Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Secondary School Topic: Formal Speech

10-second review: The greatest fear in school--giving a formal speech.

Title: “Thursday Morning.” Emily Auerbach. English Journal (April 1975), 43-46. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: In a short story, a teen-age girl awaits, terrified, her turn to give her speech before an audience that consists of a teacher who uses clichés—“It’s not so bad; we’re all friends here”; “You can start at any time”; “Speak louder and look at your audience more”; “Speak up, or the people in the back won’t be able to hear you”—and uninterested students with no sympathy or empathy for their struggling classmate.

“Lynn collected her note cards and walked back to her seat. Nobody clapped. Mrs. Stanley clapped and looked expectantly at the class. There was a small, unconvincing applause. Lynn sat in her seat and stared straight ahead of her. Her heart thumped and she couldn’t swallow. Mrs. Stanley scribbled something on a piece of paper. ‘Ron, I think you’re next….’ ” p. 46.

Comment: I empathize with Lynn. I was that same terrified (I was going to write “scared,” but that does not describe my feeling) student when I faced the same apathetic audience in my college speech class, a meaningless experience that taught me nothing, with a teacher who could not himself speak effectively. I’ll never forget it.

In the article, Lynn’s speech lacked fire and conviction. Her topic was study skills. The best solution to that problem I found in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People Through Public Speaking. Seems a group of real estate agents in his class said that they were required to give a speech on a topic that they could not care less about. Carnegie counseled them to brainstorm the topic until they reached an idea they really did care about and to make that idea the center piece of the speech. I found that that technique works every time. When you care about what you’re expressing, you can’t miss.

I wrote a chapter on speaking in my book, Teaching English, How To…. (July 2004), in which I suggested how to help students gain confidence when giving a formal speech, when working in groups and when interviewing, particularly job interviews. I will break the chapter into three parts and re-publish it on several successive days. RayS.

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