Sunday, April 10, 2011

Campus wide speaking competition--try it at your university!

This past week marked the end of a semester-long endeavor: the FIRST campus-wide speaking competition! I had the idea as part of our Advanced Public Speaking course: speak out on a non-profit, raise money, and involve an audience outside of class. We did a mini-version of this idea in the class and I thought about the impact we could have if we did it for the entire campus. So, this semester I tried it out. Being the only faculty member in my discipline at my university makes larger, long-term projects more difficult--but somehow it worked out.

For me, this was a true blending of communication and higher education--watching the students' voices and efforts as learning took place beyond the classroom, beyond the university, and for purposeful, positive change in our city.

Here's an overview of the competition.

"Voices for change": SUNO's first campus-wide speaking competition. This competition was born from the desire to hear our students creating positive change int he community through the use of their voices. It provides a way for us to help others and to engage with local non-profit organizations. I partnered with our Communication Club (which I advise) and we began raising money for the event. Participants had to sign up, determine a local non-profit to advocate for (and confirm non-profit status), conduct research, prepare materials, and organize a persuasive speech urging the audience to support their organization. We continued to raise money. I served as a speaking coach to all competitors throughout the semester. The students then had to speak to a panel of four judges and the audience (which was a great turnout!). The audience, as a whole, had a vote for the most persuasive speaker. Each judge had a vote (judges were faculty members with writing and speaking experience). All students earned certificates and valuable experience. The top two students won MP3 players and the MOST persuasive speaker won the competition and his/her non-profit won all of the funds we raised since February.

What did I learn? This competition was a great way to:
1) get students eager to do research,
2) guide students in organizing and planning a formal presentation,
3) encourage students to use their voices for positive change in our community,
4) develop university-community partnerships, and
5) get faculty members involved on campus.

What would I do differently?
Ask for MORE help promoting and reaching out on campus AND get a bigger room reserved for the event!

Am I doing it again? ABSOLUTELY. I hope it becomes an annual campus activity. I have received requests from several other campus organizations to partner up and that sounds WONDERFUL!

We had a larger turnout than I anticipated AND had several representatives from the organizations show up after the competitors had contacted the organizations for information/research. Those organizations asked to continually work with the Communication Club and "SUNO's amazingly dedicated students and faculty" in future projects!

Consider what you might be able to do with a little time and effort--and what impact that might have on our students. This project showed me how much our students are willing to do to help others and how far our reach can be as educators.

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