A complaint about in-house speech competition

Written by: Katharine Powell

Dear Dr. Elizabeth Graham,

I would like to extend my congratulations in completing The University of Akron’s first in-house School of Communication Speech Competition. Hosting a project like this requires a tremendous amount of work and dedication from both the faculty and the students.

However, as a participant, there are a few concerns I would like to bring your attention.

As an Honors student, I am taking Honors Introduction to Public Speaking. In this course, I was taught how to properly prepare and deliver a persuasive speech. Structure was emphasized extensively. As organization and content were a significant component of the score, I had hoped to see more in the presentations given by my competitors.

According to Public Speaking and Civic Engagement, the assigned text for this course, proper organization of a speech includes an introduction including a thesis statement outlining the specific purpose of the speech, as well as transitions and a review or conclusion. Furthermore, being a competition for problem-solution persuasive speeches, the speeches were to appeal to ethos, logos and pathos using properly researched support and properly cited sources, as well as avoid fallacies of reasoning.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the speakers failed to apply this information to their speeches. At the university level, especially for a competition, a certain level of proficiency is expected. However, these standards were not met.

Public Speaking and Civil Engagement goes on to address the ethics of public speaking. Although I am sure this was not done intentionally, far too many speeches were lacking credible sources. Many presentations were not cited properly, if at all. I would hate for the integrity of the School of Communication to be compromised by allowing the presentations of ill-supported and improperly cited sources. Plagiarism is grounds for expulsion from The University of Akron. Therefore, I suggest that the credibility and proper citation of sources be taken seriously.

In my Introduction to Public Speaking course, we were taught that effective communication is executed by remaining natural so as not to distract the audience from the information being presented. Therefore, I found the requirement of a PowerPoint to be contradictory.

The use of a visual aid is important in a persuasive speech, especially in regards to the call to action. Unfortunately, the vast majority of competitors used PowerPoint extensively, with many presentations including excessive audio and video. This turns the speech into a presentation.

As indicated by the title of the event, I was expecting to see properly executed speeches, not elaborate presentations. In class, we were taught that a simple picture to illustrate the main point is acceptable. We were also taught that providing a piece of informative material is an effective way to allow the audience to engage in our call-to-action. Although this method has been used in speech competitions across the country, such as the National Forensic League Sweepstakes, it seems as though The University of Akron School of Communication has not only over-looked, but punished those who exercised this technique.

Elizabeth Bedell, who is also in my Honors Introduction to Public Speaking class, contacted Bonnie Keiper, the coordinator, well in advance to confirm that the use of a brochure versus a PowerPoint would not hinder her score. Ms. Keiper responded that the lack of a PowerPoint would not harm her score. The night of the competition, however, Miss Bedell presented her brochures and was granted a 0/5 for visual aid accompanied by the comment “Must be tech.” Her score was compromised due to inconsistent information from the coordinator, which is unacceptable.

In addition, after giving my speech, the second judge proceeded to inform me that I have an incompetent professor who has failed me due to the fact that I was not taught how to give a speech off of a PowerPoint. Once again, this confirms my frustrations regarding the title of this event. Speeches are not to be given off of a PowerPoint. My professor, for whom I have the deepest respect, has taught me how to effectively and professionally deliver a well-prepared, well-organized speech. I was insulted that a faculty member was so blatantly offensive.

This being said, I have never been so disappointed in an organization. As students, we pay The University of Akron an expensive tuition because we trust the faculty and staff to provide us with a quality education. Due to the poor quality of the speeches, the far too loose definition of speech, inconsistent information and guidelines and the apathy of the staff, I left the competition questioning the credibility of the department.

Having an in-house speech competition is a great way for students to get involved with the School of Communication. However, from what was demonstrated from the contestants and staff, I am skeptical that the final five students selected to represent the School of Communication will positively represent The University of Akron.

The department has invested nearly $3,000 worth of prize money as an incentive to provide the best speakers to present to the public and therefore be exposed to press and potential students and faculty. I, as well as the other members from my Honors Introduction to Public Speaking course, am frustrated with the poor quality of the finalists.

For that reason, Miss Bedell would like to present her speech for you personally solely to receive your feedback. We hope this can further demonstrate the validity of our points that this competition was not for the speech giver, but the presenter.

I must thank you for taking the time to read and acknowledge our frustrations. We hope that this will not deter the department from hosting next year, but instead help improve the quality and relevancy of the competition.

Katharine Powell