February 13, 2012

To Improve Students’ Public Speaking Skills, Use The Moth

By: in Effective Teaching Strategies

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Since about 2000 I have been associated with the global organization Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) that promotes student engagement in communities for the betterment of our lives. SIFE is appealing because it invites teams to come, first, to their regional competitions, where each team has 25 minutes to impress judges (usually sponsoring firms’ upper-level management) with the team’s projects, but also with the quality of vocal and visual presentations.

In my opinion, it seemed that an impressive and powerful presentation was a very important factor in moving onwards to the next round and ultimately to the National Championships. Great performing teams from a variety of schools have well spoken students who are experts in public speaking. These students spoke eloquently, their voices projected well , they had great body language, made good eye contact, and gestured appropriately. After one of these great presentations, that particular team’s faculty advisor had told me that obviously some of his students were “born” as great speakers, but they still spent hours and hours rehearsing and practicing. This particular group even hired a theater professor to teach them stage movements and composure.

My whole life I have always enjoyed listening to people telling stories. About two years ago I was exposed to The Moth. What is The Moth? The Moth is a popular venue in cities like New York and Los Angeles, where people from all walks of life get up on stage and tell a story, without any devices, scripts or other materials. Stories can be of any content. They can be humorous, sad, imaginary, realistic or of any other genre, and last for about five minutes. Stories are told to an audience and in some cases, judged (Grand Slams) and winners are announced. Once I heard about The Moth, I realized that I can use it in my classes to help students improve their public speaking skills.

In each of my classes I announce The Moth as a chance to earn up to 3% bonus points toward the next test. To earn the points, the student is required to come in front of the class and tell a story. Usually, the first time we do it, students can choose their own topic and later in a semester I either announce a topic prior to class, or, to make it really demanding, announce a topic once the student is in front of a class. Grading varies from only me deciding on a bonus from 0% to 3% points, to the whole class submitting a grade like a ballot vote and then I average all the numbers. The grade is based on the following points: the quality of vocal presentation, eye contact, body language, the topic discussed and the level of confidence the student has while telling the story.

Typically the larger the class, the fewer volunteers come forward. Many students are not comfortable speaking to a large audience, and some have a case of glossophobia (the fear of public speaking) and, regardless of the size of the class or the bonus, they will not talk.

However, as we get closer to exam time, more volunteers are willing to give it a try and get bonus points. It usually starts with one brave student mustering enough courage to “break the ice,” and then others follow. Incentives are amazing. Students prefer to choose their own topic and believe that their peers will evaluate them higher than faculty. Overall, they do enjoy the experience and a chance to tell others their story.

Finally, as a faculty member I realized that the age difference can play a large part in what I think is a good topic/speech and what the class thinks. Some stories that were honestly very uninteresting to me, received very eager attention and loud applause upon completion. Therefore, class reaction plays a role in my grade decision. After all, they are talking to their larger audience, their peers, not just one (older) professor.

Dr. Miren Ivankovic is an associate professor of economics and finance at Anderson University.

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Comments

@speakinginfront | February 14, 2012

Sounds like a great work. I haven't heard about The Moth so thanks for that.
If you are teaching public speaking it maybe worth thinking about blank faces.
As a speaker if we are not careful we carry on using normal conversational skills when we are speaking to a group.
When you have a standard conversation – you normally get nods, smiles, agreements back from the listener however when we speak to a group ALL that changes. All you see is blank faces.
So we start speaking to blank faces and they don't usually smile (at least not very often) or nod their heads (some people will but again not a lot) so we are left struggling with critical thoughts about our performance. But blank faces are normal in audience – they are just listening faces.
so encourage your students NOT to read people's faces when you speak publicly because your brain will mostly interpret any sign as negative. It takes some exercises to get people's heads around this and thats what I teach.
Of course there is more to getting your head around public speaking but when I teach public speaking this is the point that helps a lot of people. I have more information on the blank faces on my website http://www.speaking-infront.co.uk/
thanks for allowing me to post
cheers
John Dawson

Vickie Pitts | February 17, 2012

I think this is a fantastic idea!

Cathy Downes | February 20, 2012

Like the idea, but why is it called "The Moth"?????

Public Speaking Kids | February 22, 2012

This is a very effective technique. We advise our parents and teachers to do the same but in a less formal situation – i.e. get kids to stand up in front of family or friends and recite a poem or short speech. Works great.

Sonia | April 2, 2014

I'll try it with my students!!! thanks in advance


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