One thing is sure about schools, every now and then they get involved in competitions; whether in-house, with other schools or to get scholarships. It may be a sports competition, music competition, debate, spelling bee, etc.; whatever it is, they need to be prepared beforehand.

It is the last term of the school year, which means lots of competitions for secondary school students that could lead to scholarships, national competitions, and some amazing experiences that can be included on resumes and in portfolios.

Whether your student is competing in a STEM Fair, a Talent Search, or at a Career and Technical Student Organization event- each requires different skill sets, but one common denominator for many of these competitive events is that public speaking and presentation skills matter… a lot. In fact, regardless of the content, the ability to communicate ideas effectively may be the deal breaker between going home with a certificate of participation or heading to the next level, national competitions.

Here are some thoughts that every teacher or advisor should pass on to students prior to their big moment in the spotlight. Give these ten tips to ensure that your students are on point!

  1. It starts with a great opening. Walk into the room with confidence- head held high, a smile on your face, and prepared to give a strong handshake and greeting. Make eye contact with every judge.
  2. Dress for success! ‘It is not about what you wear but what you accomplish’… does not apply in your competitive events. Success icons such as Mark Zuckerberg may be able to get away with casual clothing, but he has already proven himself. You still have to convince your judges what it is that you have accomplished.

Cliché, but true, first impressions do matter. You only get one chance to make a bad impression. Once you have won over your judges, the cards are stacked in your favor due to the primacy effect.

Dress the part. If competing in a culinary arts event, make sure your chef outfit is according to the standards. If a business suit is the appropriate attire, ensure that you pay attention to detail.

  1. Assume rapport. The judges are there to help you, and in most cases, want to see you succeed. Knowing this gives you a competitive edge: More relaxed=more successful.
  2. Start a TED-Ed Club at your school. This will give you and your peers a platform for developing and communicating ideas, while practicing your skills at public speaking.
  3. Watch as many shows as you can to calm your nerves before your big event. It would help to watch shows from past competitions so you know what to expect and how to go about everything. A show like ‘Akila and the Bee’ is a great choice if you are practicing for a Spelling Bee or ‘Queen of Katwe’ if it is a chess competition.
  4. Speak the truth even if your voice shakes. This might be your first time at a public event and your nerves will be all over the place. Do not stop because your voice is shaking, keep at it and ensure that you get to the end of your presentation. A shaky voice does not mean you are wrong or not prepared.
  5. Practice relentlessly. Even a commitment to practice your public speaking skills once a day for a month will make a huge difference.

It takes practice to appear natural! Successful speakers like Warren Buffet and Joel Osteen have discovered that you have to do what you fear a lot in order to get good at it. The more you speak in public, the more comfortable you will be.

  1. Be prepared for every possible scenario of what could go wrong and have a plan for how to overcome any obstacles. This is where you put your imaginative skills to good use, assume the worst and prepare for it keeping a mindset of being the best and taking home that prize.
  2. Show your passion! Emotions are contagious. When a speaker is passionate about what they are talking about, it shows. It is much easier to overcome nervous energy if you believe in what you are talking about.
  3. And finally, have fun! If you have followed the nine recommendations above, the competition will be a joyous event instead of a stressful or even dreadful moment.

Here are some extras

#1. Team bonding

If your students are to compete as a team (like in dance or sports competitions), a close and connected team is just as important as the dances you perform or games you play together at the competition. Being a closer group will help you become more connected while on stage or on the pitch. Try having a team night, or lock-in, and participate in team-bonding exercises.


#2. Fundraise

The costs of competitions and conventions can add up quickly. As teachers, help your students families out by creating a fundraising board, or organize fundraising activities yourself to help alleviate some of the monetary stress.


#3. Drill your technique

How you take and perform in the classroom/pitch directly correlates to how you perform once on the stage or in the field. Make sure (especially at the very beginning of the year) to drill technique. Of course, no one is perfect, but there is no excuse for laziness or tiredness.



#4. Mentally prepare

Being physically ready for competition is just half the battle. You want to be mentally prepared as well. Take time out to clear your mind and get mentally ready to take on a crazy day of competing, because we all know competition can be full of long, sometimes stressful, days. Teachers: encourage your students to take quiet time and to not spend their time backstage fussing or being too silly. There is always time for some fun banter or quiet games, but your students need to learn to focus when it counts. A prayer or encouragement circle can help your students to focus before taking to the wings.


#5. Teach integrity

Your students ought to understand that it is okay to lose sometimes. Teach them not to be obsessed with winning at all cost. They should know the importance of playing fair and losing with dignity if that does happen. They may be very good, but another may be better; they should learn not to revolt if they do lose out on the big prize.

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