Plain speaking highlights media and mental health

Connor BarkleyConnor Barkley is clear and ‘on message’ when he speaks.

The Year 12 student at Patrician Brothers’ College Fairfield put that skill to use in the NSW semi-final of the Department of Education’s Plain English Speaking Awards held on June 17.

The competition for students in Years 10 to 12 values plain speaking and gives students a chance to build confidence while speaking in front of their peers about topics they care deeply about.

Connor’s eight-minute prepared speech focused on the stigma surrounding poor mental health. He also delivered an impromptu three-minute speech on the state of commercial media when given the topic ‘Crossing the line’.

This idea that people immediately think of mental health negatively is a problem, because one in five Australians will deal with mental illness.

“The thing with the impromptus is a lot of people are going to be saying the same thing because they get nervous and only have three minutes to write a three minute speech, so whenever I’m in there I try to think of a different way of approaching the topic,” he said.

“I heard afterwards that a lot of people had used the race analogy of getting to the finish line, whereas I talked about how we’ve already crossed the line. News journalism originally started as a way of educating people about the world, but commercial media in Australia has graduated to this point where we don’t actually learn anything from it and it’s become sort of cavalcade of pandering fluff stories that are meant to either scare the public or make them feel happy.

“For example, when Malcom Turnbull went to Indonesia he talked of the Trans-Pacific trade partnership. I talked about how one television channel,  instead of running stories explaining what the partnership was or why he was there,  ran stories about how he was sweating a whole lot. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is giving these conglomerate corporations even more power that they currently have and essentially making it legal for them to do whatever they want, so I talked about how ridiculous it was.”

Connor drew from a mental health workshop where he and other students were asked to reflect on why people readily see negative connotations in the otherwise neutral term mental health. He altered his voice when describing a panic attack to drive home the impact of mental ill health.

“This idea that people immediately think of mental health negatively is a problem, because one in five Australians will deal with mental illness, one in four young Australians currently has a mental illness,” he said. “It’s something that we need to address and talk about to get over the stigma.”

I try to think of a different way of approaching the topic.

– Connor Barkley

Connor plans to study mechanical and mechatronic engineering at university when he graduates.

Early public speaking experiences, including his first speech in Kindergarten about echidnas, shaped his view on the value of speaking competitions and the power of words.

“Public speaking competitions aren’t something to do to get ahead,” he said. “The point isn’t to get top points; it’s to make a speech that is going to have an impact on people. If someone goes home thinking about what you’ve said, you’ve done your job.”

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