Soup Ottawa Blog: Why We Don’t Preview Presentations

17 October 2013

After each Soup Ottawa event, there is a request for feedback, and we get very insightful and useful feedback. Many of the responses often touch on the same items; for example, after our first event, a common suggestion was to make voting less transparent; apparently some people didn’t like knowing which project was winning when they cast their votes. So the second time around we made it more secretive, and that was that. Another comment we’ve gotten is that presentations should be previewed so that certain aspects are clearly stated (i.e. how the money will be used) and the overall quality of presentations can be improved. Although we understand where this feedback may be coming from, as Soup Ottawa organizers, we’re not going to change the informal manner of presentations, and I’ll explain why.

The application form is set up to address the most relevant questions right off the bat and demonstrate what information should be covered in a presentation. When we organizers get together to select the presenters, we read each application through and rate it based on the criteria we’ve agreed upon: community benefit, creativity/originality, achievability, and connection to the theme. We also consider if a project has other means of funding or support, and we try to maintain diversity among the projects so that different fields and interests are represented. We don’t take into consideration how well-written the responses to questions are or how engaging we think a presentation might be. We only consider how well each project matches the spirit of Soup Ottawa.

We then rank the projects and invite the top five or six presenters. Inevitably, we will invite a group that has a conflict on the night of our event, and at that point we invite alternates until we’ve got a full lineup. Each applicant is informed that they have five minutes to present and five minutes of Q&A with the audience. We have no other stipulations, though we offer the use of a projector and sound system as well as a consultation with our marketing specialist if they want practice or feedback before the event (so far, no one has taken us up on this offer).

At each event, our goal is to minimize our influence as organizers and give more deciding power to the audience. So we try not to be prescriptive and instead allow for each presenter to come up with the best way to pitch their project. We encourage presenters to use their talents and make the most of their time, and they do! We’ve had performances, sing-alongs, product trials, demonstrations, videos, and yes, even some slideshows. It makes for an eclectic and unpredictable evening, even for those of us who are familiar with each project and think we know what to expect.

Some presenters are clearly comfortable in front of 100+ people, and others less so. Luckily, Soup Ottawa is not a public-speaking competition. It is a collection of investors, all of whom have different criteria for how a project can win their vote. Soup Ottawa is meant to be an alternative form of funding, one that doesn’t involve all the hoops and monolithic expectations of grant writing or loan applications, one that gives opportunities to people with skills that are not readily recognized by traditional structures. It’s simply people believing in people and their ideas, and then substantiating that belief with a vote and some cash.

-Erin Felak

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