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.
Image courtesy Simpsons Wiki
The Simpsons: Season 12, episode 6
Early in this episode of The Simpsons is a brief scene that is a wonderful illustration of the problem of trusting unknown Internet sources. Homer wants to create a web page, but is having trouble coming up with material. He decides to rely on an unfounded rumor that the Bart has heard. (This scene happens shortly after the tire crashes through the window.)
The rest of the episode has other illustrations of problems that can be caused by relying on Internet sources.
The episode is available for free with a cable or DirecTV account number at SimpsonsWorld.com.
This clip from the film “Billy Madison” illustrates the need to be organized. When using it in class, I would start a few seconds into the clip when the Industrial Revolution question is asked and Billy answers (some other versions of the clip at YouTube start there, but this one has better sound). Although the audience reacts positively, the teacher’s response shows that Billy has, in fact, failed to accomplish the goal of the speech.
I would ask some follow-up questions after showing the video:
- While confidence can be faked, the same cannot be said for preparation. What are the signs that Billy is not prepared for his presentation?
- Does the audience enthusiasm translate to a successful presentation?
- Why not?
The Simpsons: Season 4, episode 17
This episode features a sequence at a union meeting where Homer and his fellow employees are offered a new deal on their contract that involves giving up their dental plan. Homer brings a stop to the deal because he recently found out that Lisa will need braces. This leads to some follow-up questions:
- Why did Homer want to kill the new deal?
- If Mr. Burns had anticipated that problem and said that the dental plan would remain for two more years, would Homer have reacted the same way?
- If anyone has seen this episode, what happens?
This leads into a discussion of why it is important to also research the other side of the argument and be prepared to address their objections.
This is often cited as one of the best Simpson episodes — and deserves it. It is rich in terms of persuasive techniques attempted at various points in the impasse.
The Simpsons: Season 6, episode 14
This Simpsons clip contains features yet another town meeting. The residents have gathered to hear the town’s plan to protect them as a comet is hurtling toward the town. It is a nice example of visual aids.
Some follow-up questions for students:
- What two types of visual aids do we see used here?
- Are they used effectively?
- What function does each serve?
The Simpsons: Season 3, episode 4
In this video, reputed mobster Fat Tony Williams defends his questionable actions to Bart. Bart has taken a job with Fat Tony and had been asked to store a large quantity of cigarettes at his house. Bart later finds out that a truck of cigarettes has been stolen and asks Fat Tony about it.
This clip shows two types of reasoning — deductive and analogical — and at least three logical fallacies. The students can be asked to identify these. This videoclip is currently available for free at SimpsonsWorld.com.
The Simpsons: Season 20, episode 8
Audience adaptation involves adjusting your message to reach your audience, but is not the same thing as telling an audience what it wants to hear. In this episode of “The Simpsons” is a scene where Lisa and Mr. Burns both make a persuasive appeal to the Springfield audience. Lisa’s impassioned plea to save the bees falls short when Mr. Burns manipulates the audience to achieve his goal.
Follow-up questions include: What more could Lisa have done to appeal to the audience? Did Mr. Burns break any ethical rules with his approach?
The Simpsons: Season 3, episode 23
In this episode, Lisa orders Homer subliminal tapes that are meant to help him lose weight with no effort. The tape supplier sends “vocabulary builder” tapes instead. Homer is discouraged that the tapes are not working, but they actually are.
One portion of the clip is now available here. It is a nice illustration of the difference between using language that is accurate and language that is clear.