Taunton Academy English teacher Ms Lam on her passion for public speaking. This article will feature in next month’s English Speaking Union’s magazine “Dialogue”.
Nineteen years after winning best speaker at the regional finals of the Public Speaking Competition, Kat Marshall Lam is now supporting a new generation of orators. Public speaking didn’t immediately appeal to Kat Marshall Lam but getting out of cross-country did. “I was really quite opinionated as a teenager, so I decided to trade the 1,500 metres for the Public Speaking Competition,'” she laughs.
Making it through to the regional finals, she argued against the motion ‘feminism has had its day’. “There was one of those pregnant pauses where the audience is suddenly captivated and you stand there with the power and control to sway everyone into your way of chinking,” she says. “That gave me a lot of confidence.”
She came away from the competition with a new found passion for performance and says that the resulting accolade of best speaker “stuck with me as a glowing subject of pride and joy.” Not only did such experiences help to boost her confidence, but Kat believes they also played a major part in honing her career.
“The enjoyment of being in front of an audience has helped to shape the direction I’ve gone within teaching – firstly training and supporting teachers within my school and others, and now leading on literacy and reading programmes. Part of the enjoyment of delivering whole-school training comes from the confidence and experiences that I’d had originally when I did the ESU competitions.”
Having recognised the opportunities she’s been given, and where they have been able to rake her, Kat now wants all young people to have the chance to develop their oratory skills, starting with pupils at the state comprehensive where she works. “We have quite a lot of pupil premium students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds who don’t have highly literate households, so where will they be exposed to vocabulary? How will they be given the opportunity to present themselves and to be self-advocates?’ she asks.
“When you haven’t had those same experiences that I had, or haven’t taken part in quality discussion and conversation, it can become a barrier to social mobility.” To this effect, last year she entered a team in the ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition for the first time, and this year she fielded two teams, which she hopes to do again, all alongside her ongoing role as Public Speaking Coordinator for the Taunton region in which she arranges the branch heats for all schools in the region.
“Both years a state school has won our local branch competition heat which is fantastic and really important for our pupils to see,” she says. “it gives them a sense of parity, a sense of value and worth.”
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