What are some strengths and weaknesses of a public speaker?
INTRODUCTION: It is an old saw that
people fear public speaking more than they fear death. This fear
creates a variety of nervous reactions in both young and old
speakers (muttering, shifting weight, “um,” leaning on the podium)
that is nearly as individual as fingerprints. Therefore, part of my
approach at the beginning of each semester is to do all I can to
set my speech students at ease. I then help them discover their
distracting idiosyncrasies, and we work on eliminating them from
their presentations. As students first become aware of their
subconscious habits, most bring them under control. However, as the
semester progresses, I often notice the poor habits returning. So,
I looked for an activity that would bring what we had worked on
back in focus without having to go back to the beginning.
Although the activity described here was done
to help students become aware of strengths and weakness while
giving speeches, it could easily be adapted to helping students
identify strengths and weaknesses in other realms of their academic
lives. For example, educators could have students focus on their
strengths and weaknesses in writing, in doing mathematics, in
speaking a foreign language, in taking tests, or (more generally)
in being a successful student.
*To help students become aware of positive
habits that strengthen their speech presentations
*To help students become aware of negative
habits that weaken their speech presentations
*To help students take responsibility for
maximizing their positive habits and minimizing their negative
habits when presenting their final speech
*Paper and pencil.
1. Instruct students to take out a pencil and
a piece of paper and write four paragraphs. I assured the students
that only I would see their writing, so they can be completely
candid and honest.
Paragraph 1: Write 3 of your strengths as a
persuasive speaker. These can be specific (“I speak loudly and
clearly”) or general (“I am intelligent”). These can be
self-perceptions or what you believe others think of you.
Paragraph 2: Write 3 of your weaknesses as a
Paragraph 3: Explain how you will use your 3
strengths in your next speech.
Paragraph 4: Explain what you will do to
overcome your weaknesses in your next speech.
2. Read the responses and compare them with
the students’ actual speech delivery. Provide students with
feedback on how well they eliminated their weakness and utilized
I got a variety of written responses to this
activity. Some dealt with the physical presentation: “I have good
eye contact,” “I say ‘um’ more than I would like to,” “I feel
comfortable,” “I have trouble pernouncing [sic.] big words.” Some
dealt with organizational matters: “I don’t need many notes,” “I am
well organized,” “I prepare poorly, I hate to write,” “If I know
the subject I could talk all day.” These are just a few examples.
The strengths everyone handled rather easily, relating them to the
assignment at hand. Dealing with their weaknesses seemed to give
some of them more trouble although everyone gave themselves good
suggestions that came straight out of our discussions and
activities from earlier in the semester. The most often stated way
of dealing with their distracting habits was to practice! I stress
the need for practice often, and more often, and then again. It was
heartening to see that they had picked up on the importance of
practicing. Some even suggested practicing in front of family
members, a difficult proposition for most young people. Some other
ideas: “I will work harder on being set in my concentration,” “I
will try to relax,” “I won’t write everything out, practice more,”
“I will say clear sentences.” Every student identified at least one
revealing weakness and came up with a good idea for dealing with
it. I thought some would not take the assignment seriously, but
that was not the case. Give students responsibility and they will
come through, I find.
How did they do in their delivery? The
strengths came through readily in the speeches. Those who said they
were organized gave organized speeches; those who said they talked
loud or had good eye contact did so in their speeches. Here are
some examples of the weaknesses, students’ strategies to overcome
the weakness, and how they did on their speeches:
Weakness: “Not much confidence.”
How to overcome: “Remind myself that I can BS
my way through it, if necessary.”
Outcome: Gave a well-organized, convincing
speech. Grade = A
Weakness: “Little nervous.”
How to overcome: “Practice.”
Outcome: Paced back and forth, looked at
floor, needed to practice more. Grade = C.
Weakness: “Move back & forth.”
How to overcome: “Work on making my movements
Outcome: Received extra credit points for
gesturing. Grade = A.
Weakness: “Talk too fast,” “say the word um,”
and “play with my hair.”
How to overcome: “I will slow my pace down and
talk slower. I will try really hard not to say the word 'um.' I
can’t guarantee it. I will try to relax and not play w/my
Outcome: Still talked fast and said “um,” but
did not play with her hair. Grade = B.
Weakness: “I talk too fast,” and “I can’t
How to overcome: “Practice to make sure I
don’t talk too fast,” and “Find a way to keep both feet on
Outcome: Still talked a little too fast, but
with clear diction and stood comfortably still throughout speech.
Not perfect, but another A.
Weakness: “Have to have things written
How to overcome: “Don’t write everything out,
Outcome: Took notes up for speech and
delivered confidently and with good eye contact for an A.
Generally, the class did much better with
speeches after this activity than before. I used a lot of A
speeches in my examples above, but that is because there were a lot
of A speeches: 60 % of the class. It was a simple exercise, but it
did direct their attention and in most cases they were successful
in overcoming at least one of their weaknesses.
The experience showed me that the work I am
doing early in the semester with making the students aware of their
speech habits and working to overcome the distracting ones pays
off. They do remember and they are able to apply the information;
they just need to be reminded occasionally at this stage in their
I really did not expect these students to do
so well on the final speeches after seeing all the problems that
had returned in the speech before. I did not tell them that I was
going to be watching for these traits when I watched the speeches,
because I wanted to see if they would figure it out for themselves
and take the responsibility to do the necessary work. This may
sound like I am setting them up for failure, but as long as their
organization was sound and their persuasion logical, they would
still do very well with the few points taken off for small nervous
habits. But they did go the extra step in almost all cases and took
the responsibility for their own improvement. I was glad that I had
given them the tools to succeed, and I am proud that they were able
to use those tools effectively after all the work we did. I hear
people say that the younger generation is hopeless and not focused,
but I contend that this activity proves otherwise for some of