Why I Require Public Speaking in My College Classroom

A college teacher who lives in Stuyvesant Town and returned to his alma mater SUNY Stony Brook to teach classes, gives some insight on his view that requiring public speaking in his classroom carries benefits far beyond the course.

| 02 Feb 2023 | 12:10

My college students are obsessed about getting A’s in their classes. In this pursuit, they have all the subtlety of a 250-pound running back slamming into the line of scrimmage on a third-and-one plunge.

The students sure have the art of studying for exams down to a science–especially, well, the science students!

But I require my students to do something more than spit out fact after fact in my classes. I demand that they also stand in front of the classroom and deliver a presentation. Nothing too elaborate, mind you. I give them the guideline of five minutes per student.

When I announce this requirement, hammering home that The Dreaded Presentation counts for 10 percent of their course grade–just enough to turn an A into a B if ignored–you could hear their groans. Let’s just say I’d not be voted Most Popular Professor at that moment. So be it.

I earnestly tell the kids that I am NOT trying to hurt or persecute them. I fervently believe that the ability to speak well out loud is the most crucial skill they can have to achieve success. I remind them about how important this is toward doing well in a job interview or a special social situation.

I’m not sure they believe me, though. They don’t engage as much in speaking as a form of communication as previous generations did.

Blame it on the proliferation of cell phones that they cling to. Blame it on all this texting that has replaced speaking as a favored form of communicating. Blame it on the cursed social media. And the stress that COVID-19 has brought in general has made things even worse.

Public speaking, in any setting, is bound to be challenging and stressful. I hear nervous laughter when I tell the classes that there was once a poll asking people what they were most afraid of. Death came in second. What came in first? You guessed it: public speaking!

It’s a funny thing. The students who are initially most freaked out about doing the presentation are typically the best at the task. Last year, I had two exchange students from China in one of my freshmen classes. They were very self-conscious about their English-speaking skills and tended to shy away from participating in classroom discussions.

So, when it was their turn to speak in front of the classroom, I silently rooted hard for them to do well, knowing how daunting this assignment was for them. They were sensational! In fact, when their time was up, I thanked them.

To my surprise, they shooed me away and kept going. I was thrilled for them! After another ten minutes, I again thanked them and they again shooed me off. Finally, I had to ask them to leave the stage because we had plenty of other students scheduled to do their talks. Their classmates gave them a thunderous ovation.

I encourage my fellow professors to require public speaking in applicable situations. The students benefit from this work. And that’s really the name of the game.