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What are some strengths and weaknesses of a public speaker?

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2007-07-09 13:37:40


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.

PURPOSE:

*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

SUPPLIES/SET UP:

*Paper and pencil.

DIRECTIONS:

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

persuasive speaker.

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

their strengths.

OUTCOME/EXPERIENCES:

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

mean something.”

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

hair.”

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

stand still.”

How to overcome: “Practice to make sure I

don’t talk too fast,” and “Find a way to keep both feet on

floor.”

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

out.”

How to overcome: “Don’t write everything out,

practice more.”

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

development.

PERSONAL LESSONS:

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

them.


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