An English speech contest judge’s closing remarks

Scott Gardner


I must say I was very impressed by the quality of speeches I heard this afternoon. I was so impressed, in fact, that I have no choice now but to shame you all to silence with eight minutes of impeccable, extemporaneous discourse.

It was very difficult for the four of us judges to choose a winner. In fact, three of us chose the wrong person. That’s how difficult it was. It took 30 minutes of heated debate and two plates of homemade cookies for us to reach the conclusion that the macaroons were sugar-free. In the end, we chose the speaker who displayed the most poise, wit, and command of the facts. Our criteria included selection of topic, organization of ideas, clarity of pronunciation, and preponderance of static nouns with prepositional phrases.

In my opinion, you’re all winners. I realize that there are sixteen of you, and only three trophies over there on the table. If I shouted “Go!” right now and all of you ran over to grab one of them as fast as you could, it’s mathematically unavoidable that only three of you would emerge with one in your hands. But you know what? Whoever wins those trophies today is just going to have to give them back to the contest organizers next year. So in the long run who’s better off, the haves who suddenly find themselves without, or the have-nots who will never miss having? Don’t answer that just yet.

Yes, you’re all winners, and I mean that in the sense that you’re all winners just as the four of us up here are all competent judges, or just as the thousands of foreigners wandering around Japan at this moment are all qualified English teachers. You’re all winners, just for trying to win. Me, I’ve never won anything. I’ve spent 20,000 fruitless yen at UFO Catcher. My mobile phone strap ornament is a wad of tin foil attached with dental floss. I was “honorable mention” at my own birthday party. But I digress.

Here’s some advice on how you can improve your English and give better speeches. First, carefully consider your choice of topic. There are some topics you should avoid when competing in a contest such as this. Like stomach stapling. As important as this issue may seem to you now, it is difficult to find an audience, so soon after lunch, who will share your interest in analyzing the process in detail. Another questionable topic is the so-called “global marinating” crisis. This religio-scientific fringe theory predicting that our planet is doomed to be flooded in olive oil and herbs is far too controversial to be treated objectively in a speech contest.

Second, just as the three keys to business success are location, location, and location, the three keys to a successful speech are cliché, cliché, and cliché. A good cliché is like an old, comfortable easy chair that makes your audience feel snug as a bug in a rug and shows that, in terms of your English abilities, yes we can!

Third, it’s important to leave the podium just as you found it. Speaker Number Eight, I certainly appreciate the passion you showed during your speech about J-League soccer, but your hooliganism demonstration was entirely out of place. Some of those wood fragments almost hit me in the eye.

Finally, never say “Finally.” It’s a discourse cue that sleeping people in the audience take advantage of so they know when to wake up and get ready to start clapping. Instead, you should catch them off guard by saying something like this: “There are three very important reasons that the Japanese government needs to deregulate the rice industry. But I’m not going to tell you what they are. Thank you for listening.”

In conclusion, I want to tell you how grateful I am to the contest organizers for allowing me to come on this sunny Saturday afternoon and sit at these spartan tables with their rattling metal bookracks underneath, in this pale green, echoic room with fluorescent lighting and exposed plumbing, in order to participate in this speech contest. The debilitating anxiety you speakers must have felt as you sat waiting your turn more than made up for any physical inconvenience on my part.

Did I mention that you’re all winners?