Plain English Speaking Award

Secondary students aged 15 or older

The Plain English Speaking Award aims to encourage the use of clear and effective spoken English. The competition provides an invaluable opportunity for NSW senior students to improve their confidence and to develop their speech-writing and public speaking skills.

Successful speakers progress through local, regional and state rounds where they deliver both prepared and impromptu speeches, with the eventual state champion representing NSW at the national final.

PESA winner

Latest news

Local finals have wrapped up and successful speakers have been notified about regional finals beginning on Monday 27 May. Congratulations to all of the fantastic speakers who have made it through their respective local finals and thank you to all the teachers who hosted a local final at their school. If you missed out this year, be ready to enter at the beginning of 2025 and in the meantime keep up to date with the details of how the competition runs – you can read those details below and also access all the information a PDF by downloading the 2024 Plain English Speaking Award Information Guide (PDF 582.95 KB)

Competition information

The Plain English Speaking Award aims to encourage the use of clear and effective spoken English. Since its inception in 1978, the competition has provided an invaluable opportunity for NSW senior students to improve their confidence and to develop their speech-writing and public speaking skills. In 2024 the competition will run as series of face-to-face local and regional finals, though there’ll be an option to compete online if the nearest event is too far away or the date doesn’t work for your school.

Who is eligible to compete?

The Plain English Speaking Award is open to NSW government and non-government secondary schools. Each school can enter a maximum of two contestants. Contestants must be either Australian citizens or permanent residents of Australia. Contestants must be between 15 and 18 years of age (inclusive) on 1 January 2024.

How do schools enter the competition?

When entries are open, teachers can use the red button at the top of this page to enter the competition. Entries should be submitted before close of business on Friday 15 March. All teachers must provide a direct email address (preferably your departmental address for government school teachers) to assist with organisation.

How much does entry cost?

The entry fee for the award is $30.00 per government school student and $60.00 (including GST) per non-government school student. Government schools will automatically be debited for this amount once the local finals are completed (please advise your school’s finance department that this will occur). Non-government schools will be invoiced after the local finals are completed. Please note that fees are due on entry and cannot be refunded even where students might subsequently withdraw.

What are the speaking requirements?

At each stage of the competition students present both a prepared speech and an impromptu speech. The prepared speech can be on any subject chosen by the contestant. The speaking time for the prepared speech is 8 minutes with a warning bell at 6 minutes, two bells at 8 minutes and a continuous bell at 9 minutes. There are no restrictions on the subject matter for the prepared speech, so speakers can choose any issue that they care about. The impromptu speech is on a subject chosen by the adjudicator. Contestants receive 3 minutes of preparation time to write their impromptu speech. The speaking time for the impromptu speech is 3 minutes with a warning bell at 2 minutes, two bells at 3 minutes and a continuous bell at 3 ½ minutes.

Additional support for students

The Plain English Speaking Award is an inclusive competition. If for whatever reason your students will require support to enable them to participate, please contact the Speaking Competitions Officer so that we can assist.

What are the rules of the competition?

Other than the eligibility criteria and speaking times detailed above, it should also be noted that contestants are not allowed to use any props or external aids such as Powerpoint presentations during their speeches. They are encouraged to speak from palm cards and must present without the use of a lectern or microphone. In the impromptu section, all contestants in a final will receive the same impromptu topic. Finally, note that speakers are expected to finish at or just beyond the official speaking time. It will be considered poor timing to reach the continuous bell.

What are the adjudicators looking for?

The adjudicators will make their decision based on the matter, manner and method the contestants employ in presenting their speeches. They will expect contestants to be confident and engaging speakers. The speeches themselves should be developed logically to a convincing conclusion in the time allowed. The adjudicators will in particular be looking for knowledge of the subject matter, skilful development of the theme and the effective use of plain English. Successful contestants are also expected to demonstrate a balance of personal opinion and information in their speeches, as well as a balance of humour and sincerity. Finally, adjudicators will give equal consideration to the prepared and impromptu speeches in making their decision.

How does the competition run?

Schools may need to conduct their own internal competition to select two representatives. The Speaking Competitions Officer will then advise all contestants of the date and details of their local final which will be held between Tuesday 30 April and Friday 17 May (Weeks 1 to 3 of Term 2). The winners of all local finals across the state will proceed to regional finals which will be held at or hosted online at The Arts Unit, Lewisham from Monday 27 May until Monday 3 June. Regional winners will proceed to the state semi-finals which will be held at the Holding Redlich Offices, Martin Place, Sydney on Friday 14 June. Three contestants from each semi-final will then be chosen to proceed to the state final at the NSW Teachers Federation Conference Centre on Friday 28 June. The state champion will proceed to a national final which will be held in September.

What are the prizes?

The NSW winner will represent the state at the national final in August and receive a medallion along with a prize from our sponsors. The NSW winner’s school will also receive the Australia-Britain Shield for Plain English Speaking and the Westminster Stone. The 6 state finalists will receive medallions and prizes from our sponsors. All students involved in the competition will receive a certificate acknowledging their participation, with champion certificates also awarded to local and regional winners.


Justine Clarke
Speaking Competitions Officer
The Arts Unit
02 8512 1172

The 2024 Plain English Speaking Award  is proudly supported by the Holding RedlichACCO Brands Australia, and Australia-Britain Society.