My college students are obsessed about getting A’s in their classes. In this pursuit, they have all the subtlety of a 250-pound running back slamming into the line of scrimmage on a third-and-one plunge.
The students sure have the art of studying for exams down to a science–especially, well, the science students!
But I require my students to do something more than spit out fact after fact in my classes. I demand that they also stand in front of the classroom and deliver a presentation. Nothing too elaborate, mind you. I give them the guideline of five minutes per student.
When I announce this requirement, hammering home that The Dreaded Presentation counts for 10 percent of their course grade–just enough to turn an A into a B if ignored–you could hear their groans. Let’s just say I’d not be voted Most Popular Professor at that moment. So be it.
I earnestly tell the kids that I am NOT trying to hurt or persecute them. I fervently believe that the ability to speak well out loud is the most crucial skill they can have to achieve success. I remind them about how important this is toward doing well in a job interview or a special social situation.
I’m not sure they believe me, though. They don’t engage as much in speaking as a form of communication as previous generations did.
Blame it on the proliferation of cell phones that they cling to. Blame it on all this texting that has replaced speaking as a favored form of communicating. Blame it on the cursed social media. And the stress that COVID-19 has brought in general has made things even worse.
Public speaking, in any setting, is bound to be challenging and stressful. I hear nervous laughter when I tell the classes that there was once a poll asking people what they were most afraid of. Death came in second. What came in first? You guessed it: public speaking!
It’s a funny thing. The students who are initially most freaked out about doing the presentation are typically the best at the task. Last year, I had two exchange students from China in one of my freshmen classes. They were very self-conscious about their English-speaking skills and tended to shy away from participating in classroom discussions.
So, when it was their turn to speak in front of the classroom, I silently rooted hard for them to do well, knowing how daunting this assignment was for them. They were sensational! In fact, when their time was up, I thanked them.
To my surprise, they shooed me away and kept going. I was thrilled for them! After another ten minutes, I again thanked them and they again shooed me off. Finally, I had to ask them to leave the stage because we had plenty of other students scheduled to do their talks. Their classmates gave them a thunderous ovation.
I encourage my fellow professors to require public speaking in applicable situations. The students benefit from this work. And that’s really the name of the game.