College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Institute of Applied Agriculture

Impromptu in the Garden is Chilly, but Successful

IAA hosts its annual public speaking event
Author: 
Heather McHale
IAA Director Glori Hyman with the Impromptu in the Garden winner, P.J. Saumell

The IAA’s fourth annual Impromptu in the Garden public speaking contest was not graced with warm, sunny weather—but contestants and audience members alike braved the cold to listen as the eleven speakers delivered their short speeches.

The event organizer and emcee, oral communication lecturer Tony Pagnotti, gave each contestant a topic—ranging from “Who would you have lunch with, if you could have lunch with anyone in history?” to “What do you think the plants in this garden are saying about this weather?” Each contestant’s task, with zero preparation time, was to deliver an entertaining, engaging speech. The panel of judges (AGNR communications director Graham Binder, IAA director Glori Hyman, and IAA turfgrass advisor Geoff Rinehart) selected the top three contestants, judging them in the categories of creativity, charisma, confidence, and conciseness.

Contestants may be nominated by the IAA’s oral communication faculty: Rob Ballenger, JoEllen Barnhart, Eric Dunning, Amy Fisher, Heather McHale, Michelle Molinaro, Pagnotti, Ed Priola, and Kristen Willett. This year, the returning champion from 2016, Devin Cain, was also invited to come back and participate.

Impromptu in the Garden is a collaborative effort by IAA faculty. Pagnotti organized the annual contest, wrote all of the topic questions, and provided amusing patter between the contestants’ speeches; Ballenger provided tech support; and Barnhart contributed a lively mix of music to set the mood before the contest began. The IAA’s sustainable agriculture advisor, Meredith Epstein, made sure the garden was tidied up and ready for the event, even if the plants are getting a later start than usual this season.

Despite the cold weather, the audience was enthusiastic and the competition was keen. After all of the contestants had made their speeches, the judges retreated to a (heated) building nearby to confer about their choices. Their deliberations took some time, but in the end, first place went to PJ Saumell; the judges loved his creative speculation on what the plants in the garden might be saying. Devin Cain earned second place for his speech about the fearlessness needed to be a mechanical engineer. In third place, Zach Kessler made a persuasive case that the campus dining hall provides both variety and consistent quality. (Onlookers observed that perhaps the University should hire Kessler to script their next commercial spot.)

Each of the winners received a gift card to a local restaurant, provided by the event’s generous sponsor, Colonial Farm Credit. Pagnotti announced that Saumell would take home the top prize, a $75 gift card to Chipotle. “I’m getting guac, everyone!” Saumell crowed triumphantly.

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