Suggestions for Teaching Public Speaking and Evaluating Speeches
University Science Malaysia
This paper puts forward some suggestions for teaching public speaking effectively to ESL students in an academic setting in higher education. It also discusses useful strategies that can be employed in the process of teaching, giving feedback on speeches as well as helping students prepare and present speeches in an environment that is more collaborative for students. A sample speech outline and a sample evaluation form are attached to help teachers make the teaching and learning of public speaking more manageable.
Giving helpful feedback on students’ work is an essential commitment in any teaching-learning situation. It is clearly related to teachers’ accessibility to students. Educators acknowledge the fact that of all the facets of good teaching that are important to them, “feedback on assessed work is perhaps the most commonly mentioned” (Ramsden, 1992; Biggs, 1999). ESL teachers in various contexts and teachers in higher education contexts face this daunting task very often and are often perplexed by the demands this task places on their entire teaching-learning environment. This issue becomes more complex when it entails assessing the spoken skills of non-native students of English as most students have added dimensions of fear, insecurity and anxiety when it involves speaking in front of their peers. This article highlights the strategies that teachers can use in evaluating a public speaking course.
The public speaking course I teach in my university has a 100% coursework structure and is taught over 15 weeks. Students who take this course realise that they have to do consistent work as they have to prepare and present the following four types of speeches: A speech relating a personal experience, An Informative Speech, A Speech Describing a Process/Procedure and a Persuasive Speech. The course content covers both theoretical concepts of oral communication (basic elements of speechmaking, overcoming speech anxiety, developing ideas and materials etc.) as well as the mechanics of speech preparation and presentation (using nonverbal communication, using language and style to communicate, using your voice effectively, using visual aids etc.). Students attend a two-hour lecture and one hour of tutorial each week of the semester. The following are some useful suggestions on how to handle the teaching and assessment components of a public speaking course:
Prepare a Detailed Course Outline
Prepare a detailed course outline, which can be handed out in the first introductory lecture. This handout must outline the following details: Course aims, course requirement, course schedule (outlining the week number, lecture topics, weekly tutorial plan), assessment structure, references and other necessary details (e.g. names of lecturers teaching the course, their contact details such as telephone numbers and email addresses). By doing so, students will have a clear idea of how the course is structured and this will help them to see the ‘big plan’ so that they can manage their own learning more effectively as students also take many other major and minor courses in a semester. In the case of adult/mature students, this helps them make prior arrangements relating to their own personal lives (for instance arranging child care, managing other domestic chores or managing their academic schedules).
In a university context, lecturers teaching courses which focus on public speaking and oral communication, need to explicate their evaluation structure early in the course so that students are clear of how they will be assessed. The logic of this expectation is clear: anything that imposes changes on students’ schedules demands additional time and energy. One way course lecturers can do this is through preparing detailed course outlines and specifying what is expected of students and when the expectations are to be realised. This is seen as a necessary step as students appreciate teachers who emphasise time on task specifications in their courses. Findings of many research studies on good teaching show that students appreciate teachers who hand out detailed course outlines in the first week of the semester. The instructional implication of this is if teachers continually impose changes in their instruction and assessment plan (like adding an additional assignment or test at the last minute), it can cause unnecessary anxiety to students and avoiding these problems means minimising disruptions in students’ academic and personal lives.
Make Your Classes Lively
In teaching theoretical and practical aspects of speechmaking, teachers need to be aware that much of the enthusiasm they display in their teaching is carried through to their students. It helps when teachers explicate concepts and aspects of speechmaking to students by providing clear examples, relating anecdotes or injecting humour in their classes. The vibrant personality of the teacher can help students have a more positive learning experience. Also, use a variety of teaching aids in imparting content as students learn by example. In the literature of student evaluation of good teaching, it is reported that the personal and professional characteristics of teachers are rated highly among students. The professional characteristics include being knowledgeable, being well prepared and well organised, being able to communicate well, caring about students and being enthusiastic about teaching. The personal characteristics include: being warm, being courteous to students, having a good attitude towards one’s work, friendly and having a good sense of humour. Students tend to rate the attribute ‘caring about students’ as being both a personal as well as a professional attribute probably due to the fact that students want their teachers to “validate them as persons” (Slotnick et. al. 1993:55).
Guide Students Well in the Speechmaking Process
Public speaking experts acknowledge that public speaking is a form of empowerment as it gives one the ability to get their message across efficiently to an interested audience (Lucas, 1992; Osborn & Motley, 1999). According to Verderber (1997:6), public speaking is important in two ways: (1) effective public speakers communicate information to people in ways that enable them to use that information to make sound decisions and (2) effective public speakers are able to present information in ways that influence peoples’ attitudes and behaviour.
