Every one of the 3,500-plus students graduating from Austin’s St. Edward’s University is required to take Comm 1317, Presentational Speaking—every student. Why? The University believes that a person with a college education should be able to apply that knowledge verbally.
Some will speak as a part of their profession—teachers, priests, and marketers, but also a biochemist will most likely make a presentation to his peers at some point too. The audience might be two or three on a conference room or it might be two thousand in an auditorium.
Preparing to teach Comm 1317 these past few weeks, I’ve come to see that the course could be considered “Broadcast Journalism for Non-Journalism Majors”. To be effective, the same principles apply.
It starts with the audience? Who will hear your message? Know your audience. TV stations do audience research all of the time. Who’s watching? What do they want?
Rising from that research comes the story idea or topic. Every reporter and every student must come to the table with an idea. The idea becomes the thesis of the report.
Once approved, the idea is researched. All possible points of view are in play, making sure the message is factual. It requires critical thinking.
The facts are analyzed and organized. Some may actually create an outline to stay on topic and maintain the flow of the story or presentation.
Then, the words should fall on the page almost naturally. If the student or the reporter, however, uses bad grammar or poor pronunciation, all of the work done before is wasted time. The presenter will have lost all credibility with the audience.
The style should be conversational, not stilted. Fragments are fine. Eye contact with the audience, whether it is a camera lens or actual eyes, is essential.
For beginners and seasoned journalists alike, practice or rehearsal is important. I’ve paced back and forth before a live shot looking at notes and reaching for the right words, saying sentences over and over.
Finally, after all of this preparation comes the presentation, or in broadcast journalism it is the “package” or live shot. The presenter must have presence, using all talents and tools available including audio and video. It’s about selling the story, selling the speech. It can’t be a dull recitation, or you will have lost your audience. They will have gone to sleep in the conference room or turned to another channel in TV.
Certainly, there are other subjects covered in Comm 1317, but that is the gist of it. I’m even going to include a session on talking to the media in my syllabus. There will also be poetry. Poetry is to be read aloud, but you don’t hear much poetry on TV. I love poetry. Good poetry.
The fall semester starts in less than three weeks. Some of my students graduating in December may have put off taking Comm 1317 until now. The thought of standing and delivering makes their knees weak. They’ll get over that. In all cases the audience really wants you to succeed. Nobody wants to see a TV reporter melt down during a live shot either.
When I was in undergraduate school, I was required to take two courses in religion, chapel, and swimming. Yes, swimming. I guess Baylor didn’t want its graduates to die by drowning and go to hell!
I’m confident that St. Edward’s feels the same, but by requiring “Presentational Speech”, the University wants to ensure that their graduates can share what they’ve learned. Perhaps that’s one reason why they’re on the U.S. News and Forbes lists of top Universities in the nation.
© Jim McNabb, 2010