Parker Merrill Competition Crowns Public Speaking Champs

May 2, 2017

Parker Merrill Speech Competition winners, from left: Lynn Travnikova ’20 (runner up), Anna Dennis ’17.5 (grand champion), and Sarah Howard ’19 (runner up).

    MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Six finalists in the Parker Merrill Speech Competition battled to the finish on April 20 in Robison Hall. The public speaking competition, whose Middlebury roots date back to 1825, had a 50-year hiatus until it was revived last year by the student public speaking club Oratory Now and its director Dana Yeaton, visiting professor of theatre.

    Each of the students in the championship round delivered a speech on the theme, “What if instead…we try this?” The three judges–Professors Brett Millier, Christal Brown and Vice President for Academic Programs and Director of Schools Jeff Cason–selected Anna Dennis ’17.5 for the top award and a $500 cash prize. In her talk, Dennis cautioned the audience not to place intellect above heart, but rather to integrate the two.

    Sarah Howard ’19 and Lynn Travnikova ’20 were named runners-up, each with a $250 cash prize. The three other finalists included Griffin Price ’20, Kyle Meredith ’19, and Tabitha Mueller ’18.

    The evening’s good cheer began when a band of toga-clad “oratory gods” came out and offered a humorous introduction to the ensuing events. At intermission, student hosts led the audience in oratory games with names such as “Benevolent Dictator” and “Special Delivery.”

    The student competitors were judged on three main areas, according to Yeaton: persuasiveness of idea, persuasiveness of argument, and persuasiveness of delivery. Yeaton says that puts the weight on content, which is where it should be. It’s important that speakers actually say something, he notes.

    “A successful speechmaker grabs an audience and never lets go, which is impossibly difficult,” says Yeaton. “It can only happen if the speech was conceived with that audience in mind. Greet speechmakers are more like singer-songwriters than they are philosophers.”

    Oratory Now is a student club that learns about public speaking and then coaches students in many different settings on speaking. They have worked with a variety of groups including students presenting in the Spring Symposium, students at the Center for Careers and Internships, and speakers training for TEDx Middlebury.