These two qualities inherent in public speakers make it necessary that ESL teachers make their students aware that public speaking is a learned activity and that they can improve their own speaking ability by using useful strategies that can help and guide them in becoming better speakers. By guiding students well, we are empowering them to select useful strategies in their speech preparation process. One effective method is to teach them how to prepare their speech outline. If students are provided with a sample speech outline for each speech type that they are learning, they will find their speechmaking process less troublesome and it helps to remove much of the anxiety that students seem to experience when they are faced with the daunting task of speaking in public. Teachers need to explicate to students that their working outline is a tentative plan of their speech as it helps them to organise and arrange the body of their message for each speech. If teachers explain the main requirements for each speech outline, students will have more time to organise their speech content. Some possible headings in a speech outline could be headings such as Topic/Title, General Purpose, Specific Purpose, Thesis Statement, Main Points in Body of Speech, Conclusion and References. Appendix I shows an example of a student’s speech outline for a speech to inform.
The following five guidelines for outline structures (Verderber, 1997) help students to organise their working outlines more effectively:
- Each outline should contain only one unit of information
- Less important ideas in the outline should be subordinate to more important ideas.
- The logical relation to items in an outline should be shown by proper indentation.
- A consistent set of symbols should be used (e.g. roman numerals for stating the main point (i.e. I, II, III) followed by capital letters for stating subpoints (e.g. A, B, C,) and ordinary numerals for stating sub-subpoints (e.g. 1, 2, 3, ).
- All main points and supporting/subordinate points in formal outlines should be written as full sentences.
Design an Effective Evaluation Sheet
It is imperative that teachers teaching public speaking courses design their own tailor-made evaluation sheet that will suit their specific ESL context. There are many sample evaluation worksheets in the literature of student assessment, in appendices of prepared textbooks as well as Internet sites. The ESL teacher then needs to adapt characteristics from these worksheets and the descriptors that are selected can then be explained to their students.
As it is quite common in most teaching contexts to rate as many as six or seven speeches in one hour, it is necessary for ESL teachers to design a speech evaluation sheet that is user-friendly. In my course, I have about eleven students in each tutorial slot and these students present each speech over a two-week duration in their respective slots (six students in one slot and the other five the following week).
The following are some useful aspects/components of speech delivery that can be assessed in a speech evaluation sheet:
- Introduction: How effective is the introduction? Does it grab attention?
- Content: Is the content well organised? Are the ideas generated suitable to the purpose of the speech? (e.g. expository, narrative, persuasive etc.). Has sufficient library research been carried out?
- Voice Quality: Is the voice loud and clear? Are aspects of speech delivery well executed? (aspects such as pitch, rate, pace and pronunciation)
- Non-verbal Communication: Are gestures used suitable? Does body language of speaker help/hinder speech delivery?
- Eye Contact: Does speaker look at audience when speaking?
- Visual Aids: What types of visual aids are used? Are visual aids well prepared and are they suitable?
- Conclusion: Is the conclusion effective? What types of strategies are used? (summarising main points, using a quotation, relating an anecdote, etc.). Is the conclusion interesting?
The above are some useful aspects of speech delivery that can be graded by evaluators but the list of aspects are not exhaustive. Some ESL teachers might want to place an emphasis on grammar and related aspects of vocabulary and this can easily be incorporated into the speech evaluation rating sheet. It is always useful to have a column for ‘Comments’ for each category of aspect that is being evaluated as comments written in this column will aid the evaluator in giving useful feedback to the ESL student. Appendix II shows a sample speech evaluation sheet that I use in my class but changes can easily be made to suit any particular ESL situation.
Give Meaningful Feedback
It is imperative that ESL teachers give meaningful feedback to students’ efforts at speaking in public as even native speakers experience similar fears when they have to speak in public. When students put in the effort to do library research and spend time writing up their speeches and rehearsing their speeches many times over, they want to hear more qualitative comments than mere information about the alphabetical grade that they got for their speech (such as “Your grade for Speech 1 is B+). Students value constructive criticism to their speeches as they see these comments as avenues for them to do better in their next speech attempt.
