MIT Can Talk : Competition

Everyone is invited to come watch MIT students compete for prizes in the "MIT Can Talk: Speaking Competition" on Thurs, Jan 29, 2015 from 2-4pm at the MIT Museum! Participants give a 4-5 minute speech in English that relates to this year's competition theme. Material must be original, but it can include excerpts from other works (a speech, a literary work, a poem, a story, etc.) so long as sources are properly attributed. Prizes will be awarded by a panel of judges to those who are best able to deliver their material to a live audience. The event is open to everyone in the MIT Community, and audience members can also win door prizes!

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Watch the previous winners!

Info for Competitors

Competition Theme for 2015: "Q.E.D."

Your material can speak to any aspect of the theme. Be creative!


Except for winners of previous MIT Can Talk competitions, any current MIT student is eligible. Register for the competition by 12noon, Mon January 26, 2015. Registration begins January 1, 2015.


Prizes will be awarded to the top three speakers. There will also be an Audience Choice Award. The prizes are as follows:

First Prize: $800
Second Prize:  $600
Third Prize:  $400
Audience Choice:  $150


After registering, competitors should:

  1. Attend at least two MIT Can Talk workshops (one on content, and one on delivery) to qualify for the preliminary round (make sure you sign in),
  2. Visit the clinic (optional but suggested - note all previous winners have been to clinic),
  3. Attend the preliminary round,
  4. Work with a coach and compete in the final round if you make it past the preliminary round!

More on each below.


Competitors are required to attend at least two MIT Can Talk workshops, but are encouraged to attend more. Some deal with content, others with delivery, but all so may help in your preparation for the competition. You must attend at least one workshop on content and one workshop on delivery (the workshops are designated as being one or the other). Make sure you sign in.

Clinic Hours

The Clinic is an optional resource available to you should you want to do a no-risk dryrun and receive feedback. The Clinic will be staffed by individual(s) who are not involved in the judging. Clinic hours and location will be announced on this website (if no one shows up, staffer will leave after 15 minutes).

Preliminary Round

The purpose of the preliminary round is to narrow down the pool of competitors to the Top 12. Judges are recent MIT Alumni and possibly, current graduate students.

The preliminary round is Tuesday, January 27th, from 6:30-10pm.

Once you qualify for the preliminary round by taking at least two workshops, you will be assigned a 30 minute block within the above time frame, and you must BE present for the entire half hour block - i.e. as you will speak sometime during your assigned block (in some order) and serve as an audience members for the other competitors speaking during the same block.

If you have a conflict with your assigned block, we will try our best to reschedule you, but there is no guarantee we can accommodate every request to reschedule. Competitors will be notified of their assigned block via email; this email will also contain instructions for whom to contact in case of conflict. (If you have time constraints, please let the organizers know ahead of time, and we can try to work around your schedule.)

The Top 12 will be notified will be notified within 12 hours of the last preliminary round date. If you are in the Top 12, you will know that you are in the Top 12, but not what ranking. All competitors in the Top 12 are expected to attend the Final Round, but NOTE THAT only those ending up in the Top 10 will actually be competing in the Final Round.

Final Round

The Final Round will take place on Thursday, Jan 29th from 2-4pm in the MIT Museum. Final Round judges are usually members of the MIT Faculty.

Since finalists are selected based on the performance of their preliminary round speech, the judges are expecting finalists to use the "same" speech in the final round. By "same" speech, we certainly do not mean that the two speeches must be exactly identical word for word - we encourage you to improve the speech between rounds and to speak extemporaneously from an outline (so that for example the words you use, your delivery and even the storyboard may vary). However, a finalist that passes the preliminary round with one speech, and then competes with an entirely different speech (as determined by the judges and organizers) may be disqualified.

The Top 10 competitors will be competing in random order chosen the morning of the competition. The order will be revealed as the competition unfolds. If a competitor is not present when their name is called, they will be disqualified.

Once the Top 10 have competed, the judges will leave the room to deliberate. In the meantime, the remaining competitors from the Top 12 have a chance to speak (if they indicated a desire to do so when they registered). These are not eligible for the top three prizes, but are eligible for the Audience Choice Award.

Judging Criteria

While content is important, and the material should be interesting, should speak to the competition theme and should be audience appropriate, this competition places more of an emphasis on delivery. The judging criteria is skewed more towards the competitor's ability to successfully deliver the material to the audience.

This is an exercise in direct address, and not acting. It should not be a theatrical performance. In other words, the audience is not a spectator watching a dramatic performance; rather the audience should feel like an active participant because the competitor should directly engage and address the audience.

As a result, competitors should know their material. This does not mean that the material should be memorized. You may use notes if you like, but be aware that (1) holding notes or a script can interfere with gesturing, (2) referring to them will affect eye contact, and (3) excessive use of notes will certainly adversely affect both the audience's and the judges' experiences. Note that no one will be checking to see if your material is correctly recited verbatim; so if you happen forget a word or phrase, paraphrase and move on!

Things that the judges will look for include the following, in no particular order:

Competition Rules

Questions or concerns can be directed to the organizers at mitcantalk[at]mit[dot]edu.

Last Modified: Jun 6, 2014

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