Teaching as an adjunct can be a lot of fun. It is also challenging. As I have encountered a number of situations, I realize such a blog can be helpful, both to me and to others.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Campaign Speeches And Persuasive Speaking

As the political season winds down, so will by entries about the presidential race. Fortunately (at least for me) I still have a couple of political entries left. I found it interesting that John McCain said Barak O’bama will say anything to get elected. It seems to be that it has been McCain who has adopted that philosophy.

There are certainly issues that McCain could use against O’Bama, legitimate issues. McCain even references some of them on occasion. For instance, during the last debate, McCain talked about how when O’Bama was the underdog in the Democratic primaries, he was all in favor of campaign contribution reform, he was going to talk with McCain and set limits and follow certain guidelines. O’Bama did not do that.

This is an issue John McCain should be all over. “Can we trust him? He doesn’t stick to his own words and ideas”. McCain should continue to point out how once O’Bama became the candidate of the party, he changed. Instead, what do we get? We get Sarah Palin talking about William Ayers and how O’Bama pals around with terrorist.

I will soon be discussing persuasive speeches with my classes and a lot can be learned from this campaign season. Making charges without backing them up, continuing to say things until you find what sticks and constantly changing your position are all not good ideas when it comes to public speaking. I think my students will understand these concepts better simply due to the fact that I can reference the campaign.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What Was The Assignment?

During my last public speaking class session (the one I held before I took off the last day for the Jewish Holidays), I discussed small groups and group presentations. I explained that small groups usually come together to address a problem in society. They do not like the way something is being done and they examine the problems and possible solutions, ultimately coming up with a recommendation. I even explained that sometimes the group may decide that, despite not liking the way things are currently being done, it might decide that the current solution is, in fact, the best alternative.

The assignment I gave to the class, to be completed on the session that I would not be there, was to break themselves into 4 small groups, pick a topic (something they thought was wrong in society that needed changing) and begin researching the topic. I got a call from one of my students on the day this assignment was supposed to be done, the day I was taking off for the holiday. A message explained that the students did not know what they were supposed to do so they were just skipping class that day.

I come back to what I said in yesterday’s post. If they would actually stop talking for a moment and listen, they would have known what the assignment was. If I was not clear, questions should have been asked in class and they should have had a clear understanding of what they needed to do in my absence. I keep hoping that once they get their grades on the first graded assignment, I can start reining some of them in as they will start to realize that their constant talking and lack of attention actually has an impact on their grades. Time will tell.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Shut Up And Listen

When I was in Junior High, I remember a teacher asking me and my classmates a series of questions. Upon learning that no one knew the answers, he told us to put our books away as he was giving us a surprise quiz. One of my classmates told him, “If we do not know the information, you should not give us a quiz, you should explain it to us”.

For years, that comment made a lot of sense to me. I have tried to remember it when I teach. If the students’ don’t know something, it may be the way I taught the information and I should try to explain it again. For the most part that philosophy has served me well. This semester, however, I am running into a slight problem.

I have one class that talks and is very loud. I can teach from the back of the room, stand right next to the people who are talking, glare, give dirty looks, ask people to leave, it does not matter, they keep talking. When I try to get some discussions going, I sometimes hear one of the students say something like, “I’m so lost. What does this have to do with public speaking?”

Normally, upon hearing a comment like that, I would look to re-explain the importance and significance of the topic I am discussing. The problem is, I do not know whether they do not understand the information because I am not clear or because they are not listening.

I think back to my Junior High teacher and the situation that occurred and ask myself now, “Did we truly not understand the information or were we just not paying attention”. I can understand and see the value now in giving a pop quiz when you think the class was not listening. Still, I choose to err on the side of caution. I would not want to give a quiz in such a situation since it could be my fault. Still, it would be nice if the students in this one class would occasionally shut up and listen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Learning Something New

I enjoy learning new information and learning how to do things. Perhaps this is why I enjoy the demonstration speeches more than any other given by my students. As indicated in a previous entry, it is important to follow proper public speaking procedures and it is important to create a strong introduction.

Another aspect that is important to a good demonstration speech is, you need to be demonstrating something that the majority of people cannot do, or haven’t learned how to do. After all, a demonstration speech is supposed to teach us something new. I tell my students (and I have included this in previous bog posts), a demonstration speech about how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is not a strong speech since most of us know how to do it (and those of us who don’t can probably figure it out without any help).

On the other hand, last semester I had a student who gave a demonstration speech about how to create a website. While it might have been difficult to get all the information in during the allowed time, I give this student a lot of credit for trying to do it. I also learned a very important lesson—if I am going to develop a website or having website hosting, I think I will leave it in the hands of the professionals. Sites like WebHostingRating.Com has all sorts of awards and articles and you can see the ratings of the top sites. Yes, if I need to develop a website, even though I have learned some of the essentials from my student, I’m leaving it in the hands of the professionals.

