Presentations: How Two Sources Transformed Public Speaking in My Classroom

How has your experience been with assigning presentations in your classroom? Inspiring? Fun? Or does it sound more like how mine use to? Before I made significant changes, my students would make PowerPointⓇ presentations that had far too much content on each slide. Then they would stand up in front of the class, and face the projected image and present to it. Then when they were done we would all clap.

If your classroom presentations look like that, then it’s time for you to say “Enough!” I am still in the middle of learning how to teach my students to be better oral communicators, so you won’t see anything magical in my classroom, but you will see confident students, facing the class, note cards in hand, transitioning from topic to topic, with pertinent visuals on their slides. They have impressed me in ways I never thought possible under my instruction. I used to think that it was the job of another more competent teacher to get students ready for public speaking. But I have found that anyone can do it. 

The two sources that have changed my outlook and practice utterly are a book and a YouTubeⓇ Channel: Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students by Erik Palmer and Toastmasters International, respectively. What follows is a glimpse at how each source shaped how I prepare and instruct students to make better speeches.

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Well Spoken. Erik Palmer’s little book on how to teach students has all the marks of a great book: It’s brief, it’s fun to read, and it lays out the principles concisely. Prior to reading this book, my problem in teaching public speaking was that I had no idea how to break it down for students. My advice was accurate, but there was no framework or common understanding we all shared. The students didn’t know what do with my tidbits of advice and I didn’t know how to make them see what I was seeing.

This is where Well Spoken is indispensable! It first breaks down public speaking into two parts: building a speech and performing a speech. Building a speech is further broken down, with great teaching advice, into five categories: audience, content, organization, visual aids, and appearance. Most of that information we all know, or know well enough to put together a plan for preparing for a speech. That wasn’t my problem. My problem was the day of the performance.

Palmer’s section on performing a speech is where the treasure is. He has six elements of a performance he tracks with his students and holds them accountable to: poise, voice, life, eye contact, gestures, and speed. They fit nicely in a memorable acronym, PVLEGSⓇ. Breaking the performance down into these pieces makes the instruction of public speaking much more manageable and cohesive. The students grasp the concepts in the straightforward way he presents them.

As I started reading Palmer’s book, like many others, I realized how much I was assigning public speaking versus how little I was teaching public speaking. I can’t beat Palmer’s explanation of the difference, so I encourage you to see what he has to say here.

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Toastmasters. Anyone who is going to teach something as complex as the elements of a good speech knows that it is important to have stellar examples to follow. I myself am not the best example, but I am far from the worst. I started searching YouTubeⓇ, using keywords from Palmer’s book. That was a good start, but it didn’t get me directly to content I was looking for.

Eventually through clicking around I landed on Toastmasters International’s YouTubeⓇ channel. That was a great resource. They have instructive videos for how to prepare for and perform a speech. I would use many of their videos to instruct how to think through each element of PVLEGSⓇ.

Another reason finding this resource was crucial is that I could send it home with students. I would post the link to the video we watched in class and they could review it again later. I could even create a brief homework assignment where the students had to watch the video and fill out an evaluation of the speaker.

Both Well Spoken and Toatstmasters Interantional have given me what teachers everywhere need before teaching any complex assignment: the ability to understand and break down each element of the assignment and great examples to show developing learners. If you want to level up what your students produce in public speaking, then I highly recommend starting with Well Spoken and then exploring Toastmasters International’s YouTubeⓇ channel. You will not be disappointed with the results.

I’m curious, what do presentations look like in your classroom? If you have found success in teaching students how to give a great speech, what’s your secret? We want to hear all about it in the comment section. And if you know someone else who is looking for resources to help with teaching public speaking, share this post with that person.

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