Griffin Price ‘20 speaks during the Parker Merrill competition, sponsored by Oratory Now, at Robison Hall earlier this year.

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Oratory Now, Middlebury’s public speaking organization, has announced a new contest open to first-year students. The inaugural Spencer Prize in Oratory for First-Year Students will take place in a series of elimination rounds beginning in January, 2018. The event is named for the late John Spencer, a faculty member for 35 years, who vigorously promoted the art of public speaking among his students. The contest features a $500 prize for the winner and $100 for Commons champions.

“Students know that their ability to speak will be a make-or-break factor in their post-College lives,” said Dana Yeaton, assistant professor of theatre and director of Oratory Now. “The Spencer Prize is a chance to start now, taking advantage of peer coaching and other College resources, before stepping in front of a ‘home-Commons’ crowd.”

In the first round, faculty-nominated students will compete within their Commons, on five nights beginning January 18 with Brainerd Commons. Students will deliver a three-minute talk on the topic: “Connect something you learned in a Middlebury class to something you care about.”

The topic was chosen strategically, Yeaton says, to encourage public scholarship, but also to draw an audience. “Students on our leadership team kept reminding us, ‘If you want students to come, it has to include personal experience,’” he said.

On February 20, the five Commons champions will compete for the grand championship at Robison Concert Hall in the Mahaney Center for the Arts. Each will deliver a six-minute slide presentation with a “lightning Q & A.” The event is free and open to the public.

The new speaking contest builds on Oratory Now’s expanding programs, which include the Parker Merrill campus-wide public speaking competition, in-class coaching, independent and group coaching, OratoryX, a “public speaking workout,” and training on how to become a public speaking coach. Led by Yeaton, the program began in the summer of 2015 with a seed grant from the Ron and Jessica Liebowitz Fund for Innovation.

For more information, visit the Oratory Now website.

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