Presentation skills or the ability to get up in front of an audience and sell your ideas is a critical piece to educational leadership training. The ability to use anecdotes and stories as major "pins" during longer speeches is a fundamental skill. And, it's one that untrained presenters often miss. Your audience or class is able to retain the information you present much longer when it's encapsulated by a meaningful story.
Teaching this skill can be a larger task -- particularly when you need to give students individual attention to hone their skills and provide feedback.
Learn to be succinct
The speeches for this activity are timed. Three to five minutes is the maximum amount given for each person in the class. The amount of time can vary depending on the number of people but keep it short. The goal here is to not only teach public speaking but also to get people used to keeping things short and to the point. Remember, the adult attention span is right around 10 minutes. If your speech is too long, much of it will be lost to the listener.
One of the pitfalls of newer speakers is that they think that the more they say, the better -- this doesn't prove true in most cases. People will most remember the peak part and the ending of your speech. This is called the Peak-End Rule. The ability to create these mini-segments that can stand on their own and can also be used to build larger speeches is key.
Using the 3-minute format
When doing the 3-minute speech practice, have students respond to the speech or question prompt using the outline below:
1. Tell your personal story, relate pertinent facts, or cite a research study example
2. Say what that story, facts, or research study actually means -- don't assume your audience will make the proper connection
3. Close with your opinion statement or relate what action should be taken based on the story and meaning just shared. Draw the conclusion you want the audience to reach about the story.
For example, let's use the question prompt, "Tell me one time you've failed and it all worked out for the best." Walking through the outline, I would (1) tell the story of the time I failed, (2) say what it means -- It means that not every project I take on will always succeed and things will be okay anyway -- and (3) say the action or takeaway advice for myself -- I learned that a big part of life is persistence.
People remember stories longer than facts alone
Using this method also starts teaching the students that stories and examples are better for audience knowledge retention than simply just stating opinions or giving advice all on it's own. People remember stories and retain what you are saying longer because of them. There is a reason Jesus spoke in parables and using this method starts getting students to go to the story first and to think in terms of relating to their audience through example rather than simple advice giving.
The format is also clever because it delays judgment. Often when we just state our opinion first, people shut down to the rest of what we are saying if they disagree with that initial statement. By using this format we are saving our actual opinion until the end. This ensures the listener isn't shutting down and will continue to listen to us until the conclusion is reached. We are much more likely to be heard using this often seen as reversed format.
Selecting the prompts
Like the example above, I like using tougher job interview questions for speaking prompts because they lend themselves to this format of speaking. They are also nice to use because it gets people practicing their responses to interview questions.
Using the public-speaking rubric
I love rubrics. Anything that can make public speaking teaching less subjective and more objective is a good thing. If you download the rubric below, you can see it is still pretty open to subjectivity. I don't introduce the rubric right away when teaching presentation skills but rubrics can be a great way to help students evaluate their own and the other students' speeches in the class. It can also provide prompts during the correction phase or teaching this skill.
Taking the time for guidance (and, yes, correction)
At the end of their speech, the student stays at the front of the room. To give feedback, walk through the process below:
1. "How do you feel about the presentation you just gave? What would you change or improve?" Ask the student to self-correct or provide self-feedback first and foremost. You are looking to see if they already know what they need to work on. This is how you know if they are integrating what they are learning. If you just leap first to telling them what you saw, you will not be training them to self-evaluate and make changes on their own.
2. "What do you think I would say about the speech you just gave?" If the student doesn't see through self-evaluation what they need to work on, asking them to flip and see their speech through your eyes can often help them shift enough to see what needs work.
3. Give direct feedback. After these first two opportunities for self-correction, pick one or two things you see that the student needs to work on for the next time. Be sure not to over-correct. Pick and choose the most important pieces you see that need work and have the student focus on just those pieces. Often times, providing too much correction can split the focus and keep the student from learning any one thing well.
This activity is one I often use at the start of an educational leadership series. It gets students up and moving and can set a great collaborative tone at the start of a session.
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