With the presidential debate season officially underway after Monday evening’s event at Hofstra University, public speaking and debate are in the forefront of more and more mainstream conversations. Embracing the spirit of convergence, I sat and watched the debate unfold across three screens: the TV on which I watched the debate, my phone where my Facebook News Feed was overrun with opinions, articles, and memes of the event (Hillary’s sassy shoulder shake later inspired this amazing gif), and my computer where I followed the NPR fact checker.
Throughout the evening, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the ubiquity, not only of discussions of the event in general, but specifically of the conversation of the art of debate and of public speaking that surrounded it. What makes an individual “the winner” of the debate? Who decides the rules of public speaking in such a forum, and what happens when one of the participants throws all the rules out the window? What level of preparation can and should be expected of those given the chance to participate in such an important tradition?
In reading and participating in several such conversations, I couldn’t help but think what an amazing opportunity this series of debates will be for students studying public speaking this semester. They will see that public speaking is vitally important, not just as an assignment in a class they need to pass to graduate, but as a life skill that can help them succeed in school and beyond. They can analyze, in real time, modern public discourse, and have conversations with their friends about these events. They can predict, and later reflect upon, what effect these debates will have on the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The possibilities are endless.
How are you incorporating the presidential debates in to your public speaking classes this semester?