MIT Can Talk 2014 : Competition

Everyone is invited to...

come watch MIT students compete for prizes in the "MIT Can Talk: Speaking Competition" on Fri, Jan 31, 2014 from 2-4pm in 32-141! 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: "1+1=3"

Find this enigmatic? What does "1+1=3" mean to you? What comes to mind?
Your material can speak to any aspect of the theme.


Except for winners of previous MIT Can Talk competitions, any current MIT student is eligible. Register for the competition by 12noon, Mon January 27, 2014. Registration begins January 1, 2014.


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:  $200


After registering, competitors should:

  1. Attend at least two MIT Can Talk workshops (make sure you sign in),
  2. Visit the clinic (optional but suggested),
  3. Attend the preliminary round,
  4. Work with a coach and compete in the final round if you make it that far!

More on each below.


Competitors are required to attend at least two MIT Can Talk workshops, but are encouraged to attend more. They address different aspects of speaking, so may help in your preparation for the competition. 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 any of the judging. The Clinic will likely be held from Sunday evening 5:30pm, Jan 26th in 32-124 and Monday night, Jan 27th 8:30pm 32-141 (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 28th, from 6:30-10pm (with a possible overflow preliminary round on Wednesday evening if there are enough conflicts or if there are too many competitors). Once you qualify by taking two workshops, you will be assigned a 30 minute block within this time frame, and you must BE present for the entire half hour block - i.e. as you will speak sometime during your assigned block (random 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 Friday, Jan 31st from 2-4pm in 32-141. 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. If a competitor is not present when their name is called, they will be disqualified.

Once the Top 10 have competed, and while the judges have left to deliberate, the remaining competitors from the Top 12 have a chance to speak. Everyone in the Top 12 will have indicated beforehand if they'd be willing to speak should they not fall within the Top 10 - those that do would be eligible for the Audience Choice Award.

Judging Criteria

This competition emphasizes delivery more than content - aside from the fact that a competitor's material must be appropriate and speak to the competition theme, 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, not 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. You can 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: Jan 26, 2014

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