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BLATANT OPINION

Teaching Speech

The best way to teach a speech class is to start with all students in quick succession making a thirty-second speech. The best way to learn speech and to get comfortable with it is to experience it. Everyone in class could follow their first 30-second speech with another 30-second speech, or a one minute speech, on and on through the semester, adding a little time to each speech and learning to trust one's mind rather than just read. An instructor can say all that needs to be said in no more than five minutes every hour.

While gaining confidence a student may want to practice enunciation, getting the inside of his mouth around vowels rather than speaking with a frozen jaw and from the front of the mouth. Why? Not because the ancient Greek statesman Demonsthenes practiced oration with pebbles in his mouth. Instead, in order to look other than like a dolt and so that people, especially old guys like me, can better understand what is being said.

People learning to speak should also get into their head the importance of their attitude toward their audience. A speaker should not fear the opinions of an audience. In this life we have to contend with people who dislike us for our opinions. Cowardice is debilitating. And while speaking even to an audience that he knows is hostile, the speaker can put his own hostility on hold for a few minutes. In civil society there is no reason why we cannot offer our adversaries a little courtesy and acknowledgment of their humanity. And there is no reason we cannot speak to any audience of strangers with this same sense beneficence. If the speaker approaches his audience with a genuine lack of resentment or fear or a need to protect his ego, he will have no reason to feel nervous or uncomfortable.

A lot of people feel uncomfortable around people trying to elevate or to protect their ego. A speaker should relax and allow himself the freedom to be less than perfect. In doing so, his audience will feel more comfortable and he will be less inclined to make a fool of himself.

Acting is a performance that is different from speech making. The actor cannot let himself go. The actor strives to create someone whom he is not.

And getting back to learning confidence by making numerous short speeches, all of us are able to learn our subject well enough that we don't have to read it word for word. We should not speak about something that we know so little about that we have to read it. If it is a new subject that takes only two minutes to deliver, the speaker should be able to read it over once or twice, and when he is speaking he should be able to glace at each heading and elaborate on it from what he remembers about it. This is what gaining confidence is about: confidence in one's memory and getting used to the idea of what we as normal people can, without great difficulty, do.

Copyright © 2010-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.