The night before final speech day always gives me the same excitement that I used to feel when I was little girl on Christmas Eve. I’m giddy because the next morning is filled with potential. I wake up early, often after no sleep, and rush to work. I get to class early and prepare the room… a room full of students ready to share their ideas with me and with their fellow classmates. Earlier in the week, I’ve conferenced with each individual student to make sure his or her content is spot on. While I can’t catch everything, I do work out quite a few kinks in speech content so that both the student and I feel confident about the overall message.
But between our last class and presentation day, sometimes, students falter in the area of preparation and practice. Inevitably, I see bad speeches that were, in theory and on paper, really good.
What happens between my meeting with each student and the actual presentation? I’ve narrowed down the top five biggest speech day mistakes I see month after month in my college classroom…
1. First, students procrastinate, don’t gauge their time well, and don’t put in enough preparation in the last few days. It’s easy to consider a presentation “high stakes,” but it’s not easy to put in the work. Television, movies, social media, and friends pull students in one direction; temptation to slack off and to “have fun” often trumps schoolwork. In the other direction are other classes and work, family and responsibility. These obligations that tie or beat the class presentation are important and often take up quite a bit of time. Whether the student is doing something worthwhile or partying too much, in the last few days before a presentation, many students struggle to put the right amount of time and effort in.
2. Students don’t practice. At all. They create content, develop slides, and don’t practice delivering the message a single time. These students reserve delivery for speech day itself, which is, of course, a mistake. It’s certainly awkward to rehearse a presentation by yourself or in front of others, but overcoming a few minutes of awkward beats bad speech day delivery anytime. While there is no magic number for the amount of times a person should practice his or her speech, it’s safe to say that “more than once” is a good number.
3. Students let their nerves triumph over their excitement or passion for a presentation topic. A presentation situation elicits anxiety for many people – even with preparation and practice. Occasionally, I see a student allow his or her nerves about presenting dwarf his or her excitement/passion to speak. When that lizard brain takes over, it’s often hard to fight it back.
4. Students spend too much time on one leg of the presentation stool and don’t distribute their time evenly on content, visuals, and delivery. For example, in class, we spend a huge amount of time on developing strong, engaging, audience-centered presentation content. We do this because my hope is that if a student sees and experiences the hours it takes to create solid content, he or she will spend an equal amount of time developing slides and rehearsing delivery. This is not always the case. Also, in many cases, the time I give students to work on content is spent on Facebook.
5. Students “wing it.” I tell my students on the first day of class that they should never wing a presentation. I tell them they especially can’t wing a presentation in my class. I tell them how many presentations I’ve seen and how many students crash and burn when trying to wing it, but some knuckle-headed students refuse to listen. When I hear a student say they plan to “wing it” on speech day, or when I see a student “wing it,” I don’t feel empathy or pity. I feel like my time has been stolen from me, and I feel like the student’s time should be spent repeating my class.
What speech day mistakes would you add to this list?