STEM students compete in new Start Talking public speaking competition

Tuesday 19 November 2019 by Kaitlyn Blanchard

Start Talking group shot

Students participated in Start Talking to improve their STEM public speaking skills.

In summary

  • Student Rory Elliott won Swinburne’s science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) public speaking competition, Start Talking
  • Start Talking challenged students to present their STEM ideas to a generalist audience
  • The competition was initiated to further grow emerging science communicators at Swinburne

Physics student Rory Elliott is the winner of Swinburne’s inaugural science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) public speaking competition, Start Talking.

Start Talking challenged students from the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Technology (FSET) to present their ideas to a generalist audience.

Rory’s presentation, ‘Erasing Cancer, Without Erasing Us’, explored the use of nanoparticles for gentle cancer treatment.

“It is exciting to be the first-ever winner of the competition. For me, it confirms all my hard work in researching and writing my presentation paid off and that even when I only have little time to prepare, I can still produce quality work,” says Rory.

Rory also demonstrated his creativity, producing a series of short animations to help explain the benefits of nanoparticles to the audience.

start talking animationAn illustration from Rory's animation.

“A general audience is likely to feel alienated from science and not see it’s merit, unless those communicating it can find a way to grab their interest and inspire them,” says Rory.

“I thought incorporating visual aids was a fun way to engage the audience and break down scientific jargon.”

Start Talking is not the only public speaking competition Rory has performed well in this year. In September, Rory – who is also studying Japanese – placed third in a state-wide Japanese language speech contest hosted by the University of Melbourne, where he discussed the cultural impact of Star Wars.

Rory has the opportunity to demonstrate his public speaking skills again next year. As part of his prize for Start Talking, he will be sponsored by FSET to participate in the inter-university STEM public speaking competition, Let’s Torque. There, he will hope to take after fellow Swinburne science student, Meaghan Smith, who won Let’s Torque this year.

Physics and Applied Mathematics student Callan Gately received Start Talking’s People’s Choice Award for his presentation, ‘The Importance of Thinking about Nonsense’.

Honourable mentions went to Rory Fahey, ‘The Fault in Our Skies: Overcoming a Turbulent Atmosphere’; Matthew De Zen, ‘How Mushrooms Can Save the World’, and Samantha Mackay, ‘Accelerated Eutrophication’.

Developing science communicators at Swinburne

Start Talking was initiated by FSET Deputy Academic Director (Student Engagement), Dr Zaferanloo, with the support of FSET  Dean (Learning Innovation), Professor Angela Carbone, to further grow emerging science communicators at Swinburne.

The competition allowed students to apply their learning from Communication for Scientists, a unit taught by Dr Bita Zaferanloo that is designed to enhance students’ ability to effectively communicate scientific information to a wide range of audiences. Two workshops on public speaking and professional networking were also held in the lead up to the competition to help prepare the students.

Dr Zaferanloo was delighted with the success of the inaugural competition and hopes to continue it in 2020 and beyond.

“Thank you to everyone who contributed to the success of the first Start Talking at Swinburne – from the passionate students who participated and the engaged audience, to the keynote speaker with more than 40 years’ experience in science communication, the judges and the all the volunteers who helped make the competition happen,” she says.