Monday, April 19, 2010

Harvard Students Want to Learn How to Speak

Last week, the Harvard Crimson reported that "Harvard Speaks!," a public speaking student group lobbied the administration to make public speaking a core component of the Harvard curriculum:

"The College has sought to increase public speaking resources on campus and has even created a speech tutor program, but students are still calling for more opportunities to enhance their public speaking skills.

Members of “Harvard Speaks,” a campaign launched by students Tuesday night, hope to demonstrate to administrators the importance of public speaking as a life skill and the consequent need for more public speaking opportunities on campus.

“Whether it’s [speaking] with a law professor, in consulting, or in advocacy, the skills you take away from public speaking will help you communicate your message,” said Kevin Y. Fan ’13, the founder of the campaign, which has already collected over 100 student signatures on a petition calling for more public speaking resources."

And from the Harvard Speaks! Facebook page:

Harvard Speaks! seeks to revitalize Harvard’s hallmark - oratorical excellence. By making an investment in rhetoric, Harvard ensures that tomorrow’s leaders are well-equipped to think critically and communicate effectively.

That such a student group exists at Harvard indicates to me a realization of a basic truth about communication:

You can attend the top university in the country. You can graduate with honors, and go on to become a master in your chosen profession.

But this does not necessarily mean you know to speak well. The ability to communicate a message and connect with an audience is a learned skill - and something which everyone can get better at - regardless of your knowledge of your particular field.

And this is a perfect skill to begin to learn in high school and college - before you build your career and your ability to speak in public is already assumed.


Anonymous said...

These Harvard kids warm the cockles of my heart. Imagine --they're asking for something that will actually improve their education!
Especially in these difficult economic times, a public speaking curriculum should be seen not as an academic frill but rather as a vital element in preparing sutdents for the arduous career challenges ahead.

Evgenya Shkolnik said...

Prof. R.H. Anholt, author of "Dazzle 'em with Style", advocates for a two-semester course in oral scientific presentation. I completely agree. However, if I were Prof. Anholt, I would have picked a title to his book that isn't embarrassing to read on the plane. But that's a marketing issue.

Anholt also says that one should not keep his/her hands in his/her pants pocket while speaking. I like having a hand in my pocket. A senior female scientist passed this tip on to young women since keeping ones hands in a pocket can give an air of dominance in the room and keeps one fidgeting with one's hands. What is your opinion about this?

Sarah Gershman said...

I'll keep that title in mind when I sit down to write my first book! :)

For the most part, I agree with Prof. Anholt. Putting your hand/s in your pocket may communicate that you are hiding something - while also appearing too casual. That being said, there is no hard and fast rule, and some folks can pull it off.

Thanks for reading and commenting, Evgenya!