The Bob Newhart Show has an excellent example of both a failure and a success in audience adaptation. “Tracy Grammar School, I’ll Lick You Yet” (season 1, episode 2) features Career Day in a third-grade classroom. Several people are invited to speak, but the teacher declines to invite her husband, a psychologist, because she thinks he is unable to adapt his tone for children. When another speaker cancels, though, he is invited. The brief speech we see him give flops due to several factors, many outside his control. It bothers him and he asks to speak again, changing his approach and having success with the audience.
As a quick in-class example, I would suggest using the fireman’s speech and then Bob’s failed speech and talking about things that can go wrong in a speech and how to deal with them. Some things are in the speaker’s control — his opening questions are inappropriate to the age of the audience — but some things are not — the fireman was passing an ax around and it was distracting, he was the last speaker before lunch, a fire drill, etc.
Another use for this episode would be as a written assignment or longer group discussion in class. The entire episode could be assigned and then students asked to discuss all of the speakers and the things they did both right and wrong to prepare for their specific audience, including the role of the visual aids and questions they asked in advance.
The episode is available at Hulu, on sale at Amazon, and sometimes through On Demand on the Sundance Channel.
We all have those words we struggle to pronounce correctly (for me it is the words conscious and conscience). Many of us have just learned to avoid the words that give us trouble. But for some speakers, there may be several trouble words because of a speech disorder.
Guest blogger Ben Allen gives several great suggestions about how to be a confident speaker with a speech disorder at the Six Minutes blog. Because he shares from personal experience, this would be a great article to share with students who are concerned that their manner of speaking may interfere with their message.
And I always share the advice from Randy Fujishin: Audiences will forgive many mistakes when they sense a genuine desire to communicate with them — and you can do that.
A Prezi prepared for Carmine Gallo’s new book, “The Storyteller’s Secret,” offers several great examples of the power of storytelling in various public speaking contexts.
This could be a nice addition at the start if you use a storytelling introductory speech, or later in the semester as part of the persuasion unit.
To incorporate an in-class activity, students could be asked before seeing the video to make a list of characteristics of a story and/or to name different contexts where people tell stories (speeches, dates, family gatherings, etc.).
After the video, a class discussion about how stories are used to transmit group values could be done. I like to use familiar stories like “The Wizard of Oz” or “Three Little Bears.” But I also share a few brief stories told on my first day at a former workplace (“and we all stayed all night and worked right through the blizzard…”) and a story my in-laws told when I first met them to ask what values they were intending to communicate.
Note that there is a brief ad for the book at the end of the video.
Often public speaking textbooks give visual aid advice that is overly technical, too simplistic for computer-savvy college students or just hopelessly outdated. I’m always on the search for basic advice that is also practical and will apply to a variety of software programs.
Andrew Dlugan’s “Slide Fonts: 11 Guidelines for Great Design” from the Six Minutes blog gives great advice (though I’m still partial to serif fonts myself) along with picture demonstrations about why the advice works, which you can use for class.
If you need some good material on visual aids, especially slides, this would be a good reading assignment for students or rules to present in class. It could be turned into an activity if followed by several “rule-breaking” examples for discussion.
Speaker and author Keith Ferrin explains two key words that help focus every group interaction (or speech planning) at the Dynamic Communicators blog.
By placing the purpose at inform, update, educate, etc., it not only leaves the meeting’s purpose one-sided, but also leaves it unable to be assessed — was the meeting necessary? did it succeed?
Having the answer to “so that…” can give the meeting planners the sharp focus, making better use of everyone’s time.
For a class activity, challenging students to add “so that…” to a specific-purpose writing exercise for a speech or an agenda-writing exercise for a group assignment would be an excellent extension of the activity.
During August 2015, Andrew Dlugan of the Six Minutes blog ran a series on group communication. Some public speaking textbooks are far too brief on this topic and in my state a group presentation was required for students in the basic course — so I was always looking for practical information to share.
I also found a link to an earlier post with advice about giving a group presentation. (My favorite advice here: control your introductions and transitions, they matter.)
One challenge I give my students is that they are not allowed to use all-text visual aids for their speeches. There must be VISUAL elements like photos, diagrams, or charts if they are going to use slides (and this challenge is immediately followed by an explanation of the difference between a 75-minute class of students taking notes and a 6-minute speech of classmates who are not since their instructor is a frequent creator of the bullet list…).
This blog from JeffBullas.com features 20 different tools for creating infographics, including timelines, word pictures, interactive maps and charts. Each tool is briefly described for its best features.
Unless visual aids are a big part of your class, this probably would not take up class time, but would be a nice link to provide to students online or to have available to students who ask for help.
Andrew Dlugan of Six Minutes discusses great ways for speakers to collect and assess audience feedback. This article would be great to share with students who want to make serious improvements in their speeches or who are struggling with how to interpret the responses they are getting from the audience.
The article makes several suggestions for the speaker to get more useful feedback. For example, follow up a general compliment like “that was great” with questions like “what part most resonated with you?” Also, pay attention to the questions: If the questions are demonstrating that the audience missed points that you covered, it indicates that you need to make sure your main ideas are being made more clearly.
Also, the suggestions for soliciting good feedback could be used by instructors, especially if you make use of peer reviews. The article gives some specific questions that could make a peer review form stronger, like “what was the most useful thing you learned?” It also gives other suggestions that teachers could use to help students assess audience feedback which professional speakers sometimes use, like filming the audience during the speech to review later.
“Eight Master Strategies for Public Speaking” from Fast Company has several great examples to work into class.
Included are examples of speaking techniques from Bill Clinton, Winston Churchill, Napoleon, Ronald Reagan and Chris Rock. Most are brief stories that can be incorporated into various topics such as practicing, delivery, audience adaptation and language.
This is a great resource for finding examples to share or, if you like, share the entire article with students who wish to increase their skills in one or more areas.
Ciara Byrne of Fast Company has compiled several tips from speaker and author Nancy Duarte about helping speakers make technical material more engaging for their audience. While these tips are great for a class full of business or science majors, they would apply equally to any public speaking classroom where students are falling into a pattern of dull speeches.
Some of the tips I found most compelling:
- Avoid PowerPoints full of bullets. Tell a story with a hero — and the hero is not the speaker but the audience.
- The audience is there to hear you speak, not to have the slides speak for you.
- Create contrast. When something changes in your presentation, the audience is re-engaged.
The story also has some good examples to share with a technical-minded audience.
If you have a class of science or business majors, this could be a chance to create an in-class activity (or longer homework assignment) as well. Give students a transcript of a dull grant-request presentation, for example, and have them look for ways to apply some of these suggestions. A failed bid from a “Shark Tank”-type of television show could work.