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Speaker’s Edge Competition Helps Develop Career-Relevant Skills

By Stella Connell

School of Business Administration

Costco as a mini-market, remote work technology, virtual passports and artificial intelligence in the food industry were among the topics addressed at the 19th annual Speaker’s Edge competition at the University of Mississippi.

MBA student Holloway Byrd (left) accepts a check from Katherine Anderson as the overall winner of the 2023 Speaker’s Edge competition. Byrd placed first both in the ethical dilemmas and marketplace pitch categories. Photo by Ashley McGee

Students in business, accountancy and law tackled a multitude of issues in the annual public speaking competition, held Jan. 12-13 at the Jackson Avenue Center. They were joined by 85 judges and 12 consultants for this year’s competition. which is co-hosted by the university’s School of Business Administration, Patterson School of Accountancy, Trent Lott Leadership Institute, Department of Writing and Rhetoric and the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education.

Holloway Byrd, an MBA student from Jackson, Tennessee, was declared the overall winner and awarded a check for $1,000 from Katherine Anderson.

“Speaker’s Edge was one of the most rewarding experiences of my academic career,” Byrd said. “The competition not only gave me the opportunity to hone my speaking skills, but it also showed me that taking risks can pay off tremendously.

“Despite being extremely nervous going into the finals, I decided to take the chance and give it my best effort because I knew that if I didn’t at least give it a shot, then I would regret it. I could not be more appreciative for this opportunity and everyone that put in so much work to make it all happen.”

Byrd placed first both in the ethical dilemmas and marketplace pitch categories.

“This year’s Speaker’s Edge competition was outstanding and an exciting opportunity to be back in person fully,” said Ken Cyree, dean of business school. “However, we also continue to recognize the importance of video communication and allowed for interaction and presentations to take these formats to continue to hone the communication skills of our graduates.

“The keynote speech of David Magee was spot-on in that it reminded the students they can improve and it is about connecting with the audience to get your message across. Overall, it was an excellent competition, and I know our students from business, accountancy and law benefitted tremendously from it.”

The marketplace pitch winners from the 19th annual Speaker’s Edge competition are (from left) Kendall Runzi, MBA student, sixth place; Andrew Boyd, MBA, fifth place; Forrest Smith, accountancy, fourth place; Tanner McCraney, MBA, third place; Faith Adams, law, second place; Holloway Byrd, MBA, first place. Photo by Ashley McGee

Ole Miss alumni launched Speaker’s Edge in 2004 as a way to bring together industry professionals, working alumni and students and challenge students to adapt their message to different audiences. Participants spend a week and a half working with volunteer communication coaches to discover the strengths and weaknesses of their own personal presentation styles in front of multiple judges.

The competition provides an exceptional vehicle for students to enhance their verbal communication skills, said Mark Wilder, UM accountancy dean.

“The program offers a wonderful opportunity to have collaboration among graduate students in the Patterson School of Accountancy, School of Business Administration and School of Law,” Wilder said “It was an outstanding learning experience once again for students, and we are proud of all who participated.

“Having strong presentation abilities is a clear differentiator in the marketplace, and the Speaker’s Edge program does an exceptional job in enhancing the verbal and speaking skills of our students.”

Students competing in the ethical dilemmas category presented solutions for workplace challenges such as when senior leadership encourages abuses in free trials from software companies. This year’s winners are:

  • Holloway Byrd, in first place
  • Mary Caroline Newman, a law and MBA student from Memphis, second
  • Elizabeth Scott, an MBA student from Ridgeland, third

The marketplace pitch category challenged competitors to address the advancement of the Sunshine Protection Act, virtual passports on handheld devices and corporations’ support of remote employment. This year’s winners are:

  • Byrd, first place
  • Faith Adams, a law student from Atlanta, second
  • Tanner McCraney, a MBA student from Jackson, third

In the Team Pitch category, participating students randomly selected companies and applied the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, or SWOT, analysis to evaluate them. The goal was to determine and address points of vulnerability or opportunity and how best to present a solution or highlight a strength.

The winning pitch was for Papa John’s Pizza, advocating for vending machines to sell individual pizzas in areas where their competitors cannot. The dispenser would operate like an ATM that can hold up to 100 pizzas and be restocked daily.

Members of the winning team are: Lizzie Ball, an accountancy major from Memphis; Adam Lalejini, an accountancy and data analytics double major from Diamondhead; Tori Whittington, an accountancy student from McComb; and Baylor Franklin, an MBA student from Lebanon, Tennessee.

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