If I were you… Choosing an issue for an oral presentation [Year 12 English]

Every Friday i’m going to be posting a (hopefully) helpful post on an element of the VCE English course. These will be primarily focused at Year 12 students, though that’s not to say that Year 11 and below will not also benefit from these pointers. So, look out for them, share them with your friends and family, and if you have any requests for a topic you want covered; let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

I’m notoriously indecisive. I think it’s because I like a lot of things and so I find it difficult to choose between all of the things I like. This is particularly the case when I’m asked terrible questions like:

  • What’s your favourite food?
  • What’s the best present you’ve ever received?
  • If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

There are just SO many options and it’s overwhelming and it makes me want to retreat into my happy, non thinking place where I have no options but to do what I’m told (like a HIIT class or a meeting. One being infinitely more pleasurable than the other.)

However, having to make decisions is a part of life and, as I’ve come to realise, just because you choose one thing over another doesn’t mean that you don’t like that other thing or that it’s not worthy of your attention (I used to say sorry to inanimate objects because I felt bad for choosing one over the other). It just means that the thing you choose is right at the time of choosing.

That’s what you must focus on when choosing your issue for any oral presentation- but particularly your Year 12 SAC: What issue will most suit your needs for this oral.

Remember, you need something which will sustain a 4-6 minute speech, is serious and detailed enough to show a depth of thinking and is contentious enough that you can best utilise your persuasive language skills.

With that in mind, let’s go over the process I would take for choosing my issues.

KEEP IN MIND THAT THIS ADVICE IS FOR STUDENTS WHO ARE STARTING THEIR ORAL PREP NOW. NOT THOSE WHO ARE STARTING IT A WEEK BEFORE IT IS DUE (FOOLS). 

  • Step One: READ THE NEWS
    Subscribe to online news services such as New Matilda or Crikey, follow news blogs (both official like The Conversation, The Drum, The Guardian, The Age, Andrew Bolt and unofficial, more independent bloggers). Join twitter and follow different journalists, news sites, columnists, social commentators. I highly recommend following people who you may not necessarily agree with all the time. Yes, it may infuriate you to see people who are desperately seeking safety and shelter from their war torn homes labelled as intrusive and insidious leeches, but a good understanding- or at least, awareness- of both sides of an issue is key to success. Remember, you must know your audience.
  • Step Two: Keep a list of posts/issues which interest you
    As you are reading the news, bookmark or favourite posts which ignite something inside you. There will be posts you skim read and ones which you read deeply, all the way to the end before reading the comments. Note down the latter.
  • Step Three: Narrow down the above list to the posts/issues you keep coming back to, the ones which reappear constantly. Passion and interest is key to persuasion.
  • Step Four: Choose 2 or 3 issues and research them in detail. Read up on the background information, any research that’s been done in relation to the issue, read opinion pieces, letters to the editor and editorials about the issue. For each of these issues, note down the following:
    • The key contentions which are in opposition. There may be 2. There are probably more.
    • The evidence which each group cites. Also, highlight any evidence you think is particularly persuasive- consider what is changing or shaping your view.
  • Step Five: For each of the above issues, form your own opinion based on the research you’ve completed. Write it in a simple contention (feel free to use the words ‘I believe’ if it helps.) List the key reasons why you hold this view (aim for 3 reasons, with supporting evidence)
  • Step Six: For each issue, ask your parents, friends, teachers, neighbours, tennis coach, colleagues etc, what they think about this issue. Ask them why.
  • Step Seven: Ask yourself, for each of the issues you asked about, which made you most want to defend your position if the other party stated an opposing view to your own. Basically, which one made you the most passionate? That’s the one you should write on.
  • Step Eight: Start your in depth research. Also, ask yourself (and write this down!)
    • WHY do you care?
    • What aspects of this issue resonate with you?
    • What stories, statistics, facts, photographs, graphs, quotes etc, affected you the most and why?
    • Annotate the articles and posts you’ve collected. Focus on how they persuaded you. What techniques/information can you use in your own piece?
  • Start preparing to write your speech
    • Consider your audience (peers, teachers, possibly parents?), purpose (to convince your audience of your opinion- but it should go further. What response are you aiming for. We’ll cover this next time) and context (What cultural factors do you need to be aware of? What language, images, tone, anecdotes etc are appropriate?).

Again, I know it looks like a lot of work but most of this is just reading and taking notes, ideally about something you’re deeply passionate about.

Next week we’ll be going over a good structure for your speech itself!

Hope this was helpful! Let me know in the comments if there any specific questions you want answered or any particular aspects of the curriculum you’d like addressed throughout the year!

May your trawling through articles be productive and focused! (Don’t get hooked by click bait!)

Amy xx

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