It is useful also to structure ‘feedback sessions’ separately in the course structure of the course. I find that having an available tutorial slot just to see each student separately to discuss their performance (and their prepared speech outlines) very helpful and students value the time they are given to discuss aspects of their speech delivery. When students are given fact-to-face feedback pertaining to detailed comments about their speech delivery, they seem to make more effort to correct their errors in the next speech. Some useful comments include: ‘In Speech 1, I liked the effort you put in to plan your Introduction effectively. Relating the anecdote was very interesting and you didn’t dwell on it for too long. Good. Your content was well developed’ or ‘You need to look at the audience members more when you speak, try not to look at your palm card too often’ or ‘You mispronounced the following words: campaign, aches, fogging and gestures’ or ‘Try to look at your audience more naturally as you seem to stare at them at time. At times, you seem to fix your stare on one or two particular persons only and it seems very unnatural’. During this interview sessions with the teacher, most students are more candid about speaking about their performance or their fears about performing in front of their peers. Alternatively, teachers can also given written feedback to each student if the time factor is a major constraint.
These suggestions might help ESL teachers to be better prepared in handling the numerous challenges of teaching public speaking to their students. In some instances, it would also help if teachers are more attuned to other background details of their students as some students have inherent cultural inhibitions that sometimes seem to act as obstacles to their efforts of speaking in public. However, by being aware of the issues mentioned above, ESL teachers can be more confident of their ability to teach and assess their students’ public speaking ability. Without prescribing fixed strategies, it is hoped that ESL teachers will rise to the challenge of trying to initiate effective teaching methodology and assessment practices to better evaluate their ESL students’ attempts at speaking in public.
Appendix I: A Sample Speech Outline for an Informative Speech
Specific Goal: I want my audience to understand the Panic Disorder (P.D) phenomenon because I believe that the understanding of this phenomenon will in turn make it possible for them to deal with it.
We have all at one point or another in life experienced panic attacks. Panic Disorder (P.D.) is, simply put, a more severe manifestation of the fear phenomenon. I wish to share with the audience the workings and causes of the P.D. phenomenon.
Thesis Statement: Three factors have been identified as causing the development of P.D. among sufferers. These are the Mind, the Body and a combination of the Mind and Body.
I. The first identified cause of the P.D. is the Mind.
A. Stressful life events can trigger P.D.
1. Children suddenly having to fare or cope with their parents’ divorce are very likely to experience P.D. in the future.
2. Children that have a strong and close-knit family usually grow up feeling more confident about themselves, thus minimising the onset of P.D. later in life.
II. The second cause of P.D. is more ‘tangible’, namely the Body or the physical.
A. There is a genetic predisposition to anxiety disorders via earlier family members such as ancestors or parents.
B. P.D. could also be due to biological malfunctions. Nonetheless, a specific biological marker has yet to be identified.
III. The third proven cause is a combination of both the earlier factors.
A. Although initially attacks may come out of the blue, eventually the sufferer may actually bring them on by responding to physical symptoms of an attack.
1. If a person with P.D. experiences a racing heartbeat caused by drinking coffee or exercising, they might interpret this as a symptom of an attack and because of their anxiety, actually bring on the attack.
2. On the other hand, coffee and exercise sometimes do trigger panic attacks.
IV. Ways of overcoming P.D.
A. Ways of overcoming P.D. – cognitive and behavioural.
In conclusion, when you have fully understood all three causes of P.D., you will be able to overcome P.D. by getting to the root of the problem. Remember, knowledge is power.
Pollack, M.H. & Otto, M.W. (1997). Long-term course and outcome of panic disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 58 Suppl.2: 57-60.
Stein, M.B. & Kean, Y.M. (2000). Disability and quality of life in social phobia: Epideiologic findings. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157:1606-1613.
Appendix II: A Sample Speech Evaluation Form
(Title of Course)
SPEECH EVALUATION FORM
NAME OF STUDENT: ___________________________
SPEECH: 1 2 3 4 GRADE: ___
TITLE OF SPEECH: ____________________________________________________
1 2 3
-Organisation of facts
-Suitability of purpose
Excl: 8 9 10
Gd: 4 5 6 7
Weak: 1 2 3
Voice & Body Language (NVC)
-Voice Quality (pitch, rate, pace, pronunciation)
-Use of gestures
1 2 3 4 5
Eye Contact & Dealing with Visual Aids
-Looking at audience
-Suitability of visual aids
1 2 3 4 5
-Effectiveness of strategy used
1 2 3
- Biggs, J. (1999). Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Buckingham: Society for the Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.
- Lucas, S.E. (1992). The Art of Public Speaking. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Osborn, S. & Motley, M.T. (1999). Improving Communication. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
- Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to Teach in Higher Education. London: Routledge.
- Slotnick, H.B., Pelton, M.H., Fuller, M.L. & Tabor, L. (1993). Adult Learners on Campus. Washington, DC: The Falmer Press.
- Verderber, R.F. (1997). The Challenge of Effective Speaking (10th ed.). New York: Wadsworth Publishing.
The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XI, No. 7, July 2005