In Praise of Competitive Rhetorical Exercises

Posted on 25 April 2017

We have developed a tradition at our conferences – at least it has run for the last two. It’s an after-dinner speaking contest.

The idea came from the Dutch, who are great supporters of the event.

Renée Broekmeulen, who chaired the LMH conference in 2016, asked the audience to call out some words summarising each presentation. She selected three from each.

Then, at the end of the first day, she wrote them all down on a flipchart and invited delegates to write a speech incorporating each of the words.

The contestants signed up and during dinner they delivered their orations. Lech Mintowt-Czyz from Shell, won the first competition.

In 2017, Leonoor Russell, another Dutch woman, chaired the conference.

She chose the following words to feature in this year’s competition: apple pie, home run, whiskey, linoleum, trust, material, causation, toddler, poet, liberation, elephant, dragons, ‘meh’, Boskoop, Michel’s mother, Rezipikativ, silence and a Fin.

We had 11 entries this year. They delivered their speeches in Magdalen College dining hall on 30 March 2017.

It’s become apparent that the best entries use a frame. For example, one person put these words in a best man speech, another used them in a mock spy report and the winner used the model of a student address.

It was Ben Jonson, the contemporary of Shakespeare, who wrote: Language most shows a man: speak, that I may see thee.

Having our delegates give speeches let’s us see who they are in a very revealing and entertaining way.

You can watch the winner, Guy Doza, in action below.

Even more impressive was the first presentation on the Friday morning, delivered by the German interpreter, Alexander Drechsel. Alexander managed to drop all the words seamlessly into his speech. You can listen here.


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