An Interview with Course co-ordinator Dr Julie Shearer. THEA234 – Speaking in Public was set up by Professor Adrian Kiernander. Now it is run by Doctor Julie Shearer. I took this unit last year and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to improve not only their confidence and ability in public speaking, but also their confidence in everyday vocal practice. —Alana
What is the primary aim of the unit?
The unit was set up deliberately as an interdisciplinary unit, and I suppose it’s like a service unit. It addresses a need for students in tertiary education. Lots and lots of people find it scary to speak in public, and yet more and more they’re being expected to have those kinds of skills: to be able to communicate with clients, or students, or their customers, or even their colleagues.
We also teach the kind of communication skills that are more commonly taught at university level in writing: how to express an idea convincingly, how to argue persuasively. So the skills you develop in the unit, you can also use when you’re writing essays, and in other forums.
Recently I was asked to teach sessions on speaking in public, into the research summer school, and a lot of those students are going to be postgrads, or are postgrads, and very often you could have got to the level of PhD and not ever really had a lot of practice delivering complex ideas orally to a crowd, to a public. So, yeah, that’s how it originated: it addressed a need.
What were the reasons for starting the unit?
It was an idea that had its time. There was an emphasis on the under-valued or under-looked skill of public speaking. We have a rhetoric unit, in Comms, which is more looking at it as a written form—the structure of argument, if you like. And so [THEA234] was more about presentation skills, about voice, and body. And also online: it’s fully online at the moment and we use Adobe Connect so that the students can deliver their speeches virtually ‘live’. So that’s something we’re developing, but also, we ask our on-campus students to do that audio-visual presentation of their final speech, because being able to communicate using contemporary technologies is also really important. Because the way we think of ‘public’, now—it’s not just people in a room, there is the wider public that is now available to people on the internet.
What individual topics can students expect to learn that will work together to teach them how to be a better public speaker?
In terms of their own individual assessment, it’s very wide. And we deliberately keep it so, and students often will choose to speak from their field, so, you know, if you’re a law student you can speak about law, issues, something that interests you in what you’re studying, in politics, or in nursing, or animal science, or teaching: so it’s very broad. If you’re an on-campus student, the seminar topics are all designed to address issues related to public speaking. So sometimes that’s about how you structure an argument, it could be about using PowerPoint, it’s about body language and how you engage with an audience, thinking of it as a conversation, as a two-way thing. And, again, that’s kind of reflected if you’re an off-campus student in the forum discussions, which are guided discussions designed to follow the chapters of the book and read and digest that sort of information and discuss it.
Is there anything extra that you’d like to say about the unit, maybe anything to convince people who are considering taking it?
For me, I just think it’s a really fundamental skill. You know, sometimes people ask “What did you learn at university?” and you could have been studying anything—sociology, animal science, arts, theatre—and while you are obviously absorbing information and skills about all sorts of things, what you are at the end is a university graduate. You have certain graduate skills, and they include being able to look things up in the library, and being able to communicate complex ideas effectively. And in a written form that’s certainly something that we assess and test, but more and more, being able to communicate effectively—verbally and to a crowd—and being confident enough to stand up and have your say. And also the skills of listening: developing the skills of intelligent, critical listening. I think these are really valuable graduate skills, and that’s what the unit’s designed for.
There are lots and lots of people, I think, for whom this is a skill that they could certainly do with developing.
Plans are in motion to offer THEA234 at the Parramatta Campus.
If you are interested in THEA234, or would like to know more about it, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org