Reading this post from Sarah Knowles got me thinking about public speaking, for two reasons.
Firstly, it’s a really important part of what we do as educators. And secondly, it’s something that a lot of us worry about.
Effective speaking really matters, because it’s the primary communication tool in the classroom. Whether we flip it or not, we need to be able to deliver meaningful content to students, in a form that they can understand, process and then use in their learning.
All of Sarah’s points are good ones, but to them I would add one more: It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.
This is the subtitle of one of the many books about speaking/negotiating that sit on my shelves (and also get used, to be clear). Essentially, it’s just about reminding yourself that all your internal processes and previous experiences are not shared through your communication, until the words and forms that you do actually use. Similarly, those you communicate with will be bringing their own thoughts and experiences to what you say.
The upshot is that you not only have to be clear for yourself, but clear for others.
This sounds a bit like a truism, but it’s actually quite tricky to follow, precisely because you so dominate your thinking. To step outside of yourself and ask what it is that someone else will understand of what you say takes a degree of self-awareness and empathy. You not only need to think about what those other people know, but also how they might feel about the subject.
To take a pertinent example, I’m in the middle of a run of events at other universities, talking about different learning & teaching matters. Sure, I’ve got ideas and opinions about what we’re discussing, but I’m having to moderate that against the context in which we sit. That means thinking about the institutional context (if we’re doing a programme validation), the personalities involved, and the ultimate objective of the exercise. With all that in mind, communication can be better framed to move us all in that direction.
But perhaps it’s easier* to put it this way: you wouldn’t talk the same way to your boss as you would your mates in the pub (probably), just as you know how to talk with your best friend, because you know how they tick. Think about why that is, and then extend it much more widely.
In short, you’re most of the way there.
* – And there I am, trying to think about how you’re reading this [sic]