Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Thrill your family this Christmas - with a poem!

The nights are drawing in, Christmas decorations have been up in Hong Kong for a month now, families are gearing up for the trilogy of Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year. This year, why now kill the television and entertain your family with good old fashioned poetry recitals?

What makes a poem suitable for a performance? Use the following criteria and you won't go far wrong!

1: Does the poem have a strong story or message?
2: Is there scope for your dramatic range?
3: Do you like it? Is it suitable for your audience?
4: Does it end on a strong note?

Casabianca by Felicia Hemans is a stirring ballad which has been enthralling audiences since it was published in the 1820's. The poem is instantly recognisable from the first stanza:

The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone round him o'er the dead.

The poem continues for for another ten stirring verses and inspired generations. Less stirring but equally entertaining was the parody taught to us by my late Grandfather:

The boy stood on the burning deck
Selling peas a penny a peck
But did he wash his filthy neck?
No, did he heck!

If you can't memorise the whole ten verses, don't be afraid to read but do remember that looking at your audience is far more important than gazing at a bit of paper. This poem suits all readers and can be read by a group. Play around with the voices and you could even read this as an adult/child dialogue.

Read with confidence and hold your audience in the palm of your hand.

To read the entire poem: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/hemans/works/hf-burning.html

Monday, 21 November 2011

Thank you to my Hong Kong Polytechnic University Students

Whenever I become pessimistic about the future after reading the newspapers I think about my students.

I have recently finished teaching a short public speaking class at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HK PolyU) as part of their aim of broadening the academic experience. This year's class had students from Hong Kong, Thailand, Mainland China and Nigeria. Diverse backgrounds but united in their desire to contribute to society and make a difference.

Coming to public speaking early is an incredible experience. Watching this class shed their fears and develop public speaking skills was terrific. They also introduced me to an optimistic world view and shared their hope about the future. Whereas the newspapers are full of doom and gloom, this group are confident that they will try their best to make our world a kinder, more equitable place. Their new found presentation skills will help them to communicate and share their vision in the future and I am incredibly proud to have played a minor part in their development.

For people who don't have the benefit of the PolyU enrichment programme, the basis of becoming a confident public speaker is to have confidence that your words can make a difference.

Thank you to all my students; both for your hard work and for your energy, optimism and determination to change our world for the better.

To read more about PolyU

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Classic Children's Literature - Preparation for Common Entrance

As a child, I remember being terrified and thrilled in equal measure by Alan Garner's novels. Set on the edge of the Pennines, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen builds tension from the first line. Two children become enmeshed in a mysterious adventure incorporating local legends, devious residents and portents of doom.

The book is rich with imagery and the language will delight. How about this for a simile: "...thin as a rasher of wind.." Fabulous!

Radio 4 is currently running an excellent play based on The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and I throughly recommend it (although I have to admit that I was utterly petrified in parts.) For anyone interested in public speaking, Phillip Voss's diction is a delight to listen to.

">To listen to the BBC dramatisation

Any 10+ year old will be challenged by this novel. After a diet of watery fiction, this book is a sumptuous feast.

">To see details of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen on Amazon

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Congratulations to my Speech Festival students!

Our first Speech Festival students of this year performed yesterday and, despite nerves, managed to enjoy the experience. Well done Jenny, Hayley and Alex on your first place prizes and Alvina for your second place.

For students who are yet to compete; don't forget to warm up, smile and be confident. The Festival is about gaining experience, not winning. Savour the powerful feeling you get when you have a whole room of people listening to you and remember it whenever you need an extra push in the future.

Good luck to all of you.

The Public Speaking Day... From Breakfast to Bedtime..

The day is coming to a close... to quote the hymn "night is drawing nigh/Shadows of the evening/Steal across the sky" What better time to reflect on your day and bring it to an end on a high point?

Assuming that your audience has folded up its tents and crept silently away, try this exercise on your own in front of a mirror. The scenario is this:

You are being interviewed by a radio presenter and have been asked to identify the highlights of your day. Use this framework:

1: Summarise the theme of the day
2: Give detail
3: Conclude on lessons you have learned/experiences you have enjoyed/things you never imagined would happen

That is it. Three minutes to combine reflection and public speaking! For today, my speech would be:

1: Today started on a low, wet note and ended on a joyous high.
2: When I arrived at Brandon Learning Centre this morning, one of ths classrooms had flooded. After our brilliant air-conditioner men solved the problem, my spirits were lifted by two adult students. The first drew parallels between Plato and her experiences and the second was enthralled by Robert Frost. Unexpected and delightful. The day ended wonderfully with my class of 11+ English students who are challenging and inspiring.
3: I am learning to find joy by listening, handing over control and looking at the world through a new set of eyes. It requires no effort other than being receptive and the benefits are immense.

Here endeth the lesson... sleep well.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Public Speaking - Challenge yourself over breakfast

Push aside the porridge, move the muesli and use breakfast time to sharpen your public speaking skills! How?

Every day, choose an article from the newspaper (or the news if you aren't a morning reader) and compose a swift presentation either arguing for or against it.

Be disciplined; your presentation has to have a clear beginning, middle and end. It needs to be concise and you need to incoporate at least one piece of evidence to support your case.

Push yourself; if you have a possible audience, get them to join in. This could be a perfect activity for the school run and both you and your children could be developing skills at the same time.

The more you practice... the more fluent you will become. Five minutes every day and you will not only develop potential conversation skills but will also be on your way to becoming a skilled presenter on any topic.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Two minute poetry - poignant and thought provoking

Sometimes, a poem leaps out at you and grabs you by the throat. I discovered this short piece in a wonderful anthology called "London" which is part of the Poetry of Place series and has been put together with exquisite care by Barnaby Rogerson.

The imagery of The Embankment is a profoundly moving plea, particularly as the weather becomes colder and we start focusing our thoughts to celebrations and warmth. I was especially drawn to the unexpected replacement of the familiar "moth-eaten" with "star-eaten." Sometimes,we need a poem which challenges our expectations, re-orders our priorities and shakes us out of our complacency.

This would make a stirring performance poem; short and emotive and guaranteed to leave your audience wanting more.

The Embankment - Thomas Ernest Hulme

the fantasy of a fallen gentleman on a cold, bitter night

Once, in finesse of fiddles found I ecstasy,
In the flash of gold heels on the hard pavement.
Now see I
That warmth's the very stuff of poesy.
Oh, God, make small
The old star-eaten blanket of the sky,
That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie.