I was a featured presenter in a teaching session at the Ohio Communication Association conference this year. I presented about a technique that I’ve developed to deal with two of the most important and difficult aspects of preparing students to become more effective public speakers.
The first problem has to do with the anxiety that accompanies public speaking. This fear is fairly pervasive and as a result, I need to address it every time I teach this class. The second problem is a little more complicated. It’s rooted in the idea that too often, students come to believe too strongly in school. This is, I think, a problem that faces all teachers who teach later adolescents and adults. School has the unfortunate effect of often foregrounding the “game” of school in a way that makes the learners lose sight of the way that learning may actually be very relevant in their lives outside of school. The other “games” where they play a role are obscured by a distant blurriness because of a misplaced focus on NOW, on the CONTEXT (instead of the content) of the ideas we’re encountering.
This problem surfaces particularly in public speaking training or classes, when students start to imagine that the audience they are presenting too is a “generic” audience. A kind of bland, characteristic-less, “Universal” Capital-A Audience.
This is a fatal mistake for persuaders, for audiences and for learning in general. My presentation was called “ITS NOT ABOUT ME — ITS ABOUT YOU: Audience Research & Communication Apprehension: Two Birds With One In-Class Speech Lab” During this lab experience I use some basic audience research tools and a classic desensitization exercise to both reduce personal anxiety and gain a more concrete specific understanding of the audience. The two problems actually share one solution: genuine audience-orientation shifts the speaker’s focus from self-awareness and toward a real change for a specific particular audience who will benefit from authentic engagement.
If you’re interested in the specifics of the In-Class Speech Lab, email me here and I’ll gladly send more information.