Thursday, August 25, 2016

For the Professors, Part 7: Elocutionary Exercises

by Steven S. Vrooman

This is one of my favorite activities to do in a public speaking class. It is both nerve-racking and horrible, but at the same time it is fun and really pretty funny.

It is exactly what we need in an oral communication classroom, which is to create opportunities for safe, shared, inevitable, performative failure. 

Why make students fail? 

Because they are afraid they will. It is aversion therapy, of a kind. I pack the first weeks of my classes with safe, ostentatious failure inevitabilities in order to defang some of those fears. The first "serious" speech they make, they will still be nervous, but this helps. I've been using it for 17 years. It always helps.

A particular moment it REALLY helps with is when student who gets up front, blanks, panics, and says something like "I don't know what to saaaayyyy....." and looks at you like they just want permission to slink away and back down. 

But this allows you to create the moment you HAVE to create to run a successful speaking class or workshop: no one is allowed to stop and sit down. You help them through it. We focus on the first image and explain it. I ask what, for example, they might be afraid of or prideful of (depending on this image in this activity). I'll tell them to just start with that and start telling a story and see where it goes. I tell them I'll help them if they get stuck again. They hardly ever get stuck again. They are failing up there is a really tough, personal way. Everyone, they think, can SEE their nerves in that moment. Yet, they get through it. 

Enough activities like this will help them learn the cardinal message of anxiety, for me: 


YOU CAN HATE PUBLIC SPEAKING FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. BUT YOU WILL BE ABLE TO DO IT.


So here is the link to the PowerPoint I use. It has enough slides for 29 people to do it. But, of course, there is no reason you couldn't repeat slides. 

Give this activity a try!

And if you do, please let me know how it goes!!

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