Each prize is tied to an endowed fund which includes parameters for spending the money. Those guidelines set out who is eligible to compete. All currently enrolled Hamilton students are eligible for the McKinney prize. Seniors are eligible for the Clark prize. Students who have successfully completed the Genres of Oral Communication course are eligible for the Warren E. Wright prize.  

You are eligible if you are in a Hamilton program (like Washington, D.C. or New York City), but you must be able to physically return to campus to compete in the final round.

To be eligible for the Clark Prize, you must be currently enrolled in classes. Unfortunately, if you graduated in December 2022, you are no longer eligible to compete. If you know you're planning to graduate in December 2023, you may compete for the Clark Prize! However, if your plans change and you end up on campus until June 2024, you may not compete for the Clark a second time next year.

Topics and Content

Students have chosen a wide variety of topics in the past. You can check out previous winners to get a sense of the types of topics used. 

You will be introduced to the judges (whether in preliminary or final round) so unless it is a part of the content of the speech, you do not need to introduce yourself.

You are encouraged to use the resources of the Oral Communication Center. Consultants can help you develop a topic, organize information, or finesse your delivery. Questions about the competition should be directed to pubspeak@hamilton.edu.

Yes! Someone listening to your speech should understand the origin of your information. The Oral Communication Center has a tip sheet on citing sources in oral presentations.

For the preliminary round, you may use whatever notes or memorization aids you need. We recommend setting yourself up so that your script or notes are not visible to the camera--you could have your notes up on your screen while using the webcam to record, or place them just offscreen on a music stand. Remember that one of the scoring criteria is eye contact and gestures--make eye contact with the camera!

For the final round, we strongly discourage the use of a full script, but many successful speakers have used notes. There is no penalty for using notes, but speakers reading directly from a script are often less engaging and looking up at the audience is an important piece of your score.


Each year, the prize amounts are set based on the endowment funds available. For 2023, the following prize amounts will be awarded:

Clark: $2,500
Wright:  $9,500
McKinney: $1,250 each for first year, sophomore, and junior winners; $2,500 for senior winner (total: $6,250)

Winners are announced on the same day as the final round and will receive their prize money via check (or direct deposit, if set up through the college) in the weeks following the competition. There are no restrictions on how you use the money.

Preliminary Round Recording

Recording the preliminary round entries allows us to be as flexible as possible with your time as you prepare. We can also be respectful of our judges’ time as we will know exactly how long it should take for them to view each prize’s entries. We want the same judges to evaluate within each prize to be as fair as possible.  

The content of your video may not be edited. You may clip the beginning and ending of the video (e.g., you reaching to turn on/off the recording) but you may not splice together different takes of a recording. In other words, you should submit a recording of you giving your speech from beginning to end.

Only the judges will see the recordings.

You will not be judged on the quality of your video itself. However, you should take some steps to ensure that you are presenting yourself well and reducing potential distractions. As with all speaking, practice, practice, practice! You should also take a few minutes to look at our general guidelines for preparing to present online.


The Public Speaking Competition is judged by Hamilton College faculty, staff, and alumni.

You can see the criteria for judging with each prize.

McKinney Prize

Clark Prize

Wright Prize

Final Round

Typically, the final round takes place in the Chapel in early March. The 2024 final round will take place on Saturday, March 2, at 1 p.m. in the Chapel.

Finalists for all prizes will present in a pre-assigned order. After a brief break for tabulation, winners will be announced before we are done!

We generally have an open rehearsal on the Friday before the competition. This year, open rehearsal time will be from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Friday, March 1, in the Chapel. It can help nerves to practice in the environment where you will deliver the speech. Amy Gaffney, the OCC Director, is present at the Chapel during that time to answer questions or to provide feedback.

Yes! The final round is open to the general public. In 2022, we hosted a very successful Zoom livestream of the event, and we plan to continue doing that for future competitions! 2023's Zoom link will be available closer to the competition date.

In 2022, speakers could remove their mask when they reached the front of the Chapel, give their speech without the mask (maintaining distance from the audience), and then re-mask before returning to their seat. Audience members were required to wear masks. In 2023, there was no mask requirement.

We will make a final determination for 2024 based on community levels.

The 2021 final round was virtual only; the 2022 final round took place in-person, as it has historically. We are always responsive to the guidelines put out by the College and the needs of our community.


Office / Department Name

Oral Communication Center

Contact Name

Amy Gaffney

Oral Communication Center Director

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