Teaching Public Speaking Online: Part One

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Last summer, when I was promoted to the head of our Public Speaking courses and fearless leader of our instructional team, I took on an enormous task: revamping our online course.  This was my first order of business because the online course had devolved into a complete mess for a number of reasons.  When I saw the state of affairs online, and when I read angry/frustrated/hateful student critiques and emails, I was alarmed and immediately sprang into action.

My first goal was to ditch the worthless online platform we’d ordered from a textbook publishing company.  I’ve spoken about this before on the blog, but the entire platform was like “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”  Nothing worked, and nothing could be fixed.  Students couldn’t use the platform.  If students tried to use it, items would take hours to load or would simply disappear.  The publishing company talked in circles and had its best salespeople offer us training after training filled with doublespeak.  As you may have guessed, all the training in the world won’t solve a malfunctioning platform, so after a lot of pushing and fighting from me, we got rid of the whole shebang.

The second order of business was to create a unified course under one university-approved syllabus.  A huge problem our team faced was lack of leadership.  In one year, two leaders had come and gone, and in the process, no one was using a syllabus (!) and each teacher was doing his or her own thing.  While this allowed for a lot of growth and innovation, some students were really pissed.  Emails and critiques would ask why one online class was so easy and why one was so difficult.  Additionally, without a syllabus, the online courses were a free for all.  Courses were not being designed with standard learning outcomes and an appropriate, common Public Speaking Online workload in mind.  After I fought to get rid of the terrible online platform, I fought to create a common syllabus that balanced all of the online classes existing at once.

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The third and final issue was and still is the biggest: how does a student actually learn public speaking online?  While some classes are more intuitive for the online environment, public speaking and presenting seems like a tough fit.

I started by creating a video explanation of “public speaking” for my students to help them see how presentations have shifted and changed.  I focused on the difference between the “Latin style” and the “modern style” so that students had a basis for understanding why the course COULD be taught, learned, and implemented online.  In addition to the video, I provided my students with links to a variety of resources I labeled “21st Century Public Speaking and Presentation.”  These resources included “Every Presentation Ever,” a short interview with Nancy Duarte on how/why presentations are broken, Garr Reynolds’ TEDx Talk on 21st century presentations, and Phil Waknell’s “Secrets For Delivering A Great Presentation.”  My goal was to expose my students to the material but then for them to chew on that material a bit during the first week of the course.  The Week One assignments allowed for the chewing to take place.

The very first assignment in the course was a “21st Century Presenting” discussion board post and response post.  Each student was tasked with answering questions about the material above: What is the difference between the Latin style and the modern style of public speaking?  How can we study and implement online presentations?  What is your definition of 21st century presenting based on your lessons?  What mistakes did you watch in “Every Presentation Ever” that you’ve made in the past?  What, specifically, do you want to implement in your own speeches after watching Reynolds’ and Waknell’s speeches?

The second assignment was the first video presentation of the course.  With a goal of practicing online presentation execution and delivery for the first time, the content of the speech was easy but tied back to those same resources listed above.  I asked each student to introduce him/herself, to identify one personal presentation problem, to set three public speaking goals to work on during the course, to talk about a plan of action to achieve those goals, and then – importantly – to discuss the professional execution of the video.  Students have a difficult time with execution (lighting, camera placement, background, noises, attire), so having them talk me through that execution has done wonders for the quality of presentation videos.

Week One was successful.  Students are getting it, and they express excitement (mixed with nerves, of course) about moving forward.

The course has been rebuilt, but it certainly isn’t perfect, and I have one nagging concern.  As you may know from reading a few previous blog posts on the subject, my goal is to find us a new textbook.  Our current book is absolutely ridiculous.  I re-read it several times while revamping the online course, and I hate it more with every turn of the page.  Luckily, my colleague Phil Waknell contacted me this week to brainstorm a possible solution.  More on that in the future…

Up next, in “Teaching Public Speaking Online: Part Two,” I discuss the additional curriculum changes and updates to the online course including GoTo Training sessions; Google+ Hangouts meetings; video presentations and live presentations; video feedback; and more.

Do you teach public speaking and presentation classes online?  How do you make them work for your students?

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5 thoughts on “Teaching Public Speaking Online: Part One

  1. Hi Alex – what a comprehensive process you are building for teaching public speaking online. Fascinating to read and sounds an exciting project. I haven’t yet done any coaching online but love to teach and develop people to high levels of ability in pubic speaking and presentations. Great to connect and I will be very interested to see how it develops. Great post.

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