If you’ve walked across Red Square on campus here at UW during finals week you might have seen people giving speeches on a variety of topics, and this last quarter you might have even come across me speaking about the importance of science in our society. These speeches were the culmination of the COM 220 Public Speaking course taught by Matt McGarrity.
I enrolled in this course after being advised by my thesis committee to improve my presentation skills, and while some aspects were helpful for speaking in general, the style of speeches we were making ended up fitting more with my interests with FOSEP than with my scientific work.
The course consisted of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday lectures that went over content like rhetorical techniques and structure as well as viewing examples of speeches. Then Tuesday and Thursday had smaller sections where we would get to apply this instruction to our own speeches. We also had access to the “speaking center” where we could practice our speech with TAs or students who had taken the class before and get feedback and be video taped for viewing at home.
We only had three different speeches with the complexity of the expectations increasing for each one. This limited number of separate talks meant a fair amount of time was spent preparing for each one, which I certainly appreciated and benefited from the opportunity to give the same speech over a period of time and get plenty of feedback.
The first speech was an impromptu speech, where were given two randomly chosen issues and had 6 minutes to prepare a short speech arguing for or against one of these two positions. While the speeches tended to be slightly formulaic in order to be composed in such limited time, it served as a good exercise in learning how to quickly organize my thoughts and layout a coherent argument.
The second speech was a persuasive speech on a topic of our choice – with the restriction that it hard to be some issue that was being considered as a university policy or at one of the levels of government applicable to us and at least some members of our class had to be opposed to our position but open to being convinced. In my case, beginning to read Tomorrow’s Table inspired me to argue against proposed requirements for labeling genetically engineered food products. I found the most difficult part of this was adjusting to shorter time requirements than I’m used to having for a presentation. While this reflected the time constraints of the course, I found it good practice to have to distill a complex topic into a few important points.
The final speech was given on Red Square where we had to advocate for some position, for many people this involved modifying their persuasive speech to appeal to a different type of audience, though I felt like going a little broader – plus it gave me an excuse to plug FOSEP to people who may not have come across us before. This speech was the most different from what I’m used to, and I often found myself needing to remind myself of Randy Olson’s advice to “Don’t Be Such a Scientist”. The outdoor environment also imposed it’s own unique challenges, but it was pretty satisfying to see a few people stop and listen during my speech.
While some of the course material was a little basic (it is an undergrad 200 level course after all) I still got a lot out of the opportunity to spend time being able to focus on my speaking ability and give a different type of talk than a series of slides about my research. Overall I found this course to have been a very worthwhile experience, and would recommend it for those who have an opportunity to take it.