Inspired by some of the famous scenes from the adland drama Mad Men, the goal of the competition is to explore the art and power of presenting persuasively without relying on PowerPoint or notes. Speakers are asked to come prepared to deliver a 2-3 minute speech about an industry related topic that they feel passionately about.
Postponed in May, we eventually decided to bite the bullet and run a virtual event on 7 October. Ten agencies fielded candidates.
In previous years the contestants have arrived on the day with their speech in various states of readiness. They are then rehearsed in the morning, with the competition (filmed) taking place in the afternoon. Candidates have tended to underestimate the need to prepare and consequently turn up on the day with different levels of readiness ranging from ‘nearly there’ to ‘initial ideas’. The decision to switch to Zoom offered an opportunity to get them to prepare earlier and more thoroughly.
The first preparation session ran ten days ahead of the competition and covered not only how to give your speech but what to say, with a particular focus on storytelling and structure. This proved a worthwhile exercise as it got the brains of our fledgling speech writers fired up and into action. I provided ‘helpline’ support over the week and then a Zoom rehearsal on the morning of the competition with some final hints and tips about looking and sounding good on Zoom, including lighting and framing.
From the start it was clear that the increased focus on content creation was having an impact. Everyone had crafted their speeches ahead of time and turned up having rehearsed and polished their content. The rehearsals raised the bar and the stage was set for a high-quality competition that afternoon.
As we started, the big question in my mind was whether speaking over Zoom would be more or less nerve wracking? Also, with only head and shoulders visible, would they be able to get across the passion for their topic in a powerful way?
Well it was nerve-wracking! We could feel the unease ripple across the Zoom gallery, but my worries about a lack of passion were unfounded. Grappling with a severe migraine that made her miss the rehearsals, Charlotte Duke from Initiative Media spoke bravely from the heart, demanding more support for victims of sexual harassment. She came joint third with Zaynab Abbasi (Medialab) who spoke confidently about the covert manifestation of prejudice in the workplace. A wafer-thin distance ahead and in second place was Alex Addison from The&Partnership, talking light-heartedly about good and bad hair days, then cleverly changing tone and letting us know how unconscious bias in the Google search algorithm links the search term ‘unprofessional hair’ to the afro style. Am I guilty of unconscious bias? It really made me think, which is what these speeches are designed to do. Then came Tara. What a great performance and energy, and a topic close to everyone’s heart. She spoke about how, after several months of lockdown, someone asked her on a Zoom call how she was feeling and caught her off-guard. She suddenly found herself reduced to tears. Now our hearts ached for all our colleagues in all those kitchens and bedrooms, struggling with isolation. We can all put a brave face on it but sometimes the mask slips and we need support.
Well done to all the others for some great performances: Olivia Bagander (Generation Media), Fleur Greenfield (Posterscope), Mike Roberts (Brave), James Skirrow (Goodstuff Communications) and Yasmin Hutchings (Bountiful Cow). I would have given you all prizes if I could. Finally, thanks to the cool and collected Lara Poole from St Luke’s joining me and Gwyn March on the judging panel.
Graham Singleton is managing director of Make Yourself, who specialise in teaching presentation, storytelling and public speaking skills.