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 with busy slide decks. They would stand up in front of the class, face the projected image, and talk to the board instead of the class. When it was all over, 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 relevant visuals (and almost no text) on their slides. They have impressed me in ways I never thought possible with me as their teacher. 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 completely changed my outlook and practice 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 the way I prepare and instruct students to be better public speakers.
Well Spoken. This indispensable resource by Erik Palmer 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 its principles concisely. Prior to reading this book, I had no idea how to break down the elements of public speaking for my students. My advice to students was accurate, but there was no framework or common understanding we all shared. The students didn’t know what do with my advice and I didn’t know how to make them see what I was seeing.
This is where Well Spoken helped all of us! 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 (ACOVA). 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 identifies six elements of a performance that he tracks with his students: 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 get it!
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. Even though PVLEGS saved public speaking in my classroom, I still need good examples of the elements of public speaking, and didn’t have time to craft all of my own examples. And that’s where Toastmasters International came to my rescue.
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. Though I am not the worst example of public speaking, I’m not exactly outstanding either. I searched 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, using the PVLEGS framework (this also works with TED presentations).
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 task 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!
QUESTION: Honestly, how bad is public speaking in your classroom? Do you have any horror stories to share? Any other tips for teaching public speaking?
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