We asked this year’s public speaking competition winners to offer a glimpse into what it takes to create and deliver a great speech.  Here’s what they had to say …

Taomi Kenny ’20
Taomi Kenny ’20. Photo: Catharine Pierce ’20

“Through working on my speeches, I focused on rehearsing my content, but not memorizing it. I wanted to feel like I was really conversing with the audience. When I perform something that’s totally memorized, I’m in my head, and I’m disconnected from the audience. By just working off of an outline, I felt like my performance could be more authentic.” 

Winner of both the Wright Prize and a McKinney Prize, Taomi Kenny ’20 is a world politics major focusing on international political economics and a theatre minor from Winchester, Mass. She’s a senior lead consultant at the Oral Communication Center and participates in theatre productions on campus. After graduation, she plans to work at a startup. 

Abbie Wolff  ’22
Abbie Wolff  ’22. Photo: Catharine Pierce ’20

“From my speech this year, I learned about how to craft a compelling argument. This is similar to writing, but in speaking can be a bit more focused on rhetoric and emotion. The most important part is to be aware of counter-arguments and address and respond to them outright. This certainly helps makes a strong speech! (I learned the importance of being aware of counter-arguments from Professor [Rob] Martin in the Government Department.)

“My biggest piece of advice for someone competing is to try and incorporate analogies into your speeches. It’s easy to get confused and not keep up during an oral presentation, and analogies are a great way to be relatable and keep your audience on the same page with you.”

A winner of the McKinney Prize, Abbie Wolff  ’22 is a government major/history minor from Saranac Lake, N.Y. She is head delegate of Model UN, an Outing Club officer, a writer for The Spectator, an admission tour guide, and a peer consultant at the Oral Communication Center. Next year she plans to study in Ecuador and in Hamilton’s Washington, D.C., program.

Haotian “Peter” Yang ’20
Peter Yang ’20. Photo: Catharine Pierce ’20

“I was motivated this year by the outbreak of the coronavirus to participate in the competition because I believe that some messages need to be heard by an audience. I learned that writing a speech isn’t difficult if you are passionate about what you want to talk about and that you care about the message being conveyed through the speech. My best piece of advice is just that anyone interested in doing well in this competition should really find something they genuinely care about.”

Haotian “Peter” Yang ’20, winner of the Clark Prize, is a philosophy and German studies major from Beijing, China. He contributes to campus publications and plans to attend law school after graduation. “I want to give a special mention to the classes offered in the Philosophy Department, as they are generally very helpful for practicing public speaking skills,” he notes.

Sam Lieberman ’23
Sam Lieberman ’23. Catharine Pierce ’20

“I learned that your initial speech is not going to be your final speech. Over the course of practicing from prelims to finals, my entire thesis changed. Furthermore, listening to feedback from the Oral Communication
Center and friends is very, very important. My best piece of advice is to be open to criticism and critique.”

A winner of the McKinney Prize, Sam Lieberman ’23 plans on majoring in either government or public policy with a minor in economics. He competed in high school speech and debate in his hometown of Acton, Mass., and credits his coach, Mrs. Hennessy, who “drilled me into becoming (I hope) a decent orator and speaker.” At Hamilton he is involved in Model UN and writes for The Spectator.

Watch Winning Speeches

Winners will be awarded more than $12,000 in prizes on Class and Charter Day.

The Oral Communication Center organized the Public Speaking Competition.

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