April 11, 2013

Finest Hour 156, Autumn 2012

Page 60

Education – The Art of Public Speaking
One of those days that they will never forget

By Hannah McVey

2024 International Churchill Conference

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Ms. McVey has served as education officer at Chartwell. A full report is available on request from the author: [email protected].


How Blenheim Palace, Chartwell and the Churchill Museum at The Cabinet War Rooms Came Togather to Inspire Students in the Art of Public Speaking, Using the 20th Century,s Greatest Orator.

The education department at Blenheim Palace and learning teams at Chartwell and Imperial War Museum/Churchill War Rooms are committed to increasing access to learning about the life and times of Sir Winston Churchill. We are in a unique position to inspire people through our buildings, collections and stories, and are keen to explore new ways in which to provide valuable learning opportunities to local schools.

In 2012 a partnership between the three sites was created with the aim of using our knowledgeable staff, our collections and high-profile experts to engage the interest of schools which, in many cases, had not previously visited any of these three important sites. The programme, “The Art of Public Speaking,” was a series of talks and master classes to develop public speaking skills and confidence.

Schools are interested in helping their students improve public speaking, presentation and interview skills in preparation for university, for careers, and, in the case of the younger participants, life at a new senior school. Our work often touches on the resonating effect of Churchill’s spoken word. We were pleased at the prospect of a project that promoted development of speaking skills.

Churchill is a perfect model, for he too struggled with public speaking in his early career and only excelled through hard work in developing his skills. The pilot year of the programme ran during the second half of the school year and involved nearly 400 students from primary and secondary schools throughout the South East, London and Oxfordshire.

The programme aimed to cater for areas which students find challenging. For some this meant confronting nerves, and all three sites experienced lastminute anxiety before the fears were overcome in performance. For others, for whom confidence was not a problem, it was a chance to explore how speaking in public is a two-way exchange and to learn the ways in which they could captivate an audience and really communicate their philosophy and ideas.

Each of the three sites approached the preparation stages differently. At Blenheim this involved assignments such as “guerrilla guiding,” where students were asked to show visitors around the stately home. At Chartwell, experts were brought in to run a series of master classes, from body language with Mo Shapiro to speech writing with Lord Dobbs, as well as tours with volunteers and sessions with the learning team. At the War Rooms, teams explored speeches by Churchill and others, and used the Churchill Museum’s interactive timeline to discover more about Sir Winston and his life and times.

The programme concluded with a grand showcase event, held at Blenheim and hosted by His Grace the Duke of Marlborough, bringing together the skills, experiences and achievements of students selected to represent the three sites, accompanied by their research teams and supporters. It was attended by members of the Churchill family and other supporters of the programme. Curtis Brown Ltd. kindly permitted the use of words from Churchill’s speeches, while The Churchill Centre (UK) funded travel bursaries for some of the schools.

“The atmosphere had just the right level of formality,” said one participant. “Whilst still feeling quite calm and not at all uncomfortable, I enjoyed the whole event very much and to be given the privilege of speaking in such a beautiful building was immense.”

Randolph Churchill, Sir Winston’s great-grandson, concluded the day: “We all have so much to be grateful for, particularly our liberty and freedom of speech. Even today there is at least quarter of the population of the globe that does not enjoy the freedoms we take for granted. We have seen the bravery, in Burma, of Aung San Suu Kyi, seeking to gain democracy for her people, and she made a remarkable address to the Houses of Parliament….It is entirely fitting today that we are enjoying our privileges of debate and upholding the memory of Sir Winston Churchill, who held the torch of liberty so strongly and firmly during World War II.”

A teacher confirmed our hopes for the programme by saying: “It was one of those days that they will never forget!” Added one of the students: “Performing at Blenheim was one of the most memorable events of my life.”

Following this year’s success, the programme will continue. We hope to expand it to other areas of the country, and to explore ways to open it up to as many students as possible. We have seen a new way in which students can be inspired by our properties and buildings, and by the unique man who connects them all.

The following schools participated. Those marked with an asterisk sent representatives to the showcase at Blenheim Palace.

Oxford Spires Academy,* Oakwood Grammar School,* Oxted School, * Grey Coat Hospital School,* Pimlico Academy,* Chandlings, Elstree Preparatory School, The Manor Preparatory School,* Chenderit School, Radley College, Maplesdon Noakes School, Charles Darwin School.

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