Host a Speech Contest for Girls

Public speaking skills are important for anyone’s career. Speaking well gives a natural edge, whether it’s acing a job interview or presenting ideas to co-workers. You can encourage high school girls to develop these valuable skills by hosting a Speech Trek public-speaking contest. Here’s how.


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1.  Decide on the scope.

Will this be a statewide project or a local branch event? If you make it a statewide effort, you’ll have local branch competitions, and the winners will move on to the finals, which should be held at your state convention.

While a state-sponsored Speech Trek involves another level of coordination, it also makes for a more exciting endeavor for prospective participants — to compete in a statewide competition. Reach out to your state vice president of programs to arrange for a conference call with branch leaders and see if others are interested in collaborating. How do you decide who advances to the state competition? Each branch will send videos of their top three competitors to a state Speech Trek panel. The panel will choose three girls from among all the branch competitions to move on to the state contest.

Don’t be afraid to be the guinea pig. You have to start somewhere, and once other branches see how successful and easy your event was, they’ll quickly join company.

2.  Pick the topic.

Students prepare and present a speech that is between five and six minutes long on a predetermined theme. If this is a statewide project, all branches will have to agree on the same theme, as three finalists will eventually be chosen to compete at the state level.

Choose a topic that relates to AAUW’s mission. For ideas, check out AAUW’s Public Policy Priorities and issues and research reports, or think about the following topics:

  • Bullying
  • Career choices
  • Feminism
  • Pay equity
  • Portrayal of women in the media
  • Poverty
  • Racism
  • Self-esteem
  • Sexual harassment
  • Stereotypes and biases
  • Strategies to introduce change
  • Student debt
  • Violence against women
  • Women’s health
  • Work and family challenges

3.  Decide when you will hold your competition and where to publicize.

If you are advancing students on to a state competition, you will want to hold your branch competition early in the school year. You will need to build in time for students to

  • Learn about the contest
  • Prepare their speeches
  • Memorize and practice their speeches

Make a list of local high schools and reach out to English and civics teachers, as well as the teacher liaison for the debate team, honor society, and other extracurricular groups so that faculty help promote this opportunity. Be willing to meet with groups of students after school to answer any questions they might have.

4.  Assemble your volunteers.

You’ll need volunteers to secure your event space, reach out to potential judges and participants, and take care of the day-of logistics. Depending on the time of your event and the audience you expect, you might want to raise extra funds by having a bake sale at your event. Remember, the students participating probably have hungry little brothers and sisters who will be dragged along to watch!

And if you are making this a statewide competition, you will need someone to film your speakers individually. You will need to forward the videos for your top three contestants to your state Speech Trek panel. They will pick three girls among all the winners to compete at the state competition.

5.  Decide where to hold your event.

The FREE possibilities are endless. If you have a corporate sponsor, perhaps they have a room you can use. One of the schools with students in the competition would probably let you use its auditorium. How about reaching out to your local college/university partner member institution? Chances are your participants will be going on to college, and it’s great promotion for the institution’s admissions office. Bottom line, you should not have to pay for space to host a Speech Trek.

If you are organizing the state finals, then your competition should be held at your state convention, so make sure you arrange for a space and a time for the final round of this exciting event. Encourage all of your convention attendees to come watch the finalists so you make them feel like it’s a big deal that they’re competing at this event — because it is!

6.  Assemble your judges.

Potential people you can reach out to include

  • College speech and communications professors
  • Local Toastmasters
  • Local elected officials, including school board or city council members
  • Leaders of local organizations that are interested in your topic

Use the panelist opportunity to include local corporations in your event. They might even want to sponsor the cash prizes if one of their executives is a judge.

7.  Raise money for cash prizes and publicity costs.

Secure a decent amount of money for your top three prizes, and you will not have to worry about low registration. How can you fund these without “breaking the branch bank”? Talk to local corporations! If you include one of their executives as a judge, a company should be more than willing to give you a $1,000 sponsorship for the event. Ask your local Toastmasters or other community organizations, such as the Optimists.

We suggest the following amounts for your prizes at branch events:

First prize $500
Second prize $300
Third prize $200

And for the state finals

First prize $1,000
Second prize $700
Third prize $500

If you secure funding for your top three prizes, the only money you should need is for flyers to hang in area schools, libraries, and other places where high school students hang out.

8.  Prepare your final logistics and your follow-up plan.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to iron out these details as the big day approaches:

  • How will students register? Eventbrite is an easy option, and it allows you to capture e-mail addresses at the same time.
  • What are the judging criteria? Will the scores be whole numbers, one to 10, based on a specific rubric? Will points be deducted for going over or under time? Make the criteria clear to participants upon registration, and make sure to have scorecards and pens for the judges to use.
  • What order will speakers go in, and when will you inform them?
  • Will you suggest a dress code for the speakers to make sure they know that this is a professional event?
  • How will you keep time for the speakers? Will you have someone indicating how much time has gone by?
  • Will you need a microphone or podium, given the size and acoustics of the room?
  • How much seating will you need for the audience?
  • How will you reach out to your sponsors and participants after the contest to keep them, their parents, and their schools engaged with AAUW?

Have questions about this Program in a Box? E-mail program@aauw.org or call 800.326.2289.


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