Talking Outside Of The Classroom

Keeping up with the demonstration theme, one thing I think most students never consider is giving a demonstration speech outside of the classroom. I always tell my students that if they have a speech that needs to be delivered from a different location, that is fine. This is a throwback to years ago when a student who worked on the student paper wanted to bring us into the newspaper office to show us how the paper gets put together. I told her, as long as she could get in, and we could get there in a responsible amount of time, it was fine.

Since that time, I have had some students give demonstration speeches from the parking lot, the cafeteria, and the lobby of a building where a microwave was located. The advantage of giving a speech out of the classroom is, you can put yourself in the proper setting. So, if a student is giving a speech about changing a tire, it can be done outside in the parking lot.

The disadvantage is you are no longer in a structured environment, there is not lectern and you have to deal with background noise (and maybe a few strange looks from people passing by). Still, I think mot students never consider giving a speech outside the classroom and it is worth thinking about.

A Powerful Demonstration Speech

In one of my classes we are coming up on the demonstration speeches. It is interesting to me how, every year, people forget some of the rules of informative speeches when it comes to demonstration speeches. For instance they think rather than using a creative introduction to capture the attention of the audience, they can just say “Today I’m going to demonstrate how to…”.

Another mistake that students often make is thinking a demonstration speech can contain no information beyond how to demonstrate the process. I tell students that these speeches should also contain new information. So, if a student is demonstrating new techniques when it comes to cataract surgery, it is appropriate to issue factual statements such as, “This is the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness, effecting millions each year” or “People can have cataracts and not even know it”. It is even appropriate to tell us there is a way for the elderly community to be able to possibly get the process done for free. Of course any such statements need to be accurate.

It is these types of techniques that lead to a more powerful demonstration speech.

Monday, October 20, 2008


The past few weeks have been a little difficult. While I enjoy the Jewish Holidays that fall during this time of year, it is exhausting. Mainly, it is exhausting because you cannot get into any routine. My classes have been in full swing and I needed to take one session off, then I am in for the next two sessions, then I am out for the next session, then I’m back in for one class and finally, tomorrow I will be out for the last of the days I need to take off for the holidays.

Based on the requirements where I teach, I certainly have assignments for the students to do while I am not there. There must be a certain number of hours each semester dedicate to course material so I need to make sure I do not just give them the day off. Sometimes I feel like I am just giving them busy work (only because I am). Other times, I feel I am allowing students to make maximum use of their time but I doubt if they do. For instance, in one of my classes we are coming up to demonstration speeches while another one of my classes will soon be starting the informative speeches. One of the days I gave them out of class time to work on the speeches.

Personally I hope the students take advantage of this time and actually work on putting the speech together. A number of students wait until the last minute to put a speech together and it gets frustrating. They think, due to internet access, they can wait until the last minute to research and write the speech. As for practicing it, that is another matter entirely that they don’t even consider (despite warnings from the instructor).

Of course procrastination is nothing new. I am not suggesting it is starting with my classes. What bothers me the most (and I do not know if this is a new phenomena or not) is the way students have convinced themselves they do a better job if they wait until the last minute. I am glad I did not wait to the last minute when planning the course and considering what I would need to do to take off the Jewish Holidays.

Up next, stay tuned for some posts about demonstration speeches.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Halloween Costumes

In one of my classes, we are moving into demonstration speeches. It is always interesting when these speeches occur close to Halloween. I always get some speeches about carving Jack-O-Lanterns or how to properly engage in other customs and rituals affiliated with this day. It is also interesting to see what new information I learn about Halloween. Last year I learned the myth about Jack outsmarting the Devil and how we ended up with a Jack-O-Lantern.

This year, I wonder if I will learn about how costumes originated and became part of the festivities. Certainly that is a major part of Halloween. And nowadays, the holiday, costumes and all, is not just for kids. How many adults plan to dress up? I often get some who come in costume to class. I have even been known to come to class wearing Halloween Costumes.

So what costume fits your personality? An angel or a devil perhaps? A superhero or a supervillian? I have worn them all before but perhaps the most interesting costume I ever wore was when I dressed up as a gorilla. Maybe, just maybe, when my students come into class this Halloween, they will be taught by a gorilla. After all, while gorillas can be dangerous, from all I have read, they tend to be gentle. That is the way I like to think of myself; gentle but capable of being someone to watch out for.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Campaign Stategy

It’s time for another look at politics and how it ties in to my public speaking class. Recently, Sarah Palin has gone on the attack with claims that O’Bama pals around with terrorists and then some toned down comments. I find the comments to be inappropriate. Moreover, there is little doubt in my mind that the attacks are actually that o McCain and his strategists and not those of Sarah Palin.

I see the attacks as the last act of a desperate man. The attacks signal a change in strategy and as for as I am concerned, indicate that McCain is now more interested in winning the election than in the principles he so dearly claims to represent. Both candidates had stayed away from such tactics (remember O’Bama’s reaction when it came out that Palin’s oldest daughter, an unmarried 17 year old was pregnant? He refused to useit and told his people to back off). McCain claims to be a maverick, is willing to buck party principals for his own beliefs, but not when it comes to winning an election. I think that it is going to cost McCain in the long run and while he may end up getting some undecided votes, I think he will lose more. Again, that is the way I see it.

