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Oral Communication

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the Catalyst curriculum, students should be able to:

  • Plan, organize, and support ideas and arguments through oral communication.
  • Locate reliable, credible, and trustworthy evidence.To cite sources orally.
  • Deliver a speech confidently and fluently from limited notes.
  • Determine when visual aids are necessary.
  • Prepare and use visual aids appropriately, if necessary.
  • Adapt a persuasive message to a general, diverse audience.
  • Explain complex ideas to non-expert audiences.

FAQs about teaching oral communication

How do I schedule presentations to make sure I have enough time?

First, decide the required length of the speech. I suggest giving students a two-minute "window." In general, one page of double-spaced, typed text is equivalent to two pages. So, an 8-10 minute speech is roughly the same as a 4-5 page paper. Second, add about 5-10 minutes to each maximum speech length. For each 10-minute speech, try to provide at least 15 minutes of actual class time. That time is for not only questions and discussion, but also "set-up" and transition times between speakers. In reality, then, only about three speeches per 50-minute class period is realistic, unless you work hard to limit discussion and ensure that the students do not violate the maximum time limit.

What do I do about "stage-fright" and students who are nervous to speak in front of others?

The most important message to convey is that nervousness is actually normal. Everyone, even the most veteran speakers, athletes and actors, are nervous before performing. The second message to convey is that preparation and practice are the only proven methods to control nervousness. If one is unprepared and did not practice the presentation many times, then one is, justifiably, likely to be quite nervous. In the same way that a coach wouldn't send a team onto the field having never practiced a particular play, a speaker should never "wing it."

Are there any tricks I can teach my students to help them with nervousness?

No, We all have heard some terrible advice about how to "get through" a speech. "Imagine your audience in their underwear." "Look at their foreheads." "Look at a fixed location on the back wall." These are all misguided; worse, they are detrimental to effective oral communication. There are no tricks in public speaking. Only hard work and practice will yield positive results and foster genuine confidence, just like in everything else we do in life.

What do I do if a student doesn't show up to give his/her presentation?

This does happen, and, when it does, it can throw off an entire class's schedule. For this reason, it is incredibly important to have a strict policy -- and to enforce it -- about what happens if students simply ignore due dates. It's one thing to deal with late papers being handed in, but if students don't abide by speaking due dates, the entire class is disrupted in a serious way.

The following are some words of advice only: (1) Don't allow "make-up" speeches unless students have documented emergencies. Stick to it. If you don't, many other students are likely to think that you're not serious about deadlines. Before you know it, you'll have to find time outside of class for presentations, which is incredibly hard to accomplish. (2) Plan ahead by scheduling some "buffer time" into the round of speeches. Build in an extra class period, or half a period, more than you think you'll need in the event that students legitimately miss the original due date.

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