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My return to (teaching) Public Speaking

A giant stone face at The Bayon temple in Angkor Thom, Cambodia After living the past twelve years in the realm of teacher education and instructional technology, I elected this year to return to my communication roots. For the one course I am allowed to teach (as Department Chair), I chose to go outside of the College of Education and Human Services into the School of Communication and Media Arts to teach CMST 101 Introduction to Speech Communication. How I have missed freshman undergraduates (Why is that so surprising to some of my colleagues?)

In my administrative role as chairperson of the Department of Secondary and Special Education this academic year, I’ve selected the theme of “Simplify” to steward our practice. (Last year I selected the theme of “Integration”). In an effort to magnify that theme across my pedagogical role as well, I have a simple, no-frills approach to teaching the course (not that I overly complicated it when I first taught it back in 1994 at San Jose State University). Although my students can find these materials on the Canvas Learning Management System, I also share them here with the rest of the world. (Note that the syllabus is intellectual property of the School of Communication at Montclair State University. So please cite accordingly. The other links are mostly external and direct you to the original source)

CMST 101: Introduction to Speech Communication Course Syllabus (Fall 2014) (Spring 2015)


Week One

Why learn (and teach) public speaking? There is a clip from “Real Time with Bill Maher” that features a passionate oratory from Academy Award-winning actor (and Oxford Fellow) Richard Dreyfuss. Since many of my students are not familiar with Richard Dreyfuss, I introduce him with this Academy Award acceptance speech (for Best Actor) from 1978. Quite a blast from the past. Here are the two clips:

We then discuss some of the essential features of a democracy that rely on public speaking. Dreyfuss lists civil dissent, debate, critical thinking, reason, and logic among others. Students add to this list and then they reflect on how many of those they were taught as part of their high school curriculum and in what classes? I weave in the discussion issues of diversity—how can we understand and navigate differences (of race, nationality, ethnicity, ability, language, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) through our uses of language? Learning how to “civilly” dissent is essential—but how do we acquire the skills and disposition to do that?


Week Two

• How do you manage public speaking anxiety (PSA)? 

My conversation starter is none other than the American film director and producer, Michael Bay. Wikipedia characterizes him as being “known for directing high-budget action films characterized by their fast edits, stylistic visuals and extreme use of special effects. His films, which include Armageddon (1998), Pearl Harbor (2001) and the Transformers film series (2007–present), have grossed over US$5 billion worldwide.” He has been vigorously dismissed by movie critics, despite the high profitability and popularity of his films. No matter the success, charisma or platform—all speakers experience trouble once in awhile. Watch this video clip (courtesy of Linked In) and what happens at a Samsung press conference featuring Michael Bay. See if you can identify what went wrong.

Some of the root causes of public speaking anxiety (PSA) are lack of experience, prior bad experience, worry over being different, discomfort at being the center of attention, and lack of preparation (this last one I’ve found the most common cause within a college setting). We’ll talk in class about ways to minimize speech anxiety. You can also find  a handy cheat-sheet  here on Linked In. ]

• What Does It Mean to Be An Active Listener?

My mother once told me that I have two ears and one mouth—which means that I should listen twice as much as I speak. Perhaps that is true. But active listening is not an easy task. We all combat external as well as internal listening distractions. External is anything in the environment that can distract you from listening (i.e., HVAC noise, someone typing loudly on their keyboard during class, a leaf blower outside). Internal distractions include your thoughts, feelings and physical and physiological states (e.g., you just got a parking ticket, you didn’t eat breakfast, or you just got dumped by your boyfriend). Another pitfall is defensive listening (deciding ahead of time that either you won’t like what the speaker is going to say or that you know better). Cultural barriers might include differences in dialects, accents, nonverbal cues, gestures, word choice and physical appearance. The first step is to acknowledge our biases so that we can set them aside with an open mind and just. . . listen. Let’s practice in class in preparation for being an audience for the first round of speeches.

• Ethical Public Speaking

When friends ask me, “Who is the most ethical person you can think of?” I respond immediately: Fred Rogers. Perhaps it is due to my 1960s and 70s childhood growing up watching “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Beyond that, I have yet to find a speech or interview where Fred Rogers’ isn’t simply divine. Click on the image below to watch one of my favorite speeches of his (note his tough audience):

A giant stone face at The Bayon temple in Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Can you name the specific qualities and speech characteristics that make Fred Rogers credible and ethical as a speaker? If this is too much of a challenge for you, then watch this one:

We know that dignity, integrity and trustworthiness are central to ethical speech. But what do ethics look, sound, and feel like in a speech?  [click here to find out]. What makes a speaking situation, topic or delivery unethical? How do we avoid unethical speech?


Week 3 (Student Speeches)


Week 4: Informative Speaking

The second speech assignment requires students to inform, explain, discuss, describe, or tell. More specifically, students are asked to inform their audience about some defined aspect of an object, event, or concept. Here is a good example of a speaker using interesting facts, analogous explanations, and visual aids to inform an audience about his chosen topic. We can dissect and learn much about content, organization and delivery just from this one speech:


Week 7: Persuasive Speaking—How do you persuade an audience to take action?

This third speech assignment asks student to do more than just persuade their audience to change their beliefs, but to take a direct and specific course of action. No simple task. They must choose a topic that they find socially significant and controversial, as well as intellectually stimulating to a university audience. In other words, each speaker must advocate some form of collective action as well as an individual commitment. Some examples of courses of action include persuading audience members to volunteer to serve in some capacity, Tweet or post on social media, donate clothing or blood locally, participate in an organized boycott, make phone calls, or sign a letter or petition. There are many other possible courses of action.

The speech itself is to be based on sound reasoning and evidence and should include persuasive appeals and credibility. Here is an interesting set of (6) techniques from the “Science of Persuasion” that may make all the difference in whether or not the audience is persuaded to take the speaker’s proposed course of action. They are: 1)Reciprocity, 2)Scarcity, 3) Authority, 4)Consistency, 5)Liking, and 6)Consensus:

In this next RSA Animate video (Drive: What Motivates Us) is an excerpt from a talk by Dan Pink who draws on decades of scientific research on what motivates people at work:

Note at about the 9:00 minute mark that Pink talks about how a sense of self-mastery and purpose (contribution) go a long way in motivating individuals to do things (for free). This could explain why service learning is so successful and why people who volunteer their time are generally happier.

Stay tuned for more throughout the semester.

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