The Think Slam, “Philosophy as Thought-Provoking Entertainment”, has been a fixture at the Swindon Festival of Literature since 2009 and this is the eighth iteration of the competition.
The concept is fiendishly simple: competitors have a strict three minute window to present a stimulating, original and/or daring idea, theory or story. A body of learned judges appraise the contributions on the grounds of originality, clarity, tone, questions raised and answered and the overall effect as well as other intangible factors as they see fit. The field is whittled down in a knock-out format until one brave combatant, having declared three notions judged worthy of note, is declared the winner.
This might seem like a relatively straight-forward prospect to the challengers but three minutes isn’t a long time. It’s difficult to communicate an idea lucidly, concisely and with a degree of wit (as regular readers of my contributions to the Swindonian will ruefully attest). A well-considered speech that was the very zenith of clarity in the speech-makers’ head can easily fall to pieces in their heads as they face the cool gaze of the audience.
Not that this is an unfriendly affair. This year’s Think Slam audience were an affable and accepting assembly of folk. Writer and thinker Sara-Jane Arbury acted as compere, as well as providing her own verse, and the Literary Festival’s own intellectual Goliath Matt Holland was there as timekeeper, bell in hand, ready to offer a fearsome tinkle if any speaker over-stepped the boundaries of his or her slot. Lecturer of Philosophy Stephen Law, who had provided his own contribution to the Festival earlier in the day was sitting as head judge.
Nine speakers took to the stage, speaking on a number of topics and in a number of presentation styles. Some remained rooted to the lectern, hunched over their notes. Others roamed the auditorium expositing freely. Some speeches were dry as tinder, other with bejeweled with wit. Topics ranged from the Enlightenment to littering. From the Holocaust to Heightism. From a Fructose Tax to Marching for Facts.
Slowly the competitors were whittled down from ten to one. The winner, a gentleman by the name of Jeremy Holt, won on points with his third and final contribution: “Not All Lawyers are Bad”. Mr Holt is a lawyer himself and may possibly be biased on the topic (allegedly), but his third oration – much like his second and first – was dryly droll, nimbly-argued and offered without recourse to notes.
And the whole thing was jolly good fun. The Think Slam was the last event of this year’s Swindon Literary Festival presented at the Art Centre and there was something of an end-of-term feel as a result. The have-a-go nature of the Slam means that after nearly a fortnight of professional speakers the audience finally get the chance to take the stage. Fifteen individual three-minute theses (not including pleasing contributions from compere, time-keeper and head judge) were aired and 90-ish minutes passed in a pleasant blur of words.
And then, just like that, it was over and the 8th Annual Swindon Think Slam was brought to a close. Why not give the 9th a try next year? You can never hear too many ideas, after all.