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Debating and Public Speaking

Public speaking is exciting for some and daunting for others, but for all of us, there are times when it is important to speak clearly and convincingly, whether it is to make a great first impression, to put forward an argument, or to win votes. At Iona, we recognise the importance of helping students to find their voices so they can leave empowered with secure oral communication skills for whatever path they choose.

From Year 7 to 9, students have weekly Speech lessons with Mrs Hardy, working towards exams through the New Zealand Speech Board. Speech lessons focus on developing vocabulary, presentation style, memory and confidence. Students can also opt for private lessons in Speech or Speech and Drama during school time with Mrs Hardy or Mrs Sandbrook. Mrs Hardy also teaches the Speech NZ ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) syllabus to many of our overseas students.

Through this process, students grow in understanding about themselves and their individual character. The girls have the opportunity to succeed and fail in a safe environment, taking gradual steps towards higher-stakes public speaking, such as performances, exams, debates and competitions.

At Iona, the debating journey begins with Year 9 Debating Academy, which provides students with a well-structured and very thorough introduction to debating skills. The Academy caters for approximately eighteen students who elect to take part in either competitive or non-competitive teams. Non-competitive teams aim to improve their confidence in public speaking, while they also improve their literacy and social skills and build resiliency, learning to hold a view against an opposing one. Competitive teams benefit from greater academic extension, learning about a wide range of new topics and world events.

In debating, a moot is provided, and the teams are assigned either affirmative or negative. To prepare for a debate a team, made up of three speakers, will research both sides of the moot over several weeks, boiling their argument down to just a few key points. During the debate, the speakers take turns to present their prepared material, but they must also interact with the arguments and interjections of the opposing team. An adjudicator will decide a winning team based on style, content and strategy. Senior debates are sometimes limited preparation (one hour) or even impromptu, really testing the quick-thinking skills of the students.

Mrs Saffron Riddell, Coach Year 9 Debating Academy

As an English teacher, Mrs Riddell knows the importance of oral language in the curriculum. She has seen significant growth in Debating in Hawke’s Bay in recent years as the Hawke’s Bay English Teachers’ Association has taken a leadership role in promoting Debating and more schools are recognising the benefits of Debating in building intellect and character.

“I’ve seen the important role Debating plays in allowing students the opportunity to build leadership capabilities. It is so important to communicate your view in a direct and respectful manner, all the while listening and responding to others as part of a team. Additionally, in this world where fake news is becoming the new norm, it is important to develop skills in critical thinking and research. The ability to resolve conflict is so helpful, as is the ability to hear other points of view and offer another perspective.

The girls develop a good understanding of world events and world views, and then learn to develop arguments that are well-articulated, structured and thoughtful.

The most satisfying part about coaching Debating is seeing students shed their fear of public speaking and present themselves with poise, maturity and even humour”.


The Iona College Year 9 Debating Academy has been recognised as Hawke’s Bay Secondary Schools’ Debating Champions in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Pictured above: The 2018 Champions (L—R) Pippa Flay, Jess Klingender, Hannah McAulay, Havana Fierro, Mrs Saffron Riddell       


Grace Windhager, Academic Prefect 2019 

Grace Windhager is one of Iona’s top public speakers, representing Iona in speech competitions, Model United Nations, and debates. She originally chose to take part in Debating because she wanted to sound professional while arguing but she has continued because she loves the feeling of working with a close-knit team to formulate an argument and convince the adjudicators. Debating has taught her to think on her feet, find adaptive solutions to various problems and think more deeply on a wide range of issues.

 “I’ve heard that some people are naturally confident when public speaking but I have never met anyone like that so I think it might be a myth – even the most confident looking speakers tend to get very nervous beforehand. In my experience, confidence in public speaking tends to come from doing it over and over again until it becomes second nature.

As well as Debating I’ve also taken Speech and Drama outside school with Glen Sutherland, gaining my ATCL (Associate Diploma) with Distinction last year.

“As a Debating team, Kate Manahi and Georgia Lawson and I have been Debating together since we were 13 and now, as Prefects, almost graduating, we can really see how much we have developed our skills and confidence. I remember being terrified before our first debate; we were all a quivering mess. It’s been amazing to share the journey as a team.”

Earlier this year Grace Windhager entered the annual Napier RSA speech contest. The theme was Women at War – At Home and Abroad and students were allowed up to five minutes to speak on this topic. Grace shared stories of her four great grandmothers – Jean, Edna, Adelinda and Rita – all ordinary women who managed in extraordinary circumstances during World War II.  Grace’s stories were particularly compelling and the judges awarded Grace first place, $1,500 prize money, a donation to Iona College and a selection of books for the College library.