Perse student prevails in public speaking competition

Ioanna MacKenna (Lower Sixth) talked her way to victory in the English-Speaking Union East Region Sixth Form Public Speaking Competition.

She came through two rounds to reach the final, with all stages held online, and won with a compelling speech making comparisons between George Orwell’s iconic novel 1984 and the current situation in Russia.

Her success was particularly impressive as it was the first time Ioanna had taken part in a public speaking competition.

Ioanna said: “I’m very happy to have won, but really surprised. I wasn’t expecting it because everyone’s speeches were brilliant and the breadth of topics was phenomenal – everything from ‘How can you measure happiness?’ to ‘What should Labour do to win the next General Election?’”

She chose her topic after being struck by the similarities between the manipulation of language in both 1984, in which propaganda is fed to the masses via the Thought Police and Ministry of Truth, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s narrative of the Ukraine conflict to his country’s citizens.

“I’ve always loved 1984 because it’s such a beautifully written and skilfully crafted novel,” said Ioanna.

“Seeing the news, it felt like the missing link to what’s being said in Russia. Putin’s idea of calling Russia a peacekeeper is similar to the idea of ‘war is peace’ in 1984.

“It’s easy for us to think ‘how on earth do people in Russia believe that?’, but I wanted to show why other people’s beliefs come from the way the government can manipulate thoughts and ideas.”

Public speaking is such an important skill to have, especially with university and job interviews.

Ioanna enjoyed the experience of online public speaking and being asked further questions about her subject by BBC political reporter Charlotte Rose, who was part of the judging panel.

She said: “You only get five minutes for your speech and it’s good because it really gets you to be concise with your ideas, while also giving enough depth.

“Although it was my first competition and I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, I’ve done drama before and I like the performance element of public speaking.

“However, you lost marks if they thought you were looking at a script, so I’m thankful to my mum for hearing me do the same speech numerous times while I was practising. The patience she had was astounding!”

Ioanna said winning the competition had provided a confidence boost and that she is considering entering more public speaking events.

She added: “It’s just such an important skill to have, especially with university and job interviews in the future.”


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