From sexual violence and discrimination in India and drug problems in America, to digital storytelling and Greek myth—these are just some of the topics Communication Leadership students tackled with practiced precision at the inaugural Screen Summit Competition last Sunday. Facing an incredible assortment of judges and communication industry leaders, the students gave 10 minute, TED-style talks on subjects dear to them.
“It was such a pleasure, just watching the students light up as they gave their presentations,” said judge Jun Young, Principal at ZUM Communications and Department of Communication alumnus. “You could tell that many of them had such deep passions about what they were talking about and that came through in their presentations, very, very effectively.”
“I learned a lot throughout the course of the day and that was something that I didn’t really expect,” added judge Brent Friedman, a creative consultant and Comm Lead guest lecturer. “It’s always a nice surprise to have students teach you something.”
The public speaking competition is a novel twist to Screen Summit, the grad program’s traditional end-of-year student work showcase. Rather than presenting at the event directly, this year’s crop of participants went through Speaker’s Edge training—a public speaking boot camp put on by Extreme Arts + Sciences, a marketing firm and Comm Lead’s community partner.
After refining their presentations in workshops over the last few weeks, the students brought their best to Sunday’s competition. The day was broken into segments, as the contestants circulated among multiple panels of judges. After the first two rounds of oration, the thirteen participants were whittled down to five. Those finalists performed their presentations once more in front of all twelve judges and from there three winners were selected: “Table of Truth: drugsoverdinner.org” by Molly O’Donnell (Cohort 12), “Project Black Noise” by Aparna Das and “Understanding Emergence by Scott Wilson (Cohort 13). Their reward is the opportunity to voice their passions in front of hundreds on the Screen Summit stage on June 13.
The winning topics are fantastically diverse. O’Donnell’s presentation introduced the audience to a Death Over Dinner-like campaign to change the national “war on drugs” conversation. Das brought the plight of women in India to light with a website dedicated to sharing their stories. And Wilson wove a lesson on effective storytelling into a video exploration of artistic purpose. The judges were quite impressed.
“One of the takeaways I had [while watching the presentations] was how empowering this program is in allowing students to take things that are very important to them and then giving them the tools and the confidence to express and create emerging businesses around these passion projects,” Friedman said. “When you see the type of students that this program is producing and what they’re capable of, it’s both inspiring and a little bit humbling. There’s a lot of talent here.”
“Today’s competition shows you what the future of communications professionals will look like,” agreed judge Michelle Maggs, the Executive Vice President and General Manager of Weber Shandwick Seattle.
That sentiment isn’t unique to the judges. Though the students performed as competitors, they were hardly rivals.
“It’s been amazing to watch the presentations of my fellow classmates,” Cohort 13’s Wilson said. “There are so many great ideas and great projects going on right now. The skills that are being built through this program are being leveraged in such creative and diverse ways—I can’t wait to see where all of this goes.”
And whether they end up on the Screen Summit stage, or showcasing their projects, gallery-style, in the wings of the event, all Speaker’s Edge trainees emerged with a valuable set of skills.
“My public speaking has really, really improved since I’ve participated,” Das attested. “I kind of get intimidated in a big crowd, but I’ve learned from my mistakes and I’ve learned to correct them right on the spot.”
Although unseen to judges, the students’ progression didn’t go unnoticed.
“We talk about our students’ superior work all the time, but watching what they brought forward with their final presentations truly floored me,” said Comm Lead Community Manager Ashley-Rose O’Mara. She recalled Wilson’s transformation in particular—the student began Speaker’s Edge with 60 odd slides and nerves aplenty, yet finished with a succinct delivery that earned him a top three spot. “Watching the student’s evolution in just 8 weeks has been remarkable — I just keep thinking ‘Wow!’”
Wilson is grateful for the help, but noted that improved public speaking was hardly the only boon to participating in the Screen Summit competition: “Today was wonderful in terms of networking alone. It’s an amazing opportunity to connect with the thought leadership in our community. One of the benefits of the Comm Lead program is that it really makes those connections for you.”
All the participating students will reprise their talks at the Screen Summit showcase at UW Medicine on June 13. Don’t miss your chance to see the great presentations in person and rub elbows with Seattle’s (current and emerging) communication leaders! RSVP: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/688196
Article, photos and video by Ilona Idlis.