Classroom Oral Communication Activities

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Guess My Audience

Objectives

To create an opportunity for students to experiment with strategies for audience adaptation. To give students a chance to feel the discomfort associated with being listeners to a speech that was prepared with an audience different from the actual audience in mind.

Approximate Time

Fifteen minutes of assignment explanation and planning at least one week prior to the speeches and then one seventy-five minute class session or one and a half or two fifty minute sessions to listen to and to process the speeches

Material Needed

Enough copies of the handout of the assignment description for every student and a topic idea for each small group when the assignment is made. A stopwatch and time cards for the day the speeches are delivered along with whatever visual aid support (overheads, easel) the speaking groups say they need.

Rationale

I've always been a proponent of building "authentic" speaking assignments. I want students to consider their classmates as their audience, to have their informative and persuasive efforts target the student audience they see before them in the classroom. And yet, because the classroom audience is the group with whom they regularly interact, they assume similarity among the members and often neglect making a special effort to adapt to them. Only on occasion does a student rise to a high level of creativity in engaging their particular audience. Furthermore, limiting their audience to their fellow students gives them no opportunity to practice the kinds of adaptive skills they may find necessary when they speak to audiences following graduation. Another concern I've had about my students' limited audience adaptation skills is grounded in the fact that the vast majority of them are white, lower to upper middle class, midwesterners, who have rarely if ever found themselves in a situation where they were a minority of an audience in terms of race, class, age, religion or ethnic background. Their sensitivity to the need to reach out to all segments of their audience is, thus, often underdeveloped. They often have not experienced being "the other" as listeners and are occasionally suspicious that my appeal to overcome their ethnocentrism ought to be dismissed as an ill-conceived effort at political correctness.

As a consequence, I developed a class exercise, to be conducted in one or two class periods, that gives students an opportunity to play creatively with issues of audience adaptation, to become aware of their peers' efforts to adapt to a wide range of different audiences, and to experience being a member of an audience and overhearing a message that has not been tailored to the kind of people they really are.

What To Do Before Class

Prepare copies of a handout of the assignment description based on the one you find at the end of this article. Prepare one copy of the topic and audience statements and cut the pages into strips so that students can draw just one topic from the pile.

What To Do During Class

Day 1

On the day that you make the assignment ask students to get into pairs or groups of three (you can decide what will work best for your class given the time constraints that you face). Tell the students that you are handing out an assignment that will ask them to develop a brief speech on a particular topic and for a particular audience so that they can practice a full range of audience adaptation strategies. Distribute the assignment sheet to the students and then go around the room with the topic strips and let each group pick one; ask them not to share their group's topic or audience with the rest of the class since "guessing the audience" will be part of the fun of the activity.

Give the groups at least 10 minutes to talk about what they might do to adapt to the audience, to divide up responsibilities for preparing the speech and, if possible to arrange a time during the next week when they might run through it together. If you know that meeting outside of class time is not feasible for your students, see the extensions discussion below.

Day 2

At a later class session you can listen to the "Guess My Audience" speeches. You can have the groups sign up on the board to establish their speaking order and then the day can be handled like an ordinary speech day with a time keeper indicating to the speakers how much time they have left. As each group finishes speaking, let the class answer the questions 1) who do you think their audience was supposed to be and 2) what made you think that? Keep the discussion after each speech to a minimum so that all of the speeches can be heard. As the speeches continue, students will catch on that many groups had similar topics but they were asked to address different audiences. They will hopefully begin to notice evidence of subtler efforts to adapt to the audience than simply the use of examples relating to one group or another. Some groups will, hopefully, have made special choices about language and others will use a different delivery style in order to engage the attention and interest of their target audiences. During the presentations and the brief discussions afterwards jot down notes so that you can comment on them later.

