Public speaking is a life skill that everyone should master, whether he or she envisions grandly orating in Parliament or just lacks the confidence to narrate a PowerPoint presentation.
The need to master this art is one reason that every year for three decades, Jewish Federation has been presenting the Public Speaking Contest established by Larry Barzelai in honour of his father. This year’s contest on March 14th is supported by Jewish Community Centre of Great Vancouver, State of Israel Bonds, and the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library.
“It’s a chance to develop a skill set for speaking in public and we give it a Jewish twist,” says Lissa Weinberger, Jewish Federation’s manager of Jewish education and identity initiatives, who organizes the event every year with Sarah Berger, community services coordinator. Participants must be in grades 4-7, but otherwise, a desire to participate is the only requirement. Students at local day schools are all asked to write a speech, even if they don’t choose to present them. Public speaking is part of the curriculum at local day schools.
The event tends to draw about 90 participants. Each one is given a choice of topics in advance, then writes a three-minute speech and practices it before their public appearance. On the evening in question, participants are divided into groups based on grade and they give their speeches in front of their peers, judges, moderators and parents
“It’s not a debate,” says Weinberger. Rather, it’s an academic exercise that encourages young people to think about what makes a cohesive, persuasive speech, polish their talking skills, and build their sense of community.”
The topics Weinberger provides vary from “classics,” like “What’s your favourite Jewish holiday and why?” to more complex, like the full extent of the Jewish concept of B’Tzelem Elohim (“in God’s image”).
These subjects are chosen to “prepare these students to tackle all things Jewish,” Weinberger explains. “That’s an important integration to us – they’re not just talking about news or history, but Judaics.”
Speakers can choose their own topic, if they prefer, and they may speak in English or in Hebrew.
Participants each receive a small prize, a certificate acknowledging their effort, and a three-year membership to the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library. Each room is also provided with prizes for the first, second and third place speakers – State of Israel Bonds and gift certificates to Indigo.
Watch a great video about the event here.