I am sure that most McCain supporters will claim that Palin’s comments are fair game. They are accurate and people need to be made aware, they will claim. The fact that O’Bama and his people do not like them simply shows how accurate these claims are and that they have hit a nerve. In the end, it will end up bringing more voters to support McCain-Palin than the few they might lose. Again, that is how I see McCain supporters viewing the comments.

I tell my students that when you give a speech, everyone sees it and hears it slightly differently. What one member of the audience likes another one will dislike. While one member might think you spoke too loud, there will be someone else who will claim you did not speak loud enough. In politics, obviously a lot of how you view something has to do with whom you are supporting. However, what about the undecideds? I am sure that they all don’t see such changes in strategy the same way and the challenge for politicians is to decide what changes ultimately bring them more voters.

I am curious to see how tonight’s debate goes. With the problems concerning the economy and the market and with the changes in tactics, along with the town hall style of debating, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. Like the politicians, I am interested in how it impacts the undecided voters. I will be using the information for class.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Biden-Palin And Ethos, Pathos And Logos

I will soon be discussing the topic of persuasive speeches with my students and I will be talking about Ethos, Pathos and Logos. The terms were first used by Aristotle. According to Aristotle, the most important of the three was ethos, credibility. He argued that each time you spoke, you needed to reestablish your credibility, there was no carry over.

In today’s society, certainly we look at the carryover. As the debate between Sarah Palin and John McCain started last night, expectations were based on previous performance. The credibility, or lack thereof, these two built up previously certainly had an effect on how we viewed them during the debate. Aristotle would disagree saying we should act as though we are hearing them for the first time each time they speak.

Certainly one thing which does occur with credibility is it waxes and wanes. Speakers can do and say things that at times will increase his/her credibility and at times decrease it. What were those moments for you during the debate?

In today’s society we tend to give the most credence to pathos, the emotional appeal. It would be nice to say that we are most interested in the logical appeal but I do not believe that to be the case. We are told (or we teach students) that emotional appeals are effective but they need to be backed up with logic. In theory that sounds great; in reality I am not sure it is true. We do things and get people to do things, based more on “guilt trips” than any other approach.

I found that there was a fascinating part in yesterday’s debate that dealt with an emotional appeal. Towards the end of the debate when Joe Biden choked up and said he resented the implication that a single father is not concerned with raising his children, that it was not just Sarah Palin who could talk to those issues but he could as well, I was a little surprised. I never felt there was even the hint of a suggestion he was uncaring when it came to his children, or children in general. Maybe I was just tired but I thought he was looking for a way to slip them in to make an emotional appeal and it really did not fit where he put it, he made it fit. He planned to use the line and it was just a matter of when and where.

As unacceptable as I found his comment, I found Sarah Palin’s response even more shocking. “Senator, no one is suggesting you are not a caring father and you should be respected for what you needed to do to help your children. That does not change the fact, however, that your policies, the policies of Barak O’Bama are dangerous for children,” would have been one way to respond. “Joe, I apologize if you think I was implying that you do not do a great job with your kids. You deserve a lot of credit for the job you have done with your kids. The question, however is…,” and continue from there.

Palin responded by simply talking about John McCain as a maverick. I thought the timing of that answer was terrible. She looked completely unsympathetic to the difficulties that Biden needed to handle. I thought she lost points for that. The emotional appeal she needed to have was not there.

Looking at debates is an excellent way of examining ethos, pathos and logos and I look forward to the remaining debates to see how they manage to get worked into my lectures.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Leave A Message

I have a policy of giving my students my home number and my cell phone number. This way they cannot claim they were unable to reach me if a situation occurs and keeps them from getting to class (especially if the student is supposed to give a speech). Most of the time, however, if there is a number I do not recognize on my cell phone, I let it go to Voice Mail. I really do not want to be distracted from what I am doing at that time. Sometimes a message is not left. I have found Phone Lookup Investigator to be very helpful in such cases. This way I can find out if it is someone I need to callback or if I can just ignore it. Still, I would prefer if they simply left a message.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Playing By My Own Rules

Sometimes we have the opportunity to lead by example. Sometimes, others might not even recognize what we are doing but at least we have the opportunity to please ourselves. With the way the Jewish Holidays fall this year, I will be missing a number of classes for the semester.

One thing which this means is, in order to make sure I hear all the informative speeches, I will be cramming them into two days instead of my normal three. This is going to make it tougher on me in terms of staying focused, critiquing speeches and typing up responses and getting them back to students in a timely manner.

I frequently tell my students that I list on the syllabus all the public speaking dates. Even if something comes up, they have enough notice to get the speech done. I too live by those words. Something has come up, me missing a few classes, and I have to own up. Even if it means staying up late or making other sacrifices, I have to make sure I do what I need to so the students all get speeches in and so I evaluate, critique and grade them fairly and quickly.