Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A History of the Future of Oral Communication

For the past two years, I taught public speaking to college freshman. The official number for the course was COMS 100, but I always referred to it as COMS 1000.

Why COMS 1000? Simply put, this course could not be contained to three place values. Solid speaking requires critical thought, the ability to relate to others, and a mastering of the present. You may be brilliant, but if you can't effectively communicate your ideas, you're finished. On the flip side, if you can communicate effectively, you can help the person with stale ideas and poor communication skills make way more money than you.

Calling the course COMS 1000 communicated significance, value, and a multidimensional theme that allowed me to work in lesson plans on the crucial issues facing young people today. Issues like time travel, reptilian humanoid invasion, the banana crisis, and the controversial hierarchy of Wu-Tang Clan membership.

COMS 1000 was different like that. Other instructors used famous speeches as examples. I used Snuggie infomercials. Other instructors played Barak Obama audio clips. I performed DMX impersonations. Other instructors had their students practice debate. I tried to hypnotize my class.

Though my hypnosis demonstrations always failed, along with my invisibility and levitation attempts, they are moments that I will always keep in my heart. Sometimes, I sit down with a cup of hot tea and reflect on my days as an educator.

Two Thursdays ago, I thought about the time when I wanted to tell my class that an audience is a living organism. Instead, I said, "An audience is a living orgasm." I played this off by telling them, "No, really. Your audience is like an orgasm. You want to keep them really engaged and excited throughout your speech."

Then I thought about the time when I held up three fingers and asked my students to tell me the three criteria for evaluating the credibility of a source. When they answered "authorship," I put my ring finger down. When they answered "sponsorship," I put my index finger down. When this left me giving my class the finger, I attempted to save face by saying, "At least this isn't as bad as my orgasm."

Teaching COMS 1000 was full of rewards. I can't imagine what would have happened if I had to wake up twice a week to teach a class that had only two zeros in its name.

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