Monday, May 27, 2013

Analyzing Nonverbal Skills & Public Speaking

It seems like forever since I have posted a blog about something I've tried in the classroom, so today I thought I'd post an activity I used last week with my sophomores.

Our last unit of the year was public speaking. They had just completed and handed in persuasive essays (I really need to do some blogs about the writing process in my room), and they were going to be presenting these topics as speeches to the class, complete with visual aid.

We had discussed some nonverbal skills and practiced them ourselves (things like eye contact, using hand gestures appropriately, speaking rate, etc.), so I thought it would be interesting to have them analyze and vote on the effectiveness of a few different public speakers. This is also one of the standards we have to do for Common Core next year (analyzing a speech), so it would be easy to carry over and do again next year (though I will no longer be teaching sophomores next year).

I gave them a WS that had a chart on it with about 9 different things to watch for and analyze: eye contact, hand gestures, speaking rate, volume, relating topic to audience, etc. They had to jot down notes in each category for each speech, and then when we watched all 3 excerpts, they had to rank the speeches/speakers 1 to 3, from most effective to least.

I chose three different clips that had vastly different speakers, delivery styles, and messages. Each of these was well over an hour or so long, and I only showed about 8:00 of each one.

The first was Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) talking about creative genius. This was the least favorite of my students and they unanimously voted her least effective. I still think I would use it again because her very quick (possibly too quick) speaking style nicely contrasted Obama in the next selection who some would argue speaks too slowly.

The next was Obama's Inaugural Address from 2009.

And finally was The Last Lecture from Randy Pausch. My students LOVED this one. (If you are totally unfamiliar, Randy gave this speech with a few months left to live, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer). I wish I had time to show them the whole thing because the message is really cool as well.

So we watched all of these, they filled out the charts and then explained and defended their choices for #1, 2, 3. Like I said, Elizabeth Gilbert was unanimously #3 for them. But half chose Obama as the best speaker and half chose Randy. It was interesting listening to their reasons for each, and both sides had good points.

Then we practiced their speeches in pairs, and I told them to focus on using the delivery techniques of the speakers we just watched. Overall I really liked this activity (and liked it even more now that I have a Smart Board to use. Holla!) I would use it again and possibly spend a couple days doing it, so I could bring in more examples and/or show longer excerpts of each.


  1. I love this lesson. I'm definitely bookmarking it!

  2. Would you mind sharing the worksheet chart with me? I teach public speaking - this will be the 3rd year - but I often feel less adept than in my core content area.