What I shared in my public speaking class

Linkin Park – Hands Held High
Travis McCoy ft. Bruno Mars – Billionaire
Eminem – Not Afraid
Woodie Guthrie – This Land is My Land
Flobots – Handlebars
Wiz Khalifa ft 2 Chainz – We Own It
William Shakespeare – Sonnet 116
Anne Lamott – Graduation Speech
Anne Lamott – Bird by Bird
David Foster Wallace – This is Water
William Shakespeare – Quality of Mercy speech
Winston Churchill – Lift Up Your Hearts speech
Shel Silverstein – End of The Giving Tree
Prayer of St Francis
President Barack Obama – Yes We Can speech
Mandarin’s speech – Iron Man 3
Liam Nelson’s Taken speech
John McPhee – Annals of a Former World
Pete Seeger – Power and Glory
Orson Scott Card – Speech from Enders Game
Doctor Who – Pandorica speech
Herman Melville – Opening of Moby Dick
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Season 7 speech
Jed Bartlet – West Wing speech
Leo McGarry – West Wing speech
Jed Bartlet – West Wing speech
Josh Lyman – West Wing speech
Eminem – Love the Way You Lie
William Wallace – Braveheart speech
Sojouner Truth – And Ain’t I a Woman? speech
M – Speech before parliament from Skyfall
President Whitmore – Independence Day speech
Welcome to Night Vale speech
Sarah Kay – If I should have a daughter

When they walked in the room, the long conference table was checkered with half-folded pieces of printer paper. Inside them, speeches. During my class in public speaking today, each student would read 3 speeches, randomly selected. With each speech they would try to apply lessons I’d just covered in a 15 – 20 minute lesson.

First I covered Preparation. I talked about knowing the context for speaking, the context of the words themselves, the tone, the space. Then I made them stand, turn their backs on each other, and all read at the same time from the randomly speech they’d found before them. There was lots of nervous giggling.

Then they sat. I talked about Practice. About breath and breath-markings. About knowing your flaws, your bad habits, and trying to help yourself around them in as kind-minded a way as possible. I had them write their next speech in long hand, and then stand and deliver it to each other in chorus. They each stood on one foot, to get their bodies out of their usual tensions.

Then they sat. I went into my piece on Presenting. I talked about clothes and eye-contact and warming up to a room. We went through some fears–How do I talk extemporaneously without “um”ing myself back into adolescence?–and then we stood again, and each read that third speech once more. We all stood and listened, to show solidarity. Most people were silent and the room filled with strong individual voices.

Then we were done.

I drew on a lifetime of my mother‘s lessons on public speaking, on my decade of classical singing, on being a ham and being in communications and loving to teach people.

The core of this class are the 34  speeches I handed out, which you can see at the top, each of which take about 30 seconds. They range from Shakespeare to Wiz Khalifa, from The West Wing to Iron Man 3. When I pulled this list together, I set out to select non-classical speech texts. I didn’t want to act like good speaking begins and ends with old-rich-white-men, whether of the Roman Senator, Elizabethan Poet, or American Presidential variety. I wanted my students to have as good a chance as possible of seeing themselves not only in the words, but the context in which they were formed.

Tonight I did a demographic analysis, coding each of the speeches I’d pulled from my personal favorites and a few informal friend-surveys. I did better than certain University of Toronto professors, but I’d like to do better. Here were my results:

Demographics survey of speaking roles

My take-away is that I wasn’t as diverse as I’d hoped, but it wasn’t as old-rich-white-man-ish as my selection could have been. It was subversive, yes. Subversive of the moment, the power involved in the situation where I stood up and made them stand with me. I undercut my own traditional authority and tried to earn a better one. I tried to do moments of our pop culture the honor of treating them as the foundations they are. And I didn’t quite get the mix I was going for, the America where nearly 40% of people are people of color. I didn’t quite get there.

I have work to do for next time. Maybe less West Wing and more Hillary Clinton, less Eminem and more Angel Haze:

If you have any favorite 30 second speeches, particularly by women and people of color, share them in the comments.

Methodology notes:

Gender: I coded gender by who gave the speech. For truly non-gendered or multi-gendered pieces like the Prayer of St. Francis or the piece of dialog from The Giving Tree I gave credit for including 2 genders.

Age: I coded this for speaker’s age/the age they represent. For example, while Marshall Mathers is 42 this year, I think his subject-matter is younger than his calendar age.

Class: I focused on representation here. The members of Linkin Park are by no-means working class–one time they personally donated 1.5x the average American’s income–but they use a distinctly working class lens in this song about the Afghanistan war and its affects on a family.

Race: I coded this by the ethnicity of the speaker. It’s worth noting that all but one of the speakers I coded as people of color were African American. The outlier was Sarah Kay, whose TEDTalk “If I should have a daughter” is wonderful. Cecile Baldwin got credit for both, because there’s no canon to draw on.

Inspirational Quote:

“Voyager, in case it’s ever encountered by extra-terrestrials, is carrying photos of life on Earth, greetings in 55 languages and a collection of music from Gregorian chants to Chuck Berry. Including “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground” by ’20s bluesman Blind Willie Johnson, whose stepmother blinded him when he was seven by throwing lye in is his eyes after his father had beat her for being with another man. He died, penniless, of pneumonia after sleeping bundled in wet newspapers in the ruins of his house that burned down. But his music just left the solar system.”–The West Wing

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