5.27.2018

The Live Audience in Online Public Speaking Courses: One More Try



After reading the varied posts, I’m convinced we (as an academic discipline) don’t have any evidence for the claims that a live audience is either effective or necessary in online public speaking courses. 

Although instructors noted how they handled this issue of a live audience, no one produced any evidence. In fact, I don’t know of any research showing that assembling 6 or more people and presenting a speech to them will improve someone’s public speaking skills more than will delivering it to a camera. If there is evidence, beyond the anecdotal, I’d much appreciate learning about it.

Some people report that there is inherent value in presenting a speech to a live audience. This may well be true (though I’m not sure) but perhaps an online public speaking course is not the place for it. We cannot provide students with experience in every type of public speaking situation. After all, the live audience that the speaker recruits is unlike any audience he or she will ever meet again. So, we are not really providing experience in facing a live (and realistic) audience.

Perhaps the online public speaking course should be focused on online public speaking—webinars, podcasts, videos on YouTube. Public speaking does not depend—for its definition or its existence—on a live audience. That’s just the way it has been for centuries; technology has changed that.

At least one person expressed the need to keep the online and the live classes as similar as possible. To this I would ask: Why? Why not two courses, each of which addresses a somewhat unique (but largely overlapping) set of learning outcomes.

In terms of education and training, perhaps we should focus on what each context does best—the online public speaking course for online speaking, the traditional classroom for live speaking. Even here, however, there is room for choice—the online class student could also give a speech to a live audience and the traditional class student could also give an online presentation. The key here, I think, is student choice, not requirement. Most students I’ve met, know what learning experiences will be helpful to them in life.

There seem conflicting views on the difficulties involved in requiring a live audience. Some seem to shrug it off as if it’s of no consequence while others acknowledge the dislike that students have for the requirement. My own feeling is that the difficulties are a great deal more than most instructors realize. I suggest asking your online students some simple questions like: How much time is involved in recruiting, assembling, and disassembling an audience? Are obligations to audience members incurred as a result of this requirement? Is this a good use of your time? Was it worth it?

I think the answers will be eye-openers and I think you’ll also find that requiring such a live audience—made up as it is of friends and family--adds to the already negative view that students have of public speaking (as well as to their level of communication apprehension). Why compound this with requirements that have not been shown to be effective or necessary? Why complexify a student’s life without evidence that the requirements are essential to the learning of public speaking? Why make public speaking a dreaded chore with needless hurdles rather than a course that students enjoy as well as profit from?

It seems reasonable to assume that most students allot their time among their varied courses, giving some courses more time and others less.  Similarly, each assignment is likely to be allotted a certain block of time—sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. If this assumption is even partially true, then the time spent on recruiting a live audience (and the subsequent obligations)—all of which have nothing to do with public speaking--is time taken away from the research, construction, and rehearsal of the actual speech. I’m not sure this is time well spent.

In short, a live audience for online public speaking courses has not been shown to be effective or necessary to the learning of public speaking skills; it adds unnecessary hurdles, increases apprehension, and likely intensifies the negative view that many have of public speaking; and it takes time away from those activities that are directly related to public speaking.

And, it needs to be added, there are other more efficient and probably more effective ways of teaching the student to face an audience, whether live or online. For example, having the student construct a speech with a specific audience in mind (perhaps for listeners who are opposed to the thesis or favorable or lacking in knowledge or uninterested in the topic or college athletes or gun control advocates or police recruits or engineers—the list is limitless)—as I suggested in my previous post—would, it seems, help the student learn how to address different (but realistic) audiences in a more efficient and more enjoyable way.


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