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School of the Arts

Persuasive talents to compete at Speech Night

Speech Night

Just hearing the words speech or public speaking can cause an anxiety attack for most people. For students enrolled in the S121 Public Speaking program, these words summon preparation and inspiration for the challenge of Speech Night. Held each semester for the past 29 years, Speech Night is the hallmark event of the public speaking course.

Twenty four semifinalists elected by classmates and professors presented their persuasive speeches to an audience of peers and family. After a grueling three days of preliminary rounds, 6 semifinalists were chosen to present their speeches on Finals Night, December 5th at 7:00 p.m.  to a panel of guest judges.

“In a world where speech communication is dominated by mediation-social media, media communication, electronic communication- Speech Night is not that. It’s a live event in real time, no second chances” says Professor Kevin Gillen.

Speech Night is a traditional event at IU South Bend which began in 1982. Retired Professor William Gerring, a scholar in listening, created the event to take the essence of the speech out of the classroom and into a new venue.  Professor Gillen declares, “The other half of public speaking is listening. If there are no listeners, there’s no reason to have it. You are just talking to yourself.”  Speech Night provides a platform for students to compete on a broader scale to a more diverse audience.

Public speaking professors advise students to be audience centered in order to frame their message more effectively. “Our job as educators and facilitators of learning is to guide students to think critically about their topics”, says Professor Tami Martinez, “bringing fresh, new information to topics that we have all heard and are aware of, but in a new light.” Controversial topics have always been a source of discussion for the public speaking faculty. In the end, the consensus is that “in a country that values and upholds freedom of speech, we really don’t feel it is right to say to students what they can and cannot speak about. How can we do that and uphold free speech?” says Professor Martinez.

According to Professor Gillen, creating a persuasive speech should “never compromise your message. Shape your message so that a broader audience is reached by using applicable language, proofs, techniques and style to be more inclusive to your audience, and then let them choose.” Professor Gillen will pass the Speech Night torch to Professor Martinez in Spring 2012. Gillen has organized Speech Night for the past six years.

During this time, significant changes were made by Gillen. The incorporation of music during the program, a slideshow on loop to highlight Speech Night ,its participants and public speaking, as well as having the event driven by public speaking changes are all ideas that have developed Speech Night into what it is today. Gillen also established the tradition of taking a photograph of the six semi-finalists and guest judges to record their memorable college achievement.

Speech Night has more to offer than persuasive speeches. Special guest speeches are featured as entertainment in between persuasive speech performances. They are usually done by students in the top pick but who did not make the vote to Speech Night but have informative or ceremonial speeches that represent a fun aspect for the audience to listen to.

One of Professor Rachael Sylvester’s favorite guest speeches was a eulogy to a student’s car. Sylvester remembers, “He came in with a suit, tie, and urn…he was so serious. He created a somber mood, taking character, and maintained that composure and mood throughout the entire speech. The audience roared with laughter as it went on. At the end, he asked the audience, “Have you hugged your car today?” and took the urn and placed his keys in there.” Sylvester feels these performances bring a unique aspect to Speech Night because they are entertaining, fun, and laidback. Most importantly, they showcase the students’ creativity with public speaking.

New to Speech Night this year is the incorporation of social media to promote the event. A campaign created by a group of seniors in Professor Kim McInerney’s Introduction to Public Relations course created a Facebook and Twitter account for Speech Night. One of the features of the Facebook page is the posted videos of the semi-finalists speeches. Voting started the day after the last preliminary round and will be available until December 4th. The speech that receives the most votes will be presented a People’s Choice Award at the finals round on December 5th. This feature allows students unable to attend the event to watch and listen to the speeches and voice their opinion on who was best!

This year’s guest judges are Memorial Hospital healthcare specialist Gary Brown, Marketing and Promotions Manager at the South Bend/Mishawaka Convention and Visitors Bureau Colleen Bormann, and Mortgage Loan Officer for PNC Bank José Martinez.

Admission is free so come and listen to what everyone is talking about!