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.
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
― Pablo Picasso
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.
I love board games. Recently I was helping another prof develop some in-class activities and recommended activities based on three board games that I incorporate into class.
- Scattergories: For the most part, it is the alphabet-sided die that comes in useful. For a brainstorming session in looking for topic ideas, I have put students in groups and challenged them to come up with as many ideas as they can within a set time that start with the letter randomly rolled on the die. This can be repeated with 2-3 letters, and the topics can be narrowed if you like (“Things about this campus starting with letter W — go!”). After generating a list — and according to the rules of brainstorming there is no questioning or evaluating list items as the list is created — the students are then asked to choose 1-2 items that can be stretched or expanded into interesting speech topics for class. If you have more time to spend on topic selection, a version more faithful to the rules of the game might be helpful as well.
- Mindtrap: Not all speech textbooks have a reasoning section, but I always dedicate one or two days to covering the basics of reasoning and fallacies as part of the persuasive unit. Mindtrap comes with dozens of cards with logic puzzles and word games of varying difficulty. Not all are straight reasoning, so I have selected out cards that best illustrate the point for class. Students get into groups and are given copies of the cards (because the original cards have answers on the back) and work them together. If they get an answer quickly or need a hint, they can let me know. When they solve it, I will give them another card while the other groups work. One group member is a recorder who is called on during the debriefing to describe the logical process the group took to find the answer, which I can then relate to the types of logic as I discuss them later.
The other prof was doing exercises that focused on creativity and was able to find examples of lateral thinking in the game deck and use the same steps of the exercise.
- The Whole Brain Game: This is a game consisting of two decks — one a list of words associated with various colors (nouns are listed as Green words, for example) and the other deck are questions. The question deck calls on you to use specific random words from the first deck. The questions ask you to look for connections between two random words, or to treat the words as a superpower, or to make the word a human and speak in its voice, among other things. You are given a brief period of time to answer each question and scored by the quantity of acceptable answers you give.
The decks have been great to incorporate into class activities, challenging students to create fresh metaphors, be creative with transitions, and see topics in a new way.
I’ve been able to incorporate these games into activities in public speaking and my colleague had success using them for activities in an advertising class as well.
Are there any board games you have found useful for class activities? I’d love to add them to the list.
“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.
My public speaking classes always included a few lessons about listening. Sometimes it was a tough sell to convince students about why it is necessary to take time out to talk about listening too.
This article from Avinoam Nowogrodski at Fast Company highlights some reasons that students will find compelling: not only does active listening help get the job but also to perform better on the job. The public speaking classroom is a great opportunity to improve listening skills, and to do so while listening to a variety of speakers on a variety of topics–some of which may be the important public issues of the future.
I tell my students this story: The best speaker that I ever had in class took notes on his classmates’ speeches. This is not something that I assigned, but something he did on his own. One day I asked to see his notes and realized how much they were improving his own speaking. He had two columns. In one, he made a brief outline of the speech to see if he could easily outline it. In the other, he made a note of what he and/or the audience responded best to from the speech and one thing he saw as a weakness. He used this information when planning for his own speeches. By the end of the semester, the other students actively looked forward to Joe’s name being on the board on speech days because he always impressed them. Because he listened to them.