Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ DL and Public Speaking

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Mar 27, 2000

Posted to DEOS-L 28 March 2000

"Churton, Michael" wrote: I have attached an inquiry from one of our CC with a very direct question- How does one teach a public speaking class through asynchronous distance learning?

Ah. A fascinating question and one I can (almost) amswer from first hand experience, because most of what I know about public speaking I learned through distance learning methodology.

Or perhaps I should be more accurate: I read a book. Precisely, "Winging It" by (I believe) Keith Spicer. It now seems to be out of print, however, no doubt there are equally good books on the market.

Spicer (and I sincerely hope he was the author, since I refer to this book from time to time) adopted a methodological approach to public speaking (and here I am glossing much more useful and relevant detail):

  • pick a topic, any topic
  • divide your topic into three or four major parts, ordered in a logical manner (eg., past, present, future; eg., today, short term, long term; eg., city-wide, province-wide, Canada-wide, etc).
  • divide each of the three or four major parts into three or four major parts, again in a logical order.

Spicer's point was to create a methodology for being able to remember a comprehensive treatment of a subject by arranging it into a logical sequence which could be easily remembered.

Of course that's the theory: the heart of public speaking is in the practise.

The trick, advised Spicer, is to start small and expand. In an informal conversation, begin by ordering your thoughts into two, three or four logically ordered points. For example, in the pub, discussing Edmonton's play-off chances, three easy parts, based on the likely competition:

  • Calgary is out of it and slumping
  • Vancouver is on a tear, but too far behind to be a threat
  • Phoenix is sliding fast

Then, in a relaxed and safe environment, practice formulating these comments in this manner.

This I did, and people began to comment that I always had two or three points to make when I addressed a group. I would grin sheepishly, but as I began to move my practise into more formal settings, such as staff meetings, and as I developed each of my three points into deeper points, I also noticed people listening more closely.

My confidence grew.

Finally, I decided to practice the method in front of a large audience. Spicer recommended a cheat-sheet or card with the points highlighted (not speaking cards, because you drop them - one card, points only) to be kept in your suit pocket as insurance. I framed my remarks, folded the sheet once, and straightened my tie.

I should probably have started out with a smaller group - my first 'winging it' speech was delivered, without referring to notes, to an audience of 4,500 during a convocation address.

Because my talk consisted of about twelve short and discreet points, I could make my point and pause for a bit, creating a sharp and punchy effect. After the first ripple of applause interrupted me less than half way through, I never looked back.

I never took a formal class in public speaking. I learned a sound methodology and was guided through a safe and comfortable series of progressively difficult practise sessions. I mastered the technique in less than a month.

I have added some elements over the years from other aspects of my life. From my training in journalism (which, again, was not acquired in a formal setting) I adapted the inverted pyramid style to Spicer's methodology. From my training in formal and practical logic I learned how to forumlate each of the twelve minor points into nice little nuggets of sound reasoning.

And I have applied the technique elsewhere, most notably to my writing, for I have since noticed that 'winging it' in writing is as valuable (sometimes more valuable) as 'winging it' in public speaking (avid readers of my comments will note that they read and flow like little public speeches).

I thank Keith Spicer - or whomever it was - for creating this little bit of distance learning. It solidified my career as a teacher, made me an engaging (and convincing) public speaker, and has added more value to my life - even pub conversations - than I can ever say.

That's how you teach public speaking using asynchronous distance learning methodology.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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