What To Do After the Activity

After all of the speaking groups have shared their presentations, check your time and see how many minutes you have left for some more detailed discussion. During the discussion you facilitate, you might call their attention to adaptive strategies you heard that the class seemed to overlook. You might want to be directed by the reflection questions that are on the activity handout. If you have fifteen minutes or more to process the exercise, then you might have them get into small groups to talk about the reflection questions, especially the last one, before you facilitate a large group discussion. You might also draw their attention to any questionable efforts some groups may have made. For example, I've had students attempt to adapt to an audience of Senior Citizens by making insulting or stereotypical references such as "now that your bodies are falling apart..." It is clear that sometimes the speakers can't let go of the fact that the real audience in front of them is that of college age students whom they aim to entertain. I ask groups who did a particularly nice job to talk about how they went about creating their appeals. It is interesting to see how often they create a sense of appealing to an audience based on what they see marketers doing in the media.

Most of the discussion should focus on the adapting strategies of the various groups, but I also invite students to make more general comments about content and delivery so that the exercise can be part of the continual speaking improvement we aim for in the course. Near the end of the discussion I ask the class to consider how they felt in their role as listeners. Some will say things such as that they felt younger when they were being talked to as though they were in elementary school. Some will volunteer that they felt insulted, ignored or left out. Some will simply say it felt weird, as though they didn't belong in the room or that the speaker was trying to make them be something they weren't. If your class generates such responses then you have a ripe teachable moment to talk about the issues of ethnocentrism and exclusion that can be hard for some students to grasp. If I can't make the point I want to about ethnocentrism from the student discussion of this issue, I will sometimes go back to the issue of stereotypes and assumptions that emerged in the speeches themselves and talk about the dangers of over-stepping in audience analysis in a way that shows ignorance of the group to which one is trying to adapt.

Though such issues are terribly serious for effective public speaking, the day is typically a good deal of fun. Students unleash their creative energies and take a renewed interest in actually engaging the audience, since that is foremost in their mind at the time of their development of the speech. This is a nice exercise to do shortly before a formal speaking round since it gives everyone in the class a chance to get up and speak before the group in a relatively non-threatening situation.

Extensions

If you work on a commuter campus where outside of class meetings are simply not feasible, you will need to give students some more time for in-class planning. I typically introduce this assignment on a Tuesday and let them meet for a bit that day and then we listen to the speeches the following Tuesday. If I knew that they would not be in touch with each other outside of class, I would give them time on Thursday to touch base about the speeches and another ten minutes at the beginning of the following Tuesday for them to run through their speeches in their groups before delivering them to the class as a whole.

If your group enjoys a little competition or won't do the work without earning classroom points for doing it, you can make the assignment worth points and give a bonus point to each group who is able to get their listeners to guess the audience correctly. If you do this, though, you will have to tell them that they will be disqualified or docked a point if they tell the audience exactly who they are during the speech. That will, hopefully, prevent groups from getting up and saying things like "now that you have reached your thirties and are successful businesswomen..." Creating different topic choices and audience scenarios can vary the exercise a good deal. I have found that making explicit reference to the religious, ethnic or racial background of the audience create special challenges. Students may employ stereotypes that give voice to prejudicial attitudes. If you are prepared to tackle such issues, feel free to work them into the topic descriptions. One profitable topic choice might be skin cancers which can be adapted to audiences of varied skin types and audiences from different regions of the U.S. or world.

Student Handout for "Guess My Audience"

You have drawn a topic and a speaking situation for which you should prepare a 4 minute speech. With a partner or partners, brainstorm about the direction your brief speech should take. What assumptions might you be able to make about the audience? What does this audience need to know in order to be adequately informed on this topic given the circumstances? What does this audience need to know in order to be persuaded about the topic? What should be the main points covered? Once you and your partner have settled some of these issues, you need to divide up responsibilities. Do a quick check for resources as needed–web sites may prove perfect for this task. The University Wellness center, benefits office, or an old textbook may provide all you need to proceed. Develop the speech, taking special care in your introduction. How can you best relate the subject to this audience? Are visual aids appropriate? Flip a coin to decide who will deliver the speech or divide it somehow–make it more like a “presentation”–and each of you can participate in the delivery. We’ll deliver them in class a week from today and then reflect on what we learned.

Guess My Audience: Reflection Questions

  • How did the size of the audience have an impact on the presentation?
  • How did the sex of the audience members have an impact on the presentation?
  • How did the age of the audience members have an impact on the presentation?
  • How did the situation inform you and your classmates about what needed to be done in the presentation?
  • Using this exercise as the basis for your argument, would you say that creating and discovering the content or delivery is more important to a successful speech presentation? Why?

