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.
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.
“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.
If you want to bring in some historical speeches to show to students, Winston Churchill would be an excellent choice…inspiring, powerfully worded, and often witty, Churchill’s speeches stand up to the test of time.
The web site The Art of Manliness has provided an eight-part analysis of what made Churchill’s speeches so compelling.
This could be developed into an activity by showing clips of some speeches (the article lists several specific speeches) and then asking students what makes them work. Any part of the article’s list that did not come in during the discussion could then be brought in as a wrap-up.
(I would note, though, that writing out a speech is important when you’re a leader whose speech will be reported and re-read through history and exact wording is important, but writing a speech out is not recommended for more casual settings, especially as most of us lack the acting talent to make it look natural in front of a small audience. It is unlikely his brilliant double glasses trick would work with 15 people in a modern training seminar, for example.)
This example appears in several places online and has several available graphics. It is attributed to Gary Provost from his book 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing.
It is a great example for speech students because while the rhythm of words is important in writing, we could argue that it is vital in speech. The variety of sentence length keeps the speech interesting and the audience tuned in — too many short sentences and the speech can feel rushed and unprepared, too many long sentences and the speech can feel written or memorized and out-of-sync with the audience.
This example could be used as a visual aid in class or developed into a demonstration by having students read the various portions of it and comparing their reactions as audience members to hearing the speech in various ways. For a longer activity, wait to show this example and instead have various groups of students write similar examples to compare and then follow up with this example in the debriefing.
This simple graphic from Hot Butter Studio is an excellent example of an effective use of visual aids.
I emphasize to students that visual aids should not just repeat what the speaker is saying (although their professors will often use them this way to simplify note-taking). However, most audiences for speeches are not taking notes because they expect to be tested over content, so visual aids should only be used when they can ADD something that the words alone cannot provide.
One effective use of visual aids is to help the audience visualize numbers. Simply listing the numbers will not be as effective as putting those numbers in a meaningful context, as this example illustrates.
In addition to showing the example in class for how and why to show data, it could also be part of a class activity where students analyze a series of visual examples for effectiveness — what does it get right, get wrong, or whatever your textbook gives as standards for good visual aids.
One more from the Prezi.com blog…this one is written by Prezi’s CEO Peter Arvai. In this post, Arvai talks about “Shattering the Perfection Myth” in group leadership. He gives several examples of strong leaders who share struggles, talk about their failures, and highlight team members who tried something new, even if their plan did not succeed as hoped.
These examples give a depth to explaining leadership that is often missing from an overview textbook. There is a colorful Prezi attached to the article, though it may be difficult to use as a visual aid in class because the frames are a bit cluttered.