds keep champions on their feet

ALEXANDRA DOWNIE gave up public speaking after it left her scarred at a contest four years ago. Fortunately for NSW, she has given it another go in her last year of high school – and won the state finals in what is commonly rated as the second most frightening experience in life.From an attention-grabbing opening – ”Even the smallest crime deserves death!” – to a punchy and cogent argument on indigenous struggles in the impromptu section, the 17-year-old spoke with spark and conviction. The judges in the 33-year-old contest, sponsored by the Herald, were won over.”I had a horrible moment where I sat down and realised I could have talked about something completely different,” the Sydney Girls High School prefect said of the impromptu section. ”But it was OK.”It certainly was – her standout performance in the contest’s most challenging part, themed ”special treatment”, was assisted by the prowess that has made her captain of the NSW debating team. It flies to Brisbane this weekend for the national championships.”I think debating helps impromptus because you get more practice thinking on your feet,” she said.The six finalists in the Plain English Speaking Award, chosen from more than 400 school entrants statewide, addressed themes from the reach of McDonald’s to social inequality, vaccination programs and the ”ranga revolution” led by the Prime Minister’s hair.Micaela Bassford’s buoyant delivery on her chosen topic of ”super-sized and guilt free” and an impromptu speech on the treatment of refugees helped the year 12 student from Kirrawee High School to second place.Ms Downie, who plans to study arts-law, received $1200 among her prizes and will go to the contest’s national finals in Perth on August 23.She says the American comedian Tina Fey is a role model, she enjoys Barack Obama’s oratory and lists Mozart and the indie band Vampire Weekend among other likes, alongside chocolate.Ms Downie impressed with her intelligence and strong connection to her speaking topics and to the audience in what was a tight contest, said Peter Kerr, the Herald’s executive editor and one of the three judges.”In both her prepared and her impromptu [speeches], she managed to deliver an excellent presentation and argument.”
Nanjing Night Net