Topic Ideas for "Guess My Audience"

Topic 1

  • Goal: Give a 4 min. informative speech about the three classifications of rocks: Igneous, Sedimentary, and Metamorphic.
  • Audience/Situation: 25 5th grade boys and girls in a traditional classroom; you are a visiting expert and the teacher hopes you’ll pique the interest in science of all the kids, but especially the girls.

Topic 2

  • Goal: Give a 4 min. informative speech about the three classifications of rocks: Igneous, Sedimentary, and Metamorphic.
  • Audience/Situation: 100 Freshmen on the first day of intro to Geology.

Topic 3

  • Goal: Give a 4 min. informative speech about the three classifications of rocks: Igneous, Sedimentary, and Metamorphic.
  • Audience/Situation: This talk is for a "hands on" Science Night at a local elementary school; you can expect to have only 4 or 5 children at a time. The students who ran the table last year said it attracted almost all boys in the second to fourth grades.

Topic 4

  • Goal: Give a 4 min. Persuasive speech about preparing for retirement.
  • Audience/Situation: 20 College students in a traditional classroom setting.

Topic 5

  • Goal: Give a 4 min. Persuasive speech about preparing for retirement.
  • Audience/Situation: 10 couples ages 22-32 gathered for the monthly meeting of the Parents with Young Children support group.

Topic 6

  • Goal: Give a 4 min. Persuasive speech about preparing for retirement.
  • Audience/Situation: Perhaps 10 adults (8 men and 2 women) in their early 60s. The talk is part of a series called “Healthy Choices: Healthy Lives” given at the local hospital.

Topic 7

  • Goal: Give a 4 min. Persuasive speech about preparing for retirement.
  • Audience/Situation: 20 women running small businesses, ages 25-40, at a luncheon meeting sponsored by the local chamber of commerce.

Topic 8

  • Goal: Give a 4 min. Persuasive speech about adopting a regular exercise routine.
  • Audience/Situation: 15 stay-at-home-parents (12 mothers and 3 fathers) who meet weekly for a playgroup for their kids. They hire babysitters to play with the kids while they enjoy an hour of adult interaction.

Topic 9

  • Goal: Give a 4 min. Persuasive speech about adopting a regular exercise routine.
  • Audience/Situation: 16 factory workers (12 men and 4 women ages 35-50) who signed up for a company-sponsored program on improving their health after their annual physicals caused them anxiety.

Topic 10

  • Goal: Give a 4 min. Informative speech about the benefits of a regular exercise program.
  • Audience/Situation: 20 adults (10 men and 10 women) in their early 60s. The talk is part of a series called “Healthy Choices: Healthy Lives” given at the local hospital.

Topic 11

  • Goal: Give a 4 min. Informative speech about what constitutes a healthy diet.
  • Audience/Situation: 50 Kindergarten through 3rd graders meeting in the elementary school library at 9 a.m.

Topic 12

  • Goal: Give a 4 min. Informative speech about what constitutes a healthy diet.
  • Audience/Situation: 30 adults at a local community center. They signed up for the event. The audience is predominantly female and there a significant number of them are vegetarian.

Topic 13

  • Goal: Give a 4 min. Informative speech about what constitutes a healthy diet.
  • Audience/Situation: 30 economically stressed women required to attend the session in order to qualify for the government WIC (Women, Infants and Children) food program. You expect that many of the women will also bring their children to the session.

Topic 14

  • Goal: Give a 4 min. Informative presentation about what constitutes a healthy diet.
  • Audience/Situation: 15 teenage girls between the ages of 13 and 15 at local girl scouts meeting.
Submitted by Amy R. Slagell, aslagell@iastate.edu, for the O-Fair, Feb. 27, 2007

Business Communication (English 302): Style Oral Presentation

MEMO

To: English 302 Students
From: Chris Nelson, Course Lecturer
Date: 11 January, 2007
Subject: Style Oral Presentation Requirements

Style plays a large part in how we communicate with each other. Communication carries many expectations. For example, you expect your teachers to communicate with you in ways that differ from your friends. You most likely communicate with a police officer or public official much differently than you would a family member. So, clearly the style you use to communicate is based upon the nature of your relationship with a person. But, style can be used to cement a strong relationship, as well—especially in writing, where the only thing that gives a strong impression of you as a writer is the “writing on the page” itself.

