Wednesday, October 28, 2015

For the Professors, Part 4: New Ideas for the Public Speaking Classroom

Here are a few new things I started doing this past summer for public speaking assignments, and they have been a tremendous success. Both of these violate the traditional bounds of what we expect in a public speaking classroom. It makes me wonder how many other habits of the speaking classroom we should break.  

It's been a while since I added a post to the "For the Professors" series, and I'm glad to be able to get back to it. The past entries in this blog series have been new ideas on elearning, grading speeches, and finding more classtime for speaking


This is an app that is meant to make tests, as you can see from the options it gives you when you create a quiz:

I don't like giving quizzes this way, as I prefer to let my students work with paper, but it is a fantastic tool for anything you might want to use Power Point voting clickers for, with less hassle. Sure, it won't tabulate a bar graph of opinions on the next slide, but Socrative is free, students can use their own phones, and you can do simple things easily. 

Often I will have a question on the board as they enter they will need to answer on Socrative. Since you can turn off names and allow them to be anonymous, I often use this to probe difficult issues in class.

My favorite current use is for real-time audience feedback on speeches. I ask them to give positive and negative comments on the speakers by making each person's name a short answer question:

The app collates these responses in various ways and saves them in spreadsheets. I email students the feedback they get from their classmates. Here is a sample:

i liked your initial slide. great way to grab everyones attention. spoke well and seemed comfortable.

youre really good at public speaking and your presentation was interesting. you should just speak a little slower

You did not give an introduction. (Vrooman Chapter 6)
You are talking too much to the screen and not your audience.
Your transitions are good.
The clicker is operated through Radio Frequency(RF). you don't have to point to the screen to advance the Power Point slides.

Fantasic. You kept my attention the entire time. All of the information were there

I really enjoyed your presentation. Probably my favorite out of all 4.

Wonderful! Always a great pleasure listening to you. Slides are to the point. Great delivery.

Good attention getter however you quickly skimmed over the connection between the attention getter and your speech so it seemed out of place where I am sure it was not.

This kind of feedback is often a helpful tool in talking about audience, attention, adaptation, etc. 

The downside is that students are on their phones, but having done it quite a few times now, I think the benefits outweigh the costs. And doing this even once would really provide a benefit, as well, in case you wanted phones away most of the time. Of course, this seems a bit fussy given the situation of audiences in the real world, all too often, which is why this tweet is funny:

The app is free on android and ios. It even works well in browser for students with laptops or tablets or if you are in a computer lab. Additionally, it has a nice teacher version of the app you can use instead of doing all the work on your computer. 

Revision (Update 8/2016 -- I just led a faculty development workshop at East Tennessee State University on this very issue!)

Usually speech classes are four different speeches. But my experience at TED demonstrated the vital importance of revision in a way I hadn't thought about since I started teaching the course twenty years ago. It's just not the way we do that course. 

But when I had my summer speaking class work TED-style, it led to some interesting outcomes. I will quote here at length from the new edition of The Zombie Guide to Public Speaking:

A Note on Revision

This book has two new chapters. Seven chapters have been extensively altered. All of this, from the first-ever public speaking textbook chapter on depression to the extensive use of Dungeons & Dragons references in the figurative language chapter, is designed to make the book more interesting and useful than the first edition was.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved the first edition of this book. It was the best thing I’d ever written. But, it needed to be better.

So does your work. We have long been taught that revision is important in writing. Most of us resist that message with the irrational fury of a Tiefling Warlock casting Infernal Wrath.[1] But few of us are taught the importance of revision in public speaking. The classic public speaking class design, which was old when I was learning how to teach the class, MOPSBOT in hand, in 1995, was to have students simply do four speeches over the course of the term, usually informative, persuasive, group and some kind of entertain/special occasion thing.

This allowed the class to cover different kinds of speaking styles, but it meant that students usually only got one shot at each thing. When I was accepted to speak at TEDxSanAntonio, I was initially leery of being assigned a “curator,” a personal coach who would help you though many stages of revision, including at least three group practices where you would have to adapt to the feedback of all the other speakers and their curators.

Did they not know who I was? DOCTOR Vrooman! Did I really need a coach?


Jeff Adams, my coach, helped me to improve my speech in a number of ways. Here he is. Say “Hi” to Jeff everyone.

What you can see now as the final TEDx product (Vrooman, 2014b) is vastly different than what I started with. It is sooooo much better than it would have been without Jeff and all the others who gave me feedback.

I adapted this experience to my own Professional Speaking class in the summer of 2015. They gave one speech over and over again. We all provided feedback to push the speeches in new directions. I would require them to do things like ditch their entire introduction and make a new one or come up with all new supporting material or images on visual aids. This was all so they could choose their very best stuff.

I can say that all of them had a final speech that was orders of magnitude better than their first, and not just because of lessened nerves and delivery practice, which gets better no matter how you slice a public speaking class: you speak a lot, you get better. They were more confident in their material and their material was more interesting.

It is frustrating, though. If you don’t have a Jeff Adams around or a class which forces you to revise, you should get help. Find a partner in class or in the office and “curate” each other. If all else fails, record yourself on your phone, upload it to social media and ask how you did.[2] But, as frustrating as it is, it is worth it in the end. As one of my students this summer wrote:

I personally spent a lot of time researching the content for my speech. But every time I thought I had found something good, we would have to throw it out for the next one. I would then spend the next 30 minutes raging about how I hated this class and I was convinced that Vrooman was a little demon that laughed himself to sleep at night knowing he caused us unlimited amounts of anxiety. However, after seeing through the cloud of sleep deprivation, I knew that what he was doing was for the best. By the time our fourth persuasive speech came around, I was confident that I had picked the right content.

A curator, friend or teacher, if nothing else, holds you accountable for doing what you know you need to do to get better.

[1] You didn’t expect the D&D references so soon, did you? #CriticalHit
[2] This is an “in emergency, break glass” kind of suggestion, as social media feedback might be, shall we say, intense.

Be Bolder!

This entire blog series is designed to encourage you to innovate. Great things can happen. Sure, there are risks. I will share some failures of innovation in the next entry in this series, just to be fair. But I learned as much from those failures as I have from years of successes. You will, too.

1 comment:

  1. I really like this blog!
    I've always found that joke telling teaches us to communicate more effectively.
    All communication contains a set up and a pay off (punch line)
    Learn to tell a joke, be a more effective speaker.