I recently attended a public speaking contest that’s held annually at the university where I teach a public speaking class. The contest was made up of over 40 students that are currently enrolled in public speaking and willing to take their time on a Friday afternoon to deliver 7 minute speeches while being judged by professors in the department. (It’s always fun to be judged.)
I’ve judged this contest in the past so I’m familiar with the process. As a judge, you simply observe each of the presentations and rate the speakers on a series of categories included on a written rubric – strong opening, knowledge of topic, quality of delivery, citing of at least two sources, and so on.
At the start of the contest, there are presentations taking place in maybe 8 different rooms with about 5 speakers per room and 3 judges, along with an audience made up of students and other instructors. The winners end up delivering their presentations again with different judges and audiences. The final round ends up with 6 speakers, judges that don’t have any of the top 6 finalists as students, and an audience of over 60 people. Then there’s a first, second, and third prize. All cash money!
I always encourage my own students to participate in the contest and in past years (there’s no easy way to say this) my students have won. In this event, I had 3 students participate and none of them made it to the finals. But they all did very well.
What amazed me is that all of the finalists were reliant on index cards and their written notes. In fact, the first place winner of the contest read most of her speaking points straight from her index cards. She didn’t connect with the audience. But she did connect with the judges that never looked up from their rubric.