The Task for the Presentation

Select a partner from this class with whom you will provide a brief oral presentation about an element of style. You and your partner will select a day and a topic from the Style Sign-Up Sheet, and give a presentation on that day. Use the format I used for my own Style Presentation (see the “Using Numbers Effectively in Written Documents handout” to inform and involve your audience.

The Requirements for the Presentation

  • Use A Writer’s Resource as your primary source of information regarding explanations and rules. On your handout, cite the page(s) where you found your information.
  • Provide a copy of the handout to each member of the class. Your handout will:

Explain and define your style topic and its importance to clear writing
Contain an original passage with erroneous usage of your topic
Provide us with an activity where, as a class, we can correct the passage

  • Involve the audience in your presentation, as well as explain the topic. Refrain from simply reading your handout. Rather, use your handout to cover the salient points.
  • Create your handout to be a page in length, or even half a page (make arrangements with me at least 24 hours in advance to cut your document in such cases), as long as it addresses the style topic clearly and completely, and has examples and activities.

The Criteria for Evaluating the Presentation

You will be graded on using words clearly, having a clearly formatted and relevant handout, and coordinating your speaking as a pair so that both people provide relevant information. The challenge of this presentation will be how to make your topic interesting. For pointers, be sure to read Maimon, Peritz, and Yancey’s discussion of your style topic to understand how you might make your topic sensible to the class. (Some style errors, such as dangling modifiers, can be quite funny).

You may not use the examples in your handbook or the text for your own presentation, although you must paraphrase or quote the rules in the handbook (see my example memo). You may use other sources for examples, even those online, but you must cite them in your oral delivery and on your handout (APA Style). Doing so fulfills the expectations of an academic communicator; not doing so constitutes plagiarism. You do not need to format your handout according to memo format, but you should have a clear format that helps the reader read from section to section, and you should also have the course information in the header (i.e., the information in this handout’s header).

This presentation is worth 50 points, or 5% of your course grade.

Submitted by Chris Nelson for the O-Fair, Feb. 27. 2007

Oral Communication Feedback Strategies

General Advice

  1. Start early. Set the expectation that you will talk about student performances together regularly. Be sure to tell them why (it enhances learning!). Also decide early if students have a choice about getting oral feedback on their presentations.
  2. Give instruction on the kinds of comments you hope to get. General tips for asking for and sharing feedback include:
    • Ask for specific responses about specific issues. For speeches, ask about patterns of organization, use of visual aids, attention-getting techniques, use of voice, etc. For feedback about discussion exercises, ask about roles people played, listening skills, or development of ideas.
    • Give students time to think. The typical advice is to count to at least 12 after asking a question. Silence is okay.
    • Encourage the use of “I” language in offering feedback. Students, and teachers, can own their responses by saying “I was able to follow along because . . .” or “I was confused when . . .”
    • Describe rather than accuse: “I didn’t see much eye contact after the introduction” is better than “You weren’t prepared well enough to maintain eye contact.”
    • Ask for responses to the content of the presentation/discussion. Encouraging students to respond to a question such as “what did you learn?” can go a long way toward reminding students that oral communication isn’t about “performing” for others—it’s about communicating with others!

Strategies for Facilitating Oral Feedback Sessions

  1. There are several traditional methods of handling oral feedback on student in-class oral performance.

    Use peer critics to generate initial responses

    • They have written responses at their fingertips so it is fairly easy for them to make a positive comment and a “could work on” comment.
    • Discussion can spin out from these comments—the presenter(s) or other class members can respond to the comments.
    • Can be done immediately after an individual presentation or at the end of a group of presentations.

    Assign oral comment roles before presentations begin

    • In addition to having peer critics creating written responses to the performances you can assign some listeners to the role of offering oral comments.
    • These comments can be shared after an individual presentation or at the end of a group of presentations.
    • Roles can be general or specific. Possibilities include:
      • facilitator of the oral feedback session
      • people assigned to offer suggestions for next time
      • people assigned to offer positive feedback
      • people assigned to ask a content question
      • people assigned to ask a presentation preparation question
  2. There are several innovative methods for providing oral feedback.

