MIT Can Talk event promotes good oral and communication skills

The campus-wide, week-long Independent Activities Period (IAP) event brings wide range of students together for public speaking workshops.


Many of the great thinkers of the past — the so-called “Renaissance Men” — excelled in both engineering/science and exposition, rhetoric and oration. There is no reason why the MIT engineers and scientists of today, who will be the leaders of tomorrow, cannot do so as well, according to organizers of the event, “MIT Can Talk 2014."

MIT Can Talk was conceived and organized by Tony Eng, a senior lecturer in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, to promote campus-wide awareness of good oral communication skills. The week-long Independent Activities Period (IAP) event, held this year from Jan. 24 to 31, consisted of a series of independent workshop sessions on public speaking/oral communication, that culminated in a speaking competition.

There were 12 hands-on workshops that covered various aspects of public speaking focusing on delivery, such as: storytelling, writing/delivering humor, expression, voice exploration, non-verbal behaviors, and presence.

These workshops, open to the MIT community, ranged from one to two hours, and were attended by, on average, 24 students each. The most popular workshop, which was attended by 51 students, was run by Jo Radner and focused on "How to Tell a Compelling Story."

The speaking competition was open to current MIT students only, both undergraduate and graduate students. Students had to prepare four to five minutes of material that spoke to this year's theme: "1+1=3." To be eligible, students were required to attend at least two workshops so that they could incorporate ideas presented in these workshops in the delivery of their material.

A total of 61 students were registered to compete: 30 qualified for the preliminary
round and 12 finalists (four men and eight women) were selected by a preliminary group of judges to compete in the final round on Jan. 31. The students were freshmen through seniors, as well as PhD and MBA students, who hailed from a variety of majors. They spoke before an audience in Room 32-141 that included a panel of three judges, representing three of the schools at MIT:

  • Professor Dana Moshkovitz (School of Engineering);
  • Professor Alan Brody (School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences); and
  • Senior Lecturer Neal Hartman (School of Management)

Contestants spoke about anything from surviving avalanches to the fallacy of grape nut cereal. The first place prize of $800 went to Jingshu Zhang; second place of $600 went to Ryan King Sheppard; and third place of $400 went to Keertan Kini. The Audience Choice Award of $200 went to Emily Van Belleghem.

The 2014 finalists (in alphabetical order):

  • Jennifer Appell
  • Nikhil Buduma
  • Dou Dou
  • Shivangi Goel
  • Keertan Kini
  • Priya Kikani
  • Maria Ruiz<
  • Ryan King-Sheperd
  • Emily Van Belleghem
  • Sara Wharton
  • Katelyn Wolfenberger
  • Jingshu Zhang

MIT Can Talk T-shirts and gift cards from Flour Bakery were raffled off to the audience as door prizes. The event was sponsored by Tau Beta Pi, Office of the MIT Chancellor, MIT IEEE/ACM, and De Florez Fund for Humor.


Topics: Special events and guest speakers, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Student life, Students

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