Public Speaking Lessons from the [St. Patrick’s Day] Queen and Her Royal Court   

12 potential Irish Queens, public speaking contests, and lots and lots of green! 

 

I recently had the amazing opportunity to act as one [of seven] independent judges at the 64th annual Queen Selection, organized by the United Irish Societies, for Montreal’s 196th St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Twelve young women of Irish descent, aged 18-25, competed in a three-round public speaking contest for the chance to be crowned as Queen.

And while getting the chance to judge these incredibly impressive women as the spoke so eloquently was a fun and interesting experience, it was by no means easy.

Not that it was easy for them either, mind you. In a rapid-fire format, the participants had to take part in three 2-minute speeches, in front of an audience of several hundred people. In the first speech, they had to introduce themselves and their ancestry, briefly sharing who they are, what they do, their Irish roots, and what causes are important to them. In the second speech, they had to answer a question with a unique Irish theme that they were able to choose and were given two weeks to prepare  (everything from notable moments in history, to well-known Irish poets, to Bono’s charitable involvements, and much more). For the third speech, they were given an impromptu question that they had to respond to on the spot.

As I watched all these young women in action, I reflected on how different MY life was when I was that age (translation: I was a more self-centered, more concerned with who I would be going out with over the weekend than what these worldly, passionate and philanthropic individuals seem to be concerned with). At the same time, I was so taken at the courage required to enter the competition and get up on that stage (you can probably even see the awe in my face, captured at around 0.17-0.19 in the video below (the St. Patrick’s Day Queen and Her Court, from Global News).

There’s no doubt that so many women are qualified to do this, but not all of them would be willing to get up on stage in front of so many people not only to engage in public speaking….but to get judged on it as well.

Yes, some of the women may have appeared more nervous than the others. Some of them may have answered questions more eloquently than others. But make no mistake, every single person who took the stage was a shining example of dedication, intelligence, and inspiration.

Walking back to the judges room — we weren’t allowed to speak to ANYONE during our breaks, to keep it completely fair and unbiased (I even managed to find a green dress for the occasion!)

As a presentation and public speaking expert, my job is to teach others how to craft more compelling, engaging, focused presentations, and deliver them with confidence and ease. For this reason, I always find it pretty exciting when young, dynamic people have mastered some of the Big Important lessons of public speaking, so early in their lives. And that’s exactly what happened that night.

So with that, I offer the 3 key takeaways that not only I, but the St. Patrick’s Queen, the Royal Court, and ALL the participants at the 64th annual Queen Selection showcased that evening, that serves as an excellent reminder for anyone preparing to give a presentation:

  1. Confident? Nervous? Who cares?? Some of the women appeared confident, others appeared nervous, and still others were somewhere in the middle. But whatever they may have been feeling was completely irrelevant. The important thing is that they got up on stage, and they put everything they had into this contest. Even if they were incredibly nervous, that didn’t stop them. To feel the fear and do it anyway….that’s where the magic lies.
  1. Preparation is key – no exceptions. Preparation is the best way to manage nervousness, and of course, it’s the best way to give the most prepared, eloquent responses. To say that this group was prepared is a real understatement. I suspect that while most speeches were memorized (except for the last, impromptu one), none of them were presented in the ‘robotic’ way that so many people fear when they script their speeches. With a 2-minute speech, memorizing isn’t such a bad choice.
  1. What to do about the Dreaded FREEZE! It happened once or twice that one of the contestants had a momentary blank – or at least I assumed so, based on a longer pause and a searching look. So what did they do? As in point #1 above, forgetting what you want to say is actually irrelevant. What the audience wants to see is the speaker reconnect with themselves and their content, that they don’t panic, that they don’t let their nervousness show, and that they pick themselves up where they left off and finish the question. Even if there’s a few seconds of pause, the fact that they didn’t panic or apologize, and that they eventually picked it back up, is all that counted.

The Queen and the 4 princesses were fine examples of poise, eloquence and personality. The other 7 contestants who were not chosen were also fine examples of poise, eloquence and personality. Given the hundreds of people in attendance – including so many children – I suspect that everyone that  took the stage that evening will have a hand in inspiring future generations, not simply to compete for the prestigious honour of being selected as Queen or Royal Court, but to live a life of purpose, generosity and accomplishment, as each one of the 12 speakers displayed.

(A big congratulations goes out to Victoria Kelly, selected as this year’s queen, and her royal court, princesses Lianne Short, Darragh Kilkenny-Mondoux, Lauren MacDonald and Aveen Mahon. And thank you to the United Irish Societies for choosing me to be a judge at this important, memorable event).

The Montreal St. Patrick’s Day parade will be taking place on Sunday, March 17, 2019.

 

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