    The tag team feedback session

    At the end of the round for the day the instructor gets one “volunteer” to offer a comment about one or more of the speeches. Once the comment is out (and improved or clarified through questions from the instructor or other class members) the volunteer then gets to call on the next person to speak. This strategy spreads the discussion around the room, reinforces names (when they say “that guy” the person has to introduce himself before commenting), and gives a little reward of power to the person who shared something. To overcome the “eye contact avoidance” problem that can occur when people are called on, use a small soft object like a ball that the students toss to the next commentator. Everyone pays careful attention to avoid being hit in the head by the ball.

    The quick oral go-round

    Under tight time constraints, you might wait for oral feedback until the end of the session, and then in the last three minutes of class ask each student to make one comment about the speeches they have heard that day. Comments can be some specific idea or attitude they will take home from one of the speeches/discussions, or something they learned about public speaking/discussion from that day.

    The roaming written feedback form

    This is a take off of the oral go-round. With reticent students you might pass out a sheet of paper for each speaker for the day with the speaker’s name at the top. The page circulates through the room sometimes during and sometimes after each presentation and everyone (except the peer critics) writes a brief comment directly to the speaker. While it is not ideal to have students passing around a sheet of paper during a presentation (better to circulate the sheet at the end), it is wonderful for the speaker have a page of quick comments to take out of the room immediately after the presentation.

    The chalkboard go-round

    An instructor with a particularly reticent class began using this strategy as a way to make written feedback public. At the end of the presentations for the day, every student is asked to go to the chalkboard to write two comments about the presentations. As in the quick oral go-round, comments could be about some specific idea or attitude they would take home from the content of one of the speeches/discussions, or something they learned about public speaking/discussion from that day. The latter may be phrased as a general observation—“good eye contact makes me pay attention”—or as a specific tip that they plan to apply to their own presentations. Once the comments are on the board, as time permits, the instructor can facilitate some discussion out of the comments.

    The small group feedback conversation

    Some instructors have 3–5 students assigned as peer critics for each day’s speakers. In the last ten minutes of class, the critics meet with the speaker and the speaker facilitates his or her own feedback session. Once students are used to this process, they sometimes ask their small group members to look for particular things in their presentations.

Submitted by Amy R. Slagell, Director of the Fundamentals of Public Speaking Program, Iowa State University
Based on strategies by ISU Teaching Assistants Kristen Nanaziashvili, Nancy Anderson, Mark Callison, Sari Fordham, and Kathy Norris

Downloadable Versions of This Document: DOC  PDF

Teaching Electronic Slide Presentations

11/14/2008 - 10:00am
11/14/2008 - 4:30pm

This ISUComm workshop will explore the role of electronic slide presentations in both foundational and advanced communication courses. We'll start by focusing on the PowerPoint debate engaged by Edward Tufte and others. Then we'll take a broad curricular view, sorting out the competencies and learning objectives that best serve students in lower- and upper-level communication classes. We'll continue discussions over lunch (provided by ISUComm) and then in the afternoon share principles and practices—first with a presentation by Debra Satterfield, Associate Professor in Art and Design, on beginning principles of electronic slide design, and then by four doctoral students, Karen Gulbrandsen, Matt Search, Quinn Warnick, and Abhi Rao, who will share pedagogical strategies for teaching oral, written, and visual presentation skills in advanced communication courses. Those just starting out in PowerPoint or those with a specific PowerPoint project are encouraged to sign up for a hands-on practice session beginning at 2:45 in 420 Ross Hall, where tutors can work with you and answer your PowerPoint questions.

Please register for the conference by contacting Deanna Stumbo, ISUComm Foundation Courses Secretary (515-294-3516, isucommregistration@iastate.edu). Indicate if you plan to attend the luncheon and if you want to participate in the hands-on PowerPoint practice session (you may bring a specific PowerPoint project to work on if you wish). There is no charge for the workshop, lunch, or the practice sessions.

Workshop Schedule