Grad Students Staging Three Minute Speech Competition

SOCORRO, N.M. March 19, 2013 – Associate professor Dr. Julie Ford, who splits time between mechanical engineering and technical writing instruction, started the project to give her students an opportunity to practice communicating.

Students in this semester’s Communication 589 course are required to prepare for and participate in this event, which will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 27, in Cramer 124.

The concept was championed at the University of Queensland in Australia about four years ago. Ford heard of the competition and decided the contest would be a good way for graduate students to work on their skills. The Aussie students have posted some videos of their winners on Youtube.

“Look at video clips of prior winners and there are amazing examples about how to communicate highly technical material in a short time burst in a way that really engages an audience,” Ford said.

Ford teaches the Communications 589 class for mechanical engineering graduate students; this competition is part of their class assignments. She also works closely with teams in the Mechanical Engineering Junior and Senior Design Clinic on both their written and oral communication skills in the English 341 class. In both classes, students fine tune their ongoing research projects, both written and oral presentations.

“They are required to do early drafts of both presentations in my classes,” she said. “It gives me a chance to provide feedback along the way, which forces students to incorporate communication skills earlier into the design process. I see marked improvements in their writing, but the improvements in their speaking abilities are even more notable.”

The Three Minute Speech Competition challenges graduate students to present their thesis or dissertation research in a short timeframe in a manner that engages a non-specialist audience. Participants are asked to use one static PowerPoint slide to deliver a clear, concise, and engaging presentation of their research to an educated audience of non-specialists. In these presentations participants are expected to clearly communicate a problem they are trying to solve, explaining how their research contributes to solving this problem. Several other universities have instituted their own competition, and Ford said the event fits well with Tech’s dedication towards clear communication in the STEM disciplines.

Communication 589: Communication in Mechanical Engineering offers the ideal location for piloting this event, with thoughts of expanding the competition to all graduate students in future years. She also hopes the event could dovetail nicely with the existing Student Research Symposium. A panel of judges will make determinations based on comprehension, engagement and communication style.

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By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech