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Lange themed speech-writing competition

Thursday, May 1, 2008
Lange's 'hold your breath' line theme of speech-writing competition

The University is holding a speech-writing competition commemorating former Prime Minister the late David Lange, which is being supported by his widow and former speech writer, Margaret Pope.

Two prizes of $1000 are being offered to the writers of the best speeches containing the term “hold your breath” used in Mr Lange's address at the 1985 Oxford Union debate.

Competition organiser Dr Heather Kavan, a lecturer in the Department of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, says the title was chosen because it was from the most well-known line delivered during one of Mr Lange's most celebrated speeches. "The phrase also lends itself to a variety of topics and genres, and challenges writers to build suspense,” Dr Kavan says.

The televised debate on 2 March 1985 was over New Zealand's controversial decision to ban nuclear-weapons and nuclear-powered warships from its waters, which resulted the previous month in the Labour Government declining a United States request for its guided missile destroyer USS Buchanan to visit.

Mr Lange's opponent was the American evangelist Jerry Falwell, but it was a demand for an answer to a question from a young American man on the opposing panel that prompted Mr Lange to say: "And I'm going to give it to you if you hold your breath just for a moment. I can smell the uranium on it as you lean forward."

Ms Pope, who will be on the judging panel for the competition, recalls that although she wrote the notes for the Oxford address, it was very unusual for Mr Lange to say anything exactly as she wrote it.

"In fact a great deal of the Oxford Union speech I'd never heard before the night it was uttered. I would have been greatly discouraged if he had said it exactly as I wrote it because when he was on his best form he didn't need notes at all."

She is pleased the University is running a competition to encourage public speaking. "It's really been killed off by television; most politicians don't practice it now because there's no need to. In Parliament people are now allowed to read from their notes. On television you don't really need the classic techniques of speech-making because television is small-scale and the large gesture kills television performance, but it still has its place and it is an art and I'm glad the University is encouraging it because in smaller settings, like business and any form of face-to-face communications, it's still a useful tool."

The competition is open to anyone living in New Zealand and there are two categories – under 21 years old and 21 and over. Speeches should be no longer than 2000 words and will be judged purely on the words written. They will not need to be delivered. Entries closes on 7 June. Full details of the conditions of entry are available here:


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