SIXTH formers at Ilkley Grammar School were recently put through their paces in a Public Speaking Workshop, arranged by The Wharfedale Festival of Performing Arts and funded by Ilkley Town Council, to help them with imminent University interviews.

Fifty students in two separate sessions spent the morning with Dr Christopher Marlow, a freelance speech, drama and communication coach, who also teaches at Lancaster University, beginning to explore their awareness of key interview techniques. From the word go they were in at the deep end as he started by observing that only six of 25 had acknowledged his presence in the room on entry and that as a guest he should have been greeted, given a smile or received eye contact as a welcome.

In a morning devoted to recognising these points, the students used their UCAS forms to interview each other, comment on performances in role play and suggest improvements. They were invited to face their nerves by learning to discuss their hopes and fears and to see the interview as a place in which they should speak confidently both about themselves and their aspirations for the future. The interview, they were told, was an oral exam and there would be competition for places.

In some challenging pair work, confidently demonstrated by willing volunteers, we saw an initial interview between two students reviewed positively by the group but then the difference in impression given by making eye contact rather than looking at notes, by using body language to suggest interest and by leaning towards the interviewer or using gestures to show enthusiasm and emphasise a point. Voice projection and knowing when to pause before answering were also stressed and practised to good effect.

In a discussion during the break two students, Lotte Curry and George Buckley - aiming for Philosophy at Cambridge and Medicine at Oxford respectively - confided that that the practice interviews had been incredibly helpful to them. They had especially liked the focus and advice on levels of detail in presenting themselves and had found working with an unfamiliar external academic very useful.

Ilkley Gazette: Izzy Ramsay doing interview practice Izzy Ramsay doing interview practice (Image: submitted)

The second group’s introduction saw the students told that they must not be intimidated in a new environment or feel that they suffered from “imposter syndrome”. Dr Marlow assured them that the key techniques would give them the confidence to relax, ask questions and speak confidently, which was certainly in evidence during the morning as they worked with him.

It was interesting to see the feedback afterwards where students commented on the clear guidance given to prepare for university and careers’ interviews, in that they should see themselves in a conversation rather than an interrogation to engage effectively. They agreed that it had not only been extremely beneficial but also fun working with Dr Marlow who had been very engaging and had easily calmed those who were nervous. There was universal agreement that they had been grateful for this opportunity and that they wanted to thank the Town Council for providing it: they added that if another could be provided for students next year, perhaps it could be widened to include those aiming at apprenticeships or technical interviews, where problem solving might play a part in the conversation.

Josh Sykes, Associate Assistant Head: Year 13 and Next Steps at IGS said he had received enthusiastic responses from the students and he would like to celebrate the success of what he termed an “inaugural event” by sharing it with the ITC and wider community via the Ilkley Gazette. He said it had been invaluable for the students, describing the experience as “gold dust” and thanked both the WFPA and the ITC for making it available to them.