Year 13 Nelson College student Abel Johnston will be representing the region at the Ngā Manu Kōrero national secondary school speech competition this week, after winning the regional competition in May. Photo: Kate Russell.

Speaking success for Nelson student


Public speaking might make some run a mile, but Nelson teen Abel Johnston can’t get enough of it.

So it’s no surprise that the Nelson College year 13 student has talked his way to the finals of the Ngā Manu Kōrero national secondary school speech competition, which is being held this week in New Plymouth.

The competition has been running for over 50 years and is intended to encourage the development of skills and confidence of students in spoken English and Maori.

The Nelson College head boy will be taking part in the Senior English category, which requires both an impromptu and prepared speech, with his prepared topic being ‘why Maori performing arts should be University Entrance approved’.

Abel’s rise to the national competition comes after success at the regionals back in May, where he placed first in senior impromptu and prepared, and overall English.

His first taste of the competition was back in 2014 as a year 10 student, where he spoke in the junior Maori section.

“I had one day to prepare for that one,” he laughs.

But Abel says he hasn’t always loved public speaking.

“I used to be really quiet actually, my parents hated public speaking when they were young – they don’t know where I get it from. But since that first Manu Kōrero I did, I haven’t had stage fright in anything I do.”

“I just like the stage space now – when people talk about that fear of looking at the audience, I don’t really see it as much anymore.”

Abel says that he won’t be fazed this week when he is given five minutes to prepare for his impromptu speech.

“They take your phones off you so you can’t do any research and then one by one they’ll pull you from the room, and say ‘here are three topics to choose from, you get five minutes’ and then when that’s up, you’re up on the stage.”

“There’s some tricks you can use, like remembering common sayings and knowing a bit about what’s going on in the world right now and usually you’ll be sweet, but sometimes you have to figure out ‘okay, well, that’s what I know, how do I work that into a speech on this’.”

The Wellington-born student is of Ngāti Porou descent, and reckons he’ll be standing against some of his cousins who he’s never met.

“I guarantee that when I’ll get there, there will be at least two or three Ngāti Porou speakers. It will be interesting to make that connection with them and see what they bring to the table.”

And is he nervous?

“Nah, I can’t wait. I think it’s going to be really fun. I can’t wait to see the other speakers,” he says.

“I’ve really wanted to go to nationals and now that I’ve made it, it’d be nice to place, but I really don’t care if I do. I’m just happy to be going, and glad to represent, and when I get there I’ll just do the best I can.”