Public speaking tips from a Newman speech and debate teacher who just won a national award

As a public speaking teacher at Isidore Newman High School, Christopher Vincent helps teenagers of all personality types discover their voices.

“Students may start off really shy, but they find their way through speech and debate,” said Vincent, who is also the school’s director of speech and debate. “Watching that journey is probably the most rewarding and exciting piece. And it’s the thing that keeps me coming back to this activity year after year.”

Vincent recently won his first Diamond Coach Award from The National Speech & Debate Association, which has honored speech and debate educators since 1925.

Coaches earn points in the national honorary through team participation, student achievement, public service, and leadership work. To earn a Diamond Award, a coach must be a member of the National Speech & Debate Association for at least five years. Coaches earn additional awards with more points earned in the Honor Society. A coach who attains 15,000 points is awarded a first Diamond.

All Diamond Award winners will be recognized at the National Speech & Debate Tournament, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in June.

The importance of speech and debate education should not be overlooked, Vincent said.

“It provides access to larger networks,” he said, noting that when students attend national tournaments, they meet teens from all over the country.

“Not every student is going to be the most competitive, and not every student is going to want the same thing, but one of the things that makes speech and debate unique is that there’s something for everybody.”

Here are some public speaking tips from Vincent:

1. Know your audience. Audience-centered speaking is the most effective form of public speaking, no matter if it is a large crowd or an informal conversation.

2. Practice, but don’t expect perfection. If you mess up, it’s likely the audience won’t notice unless you make a big deal of it. Remember, the audience is there to listen to you and wants you to succeed.

3. The most important thing you can do is have fun. Audiences are more willing to listen if the speaker sounds passionate and is enjoying himself.