Emily Whelen

Emily Whelen

Penticton school declares first public speaking champ

Principal introduces skill into English 9 curriculum to prepare kids for when they're inevitably called up to talk to a crowd

Appropriately enough, the winner of a local high school’s first public speaking contest earned victory on the strength of her speech about how to write a speech.

Victoria Ritchie, a Grade 9 student at Penticton Secondary School, bested 13 other presenters to win the event this week in front of 300 peers at the Shatford Centre.

While casting about for topics, she stumbled upon some oddities, such as the benefits of cannibalism and how bingo keeps seniors off the streets, and decided to have some fun by putting her own cheeky spin on the elements of a good speech.

“I tried not to overpractice, because I didn’t want to stress myself out…. You’ve got to keep yourself calm,” said Ritchie, who has previously appeared in front of large crowds only as a member of the school choir.

Ritchie, who works part time at the Oliv Tasting Room, said her newfound experience “looks good on university applications, for sure, and also it’s helpful in my job as well.”

School principal Alan Stel said the contest represented the culmination of a public speaking component he asked English 9 teachers to add to their curriculum this year.

“I base it on my own personal experience, but I recognize how valuable a skill (public speaking) actually is, and that we don’t necessarily put the time and energy into it that we should,” Stel said.

“The odds of you having to speak publicly at some point in your life are very good,” he continued, adding it also helps people build self-confidence and fight their fears.

Each of the school’s English 9 students had to write and present a speech in front of classmates earlier this year, and the top presenters were selected to move on. Just one male was among the 14 finalists.

Stel said he was “totally speculating,” but thinks boys may have less self-confidence than girls at that age. He hopes the event will encourage more males in the years ahead.

“Kids can actually vicariously see themselves in the role on stage because they had the experience in the classrooms, so I think what you’ll start to see is more kids will think… ‘I could have done that,’” he said.

“A year from now, it will be very interesting to see what the demographic will be.”

(Full disclosure: This reporter was one of the five people who judged the contest.)