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Public Speaking Contest

The Semi-Annual Civic Engagement Public Speaking Contest

Chahat Sharma, “Going Beyond Safe-Ed Sex Education,” First Prize, Spring 2016

Each semester, all CAS 100A students are eligible to compete in the Civic Engagement Public Speaking Contest, with a chance to address an audience of their classmates, instructors, fellow students, and State College community members. And to win prizes.

What is the Public Speaking Contest?

Since its establishment in 1935, the Communication Arts and Sciences Department has been inextricably linked with public speaking, and since 1959, the foundational speech course has been a graduation requirement for all Penn State students. Each semester, CAS celebrates this history and the outstanding students our CAS 100A instructors teach each semester by hosting the Civic Engagement Public Speaking Contest. Students in each section of CAS 100A nominate a classmate to represent their section in the Quarterfinals of the Contest. Students present an extended version of their second speaking assignment, the Problem-Policy speech, in which they explain a significant and urgent civic or communal problem and detail a possible solution. The top speaker from each round moves onto the Semifinals, and the top six speakers become the Contest Finalists. Finalists compete for cash and gift card prizes in front of an audience of students, instructors, and community members, and a catered reception is open to all after the event. A panel of judges evaluates the competition, and a film crew from Pearson Learning Solutions records the performances. The event is made possible through the generous support of the CAS Department and Pearson Learning Solutions.


Who competes?

All students of CAS 100A are eligible to participate in the Contest the semester they are enrolled in 100A. Each class nominates the speaker who will represent their class in the competition. There is no summer competition.


What is the event like?

The Quarterfinals of the Contest can feature up to 80 contestants, since each section of CAS 100A can send their class-nominated speaker to the Contest. The group is divided into rounds of four to six speakers, each of whom is judged by two CAS 100A instructors. The top speaker from each round moves to the Semifinals, usually two to three rounds of six speakers judged by two CAS 100A instructors. Six speakers advance to the Finals.

The Final Round is held in the Freeman Auditorium in the HUB Robeson Center, and the Contest sees an average attendance of over 200 audience members. The event is live-Tweeted, and our emcee, CAS100 Director Dr. Michele Kennerly, moderates the event and the live-Tweeting. The panel of judges represents the CAS Department, wider academic areas of Penn State, the State College Community, and Pearson Learning Solutions. Campus Catering coordinates the catered reception of various hors d’oeuvres that follows the event.


What are the prizes?

Through the generosity of our sponsors, we award all Finalists with a prize for their engagement. The three Honorable Mention performances receive a $75 gift card to Barnes and Noble Booksellers. The top three speakers receive cash prizes of $300, $200, and $100 for first, second, and third places, respectively.


Past Contest Winners

Though there have been oratory contests at Penn State since the nineteenth century, the Contest in its current form has been a semi-annual event for the CAS Department since the early 2000s. Below is a list of more recent Contest winners.