160,000 youngsters ready to share their talents at festival If you want to boost your self-confidence - at least on stage - try taking part in a speech festival, say three children who won prizes by doing just that in the Hong Kong Schools Speech Festival last year. Performing on stage confidently at a press conference to promote the festival yesterday, Primary Five pupil Michael Yu delivered a verse about how a father reacted to hot food, amusing the audience. But immediately after the performance, Australian-born Michael was very shy when he explained what he had gained from the festival. 'I'm now not as shy as I used to be,' he said in a whisper. Meanwhile, two other children were more outspoken. Lau Pak-hei, a Primary Five pupil who won in last year's Solo Prose Speaking in Cantonese, and Amanda Yu, a Form Two winner in Putonghua Solo Verse, both said the speech festival had provided them with an opportunity to increase their self confidence. The 56th Hong Kong Schools Speech Festival kicks off today, with organisers pleased that the number of entries has increased by 27 per cent to 95,000, involving 160,000 children. More than 350 competitions in Cantonese, English and Putonghua verse, prose, drama, bible, public speaking and original drama will be held from now until December 11. Nathan Ma Ning-hei, chairman of the Hong Kong Schools Music And Speech Association, said numbers had increased because schools realised the festival was a rare chance for them to gain a reputation and let students interact with their counterparts in other schools. 'It's not only a learning process for students but also a learning process for teachers,' he said. The festival is also one of the bigger and more important speech competitions in the world, according to David Fonville, who is one of the 24 adjudicators coming from Britain for the festival. 'To international speech adjudicators, Hong Kong's festival is a jewel in the crown because it is one of the few prestigious festivals in the world,' the seven-time adjudicator said. 'It's also a special one because English is not the mother language of most students here and yet the quality of their performances has maintained a high level for years,' he said.