Work the Crowd
Considering numerous studies have documented that the greatest cause of anxiety in our society is public speaking, schools clearly have to make a concerted effort to help alleviate this concern. Speaking contests, presentations and classroom debates all provide important opportunities for students to develop some competence and confidence in sharing their thoughts. After all, many a great idea has been lost forever, or miscredited, simply because someone didn’t have the confidence to speak up!
During all presentations, the focus is understandably on the presenter, but much more has to be expected, and demanded, of classroom audiences than simply respectful, more likely indifferent, silence.
Ideally, other students will be genuinely interested in what their peer has to share, but that wish is, in fact, ideal. In reality, audience members typically have little or no expectation of enlightenment, enjoyment, or genuine engagement. Unlike the crowds at movies and theatrical performances, who pay significant sums for the privilege of passivity, student audiences must be encouraged, and expected, to be actively involved. Student audiences must be held accountable for the new learning generated by the given presentation. As such, they will require clear expectations governing their responsibilities prior to, during, and after a classmate’s presentation.
In addition to being active listeners, they deserve opportunities to provide feedback to the presenters and probe for clarifications and additional information. They need to routinely experience both the verification of understanding, and the validation of being understood.
The focus of some audience members will, in fact, be driven by personal passion, but teachers must ensure the attentiveness of all students is driven by practical purpose. The bottom line is even when they are not the ones driving a given presentation, students cannot be allowed to simply, and passively, go along for the ride.