Online Presentations and the Future of Public Speaking

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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SC_CH3_SpeakerMicrophone-01_V3.jpgA smartly dressed speaker stands at the front of an auditorium, next to (but not behind!) a podium, grasping a microphone firmly in hand.

We all know the scene. Most of us have been that person at the front of the auditorium at least once. No matter how much we cringe at it, public speaking is deeply engrained in our culture. We all do it. It’s a cornerstone of the Western rhetorical tradition, going back to Plato and Aristotle.

It’s also changing—and changing rapidly.

According to current data from our editorial reviews and marketing surveys, online and “hybrid” courses—courses that have both an online and a face-to-face component—now account for about 20% of all entry-level Public Speaking courses in the United States. It's impossible to overstate how significant that number is. Public Speaking is a media-hungry course. More and more instructors are adopting online assessment, especially speech outlining and video commenting tools. The online and hybrid percentage in this course has nowhere to go but up.

In some ways, the Public Speaking course seems particularly ill-suited to the demands of online and hybrid courses. After all, how can a person learn to speak effectively in public when they’re not actually in public? How can a speaker who talks into a laptop camera in her dorm room hope to deliver a speech as impactful as the grandly gesturing podium speaker?

Yet despite its apparent limitations, online speaking actually offers several key advantages over face-to-face speaking. It gives the student more options. They can deliver either synchronous (i.e., real-time) or asynchronous (i.e., recorded) speeches. The synchronous method is closer to the traditional face-to-face auditorium setting: the student delivers her speech and streams it to her classmates and instructor online. She can address questions and comments from classmates and from the instructor in real-time, just as she would in a physical classroom.

Asynchronous presentations provide greater scheduling flexibility, since not all classmates need to be online at the same time. The student simply records a video of his speech and uploads it to the course site, where classmates and the instructor later add comments and feedback. But this flexibility comes at the price of real-time, back-and-forth communication—a heavy cost, as most instructors consider two-sided communication to be crucial to the public speaking course. That's why many “online” Public Speaking courses still require students to visit campus and deliver speeches to a physical audience once or twice in the semester (see this course at Rochester Community and Technical College for just one example). And of course, 80% of Public Speaking courses are still taught entirely face-to-face.

Still, no one can deny the big changes that are taking place in this course. For publishers, these changes are both a challenge and an opportunity, as we pivot to offer new tools for the evolving course. Our Video Tools (available in all Public Speaking LaunchPads) are an important part of the answer, and I’m excited to see what other changes are coming in the next few years.

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