Top 10 tips for Speech Festival success! Part 1: Preparation
Decide which event to enrol in – depending on age, the child may be able to choose from verse (a poem), prose (an extract from a story), or reading aloud (performing from a written document). Most students enter the verse event, which is a great place to start for a first speech festival, but the selected pieces from other events may strike the imagination more or add further depth to the child’s learning.
Explore the piece with others through read-throughs, storytelling, and pictures. It’s very important to understand what is happening in the piece – the meanings of the words, who the characters are, what the main theme is, how the mood is described, the rhyme scheme and rhythm, and what is happening in the action.
Look at the structure and breathing patterns. This is like the skeleton of the piece, so it’s important to get this right before adding on the rest of the “body”. Divide the piece up into phrases divided by punctuation and meaning. Remember that you might not always be able to breathe at the end of the line of a poem to keep the phrasing and meaning.
Practise the pronunciation and diction. Read through the piece very slowly and clearly, making sure that each sound is said correctly and accurately. Pay particular attention to ending consonants like d, k, and t, and more dificult sounds like th. When speaking in a big room, it’s easy for these sounds to get “swallowed” and make the words seem unclear.
Memorise the piece. Make sure you have gone through the 4 steps above first before you start to memorise. It’s not a good idea to memorise too early as bad habits may be memorised and will then be more difficult to correct. (Note that reading aloud pieces should not be memorised as the technique is to perform while reading from a document or book.)
Picture the piece like a movie in your mind. As you are reciting the piece, imagine you’re playing a movie in your head where you can see the characters and the action unfolding. This helps enormously with creating natural sounding expression.
Develop expression in your voice. Find different words and phrases in the piece where you can vary the volume (loud/soft), pace (fast/slow), and pitch (high/low). Look for special words to emphasise. Show the feelings that the piece is conveying through changes in the voice.
Use your face and eyes. These are as important as the voice when conveying expression and meaning. Show the action and moods through wider or more narrow eyes, raised eyebrows, smiles, frowns, and a range of facial expressions. These all add to the interest and depth of the performance.
Show engagement and enjoyment! This is often even more important than technical ability. The adjudicator is looking for a genuine connection with the piece by the performer. With dozens of other students all reciting the same piece, it’s important to stand out!
Practise … but not too much. Make sure you are fully familiar and comfortable with the piece – practising for 5 minutes every day is better than doing nothing for a week and then repeating the piece over and over for an hour. Make sure you don’t over-practise so that the piece no longer sounds fresh. The trick is to have it “just right” for the event day!