Teaching Oral Communication
Goals of Oral Communication Instruction
The goals of instruction and practice in oral communication are to help students understand the variables and dynamics of different speaking situations, to develop their ability to make appropriate decisions about communication goals and strategies and to develop their ability to achieve those goals through communication behaviors that are both effective and ethical.
As a result of their experience in oral communication activities, Hamilton College students should improve their performance of the following oral communication skills:
- Choosing an appropriate topic, text, or body of information for public presentation
- Designing a spoken message for unity, clarity, coherence, and effect
- Explaining ideas and concepts clearly
- Creating appropriate arguments through critical analysis of topic and audience
- Using evidence and reasoning to support claims
- Citing research sources appropriately
- Designing and using audiovisual aids effectively
- Managing nervousness associated with speaking in groups or before an audience
- Using language with clarity, accuracy, and ease (fluency)
- Using voice and body to engage audience attention and convey meaning (speaking clearly, reducing vocal and verbal “fillers” and distracting mannerisms, making eye contact, using voice and gesture interestingly and meaningfully, etc.)
- Adjusting content, language and presentation methods to the immediate audience or to others engaged in the discourse (as in a group discussion)
- Listening courteously and critically
- Asking questions that are clear and appropriate to the situation
- Acting ethically vis-à-vis communication goals and strategies, use of information, use of language and treatment of other persons
Note that few of the skills identified above are purely expressive. Almost all oral communication skills require critical thinking and decision-making about matters of content, structure, language, co-participant and audience.
Not all of the above skills need be addressed by every assignment. Many activities are available that are both useful in teaching course content and productive in developing oral communication skills. Below are listed some of these activities.
- Reports on class readings, activities, current events
- Reports of laboratory, field or library research
- Reviews of literature
- Proposals for research or other projects
- Reflections on course subject matter (e.g., applications, critiques, comparison and contrast)
- Debates on course-related issues
- Small group or panel discussions of course concepts, issues, readings, etc.
- Oral exams
- Mock trials (e.g., of historical figures or characters in literature)
- Mock legislative hearings
- Role plays, scenes, or skits
- Oral reading
- Podcasts, radio broadcasts and the like
- Poster presentations in which students present the what, how, why of their projects and respond to audience questions
Evaluating Oral Communication Performance
Like writing, oral communication is typically evaluated on content and expression. Content refers to the ideas presented, their development and their organization. Expression comprises both style and delivery, style referring to the use of language and linguistic devices and delivery to the use of voice and body in communicating the content. One final factor cuts across both content and expression: audience adaptation, which has to do with the appropriateness and effectiveness of the message for its intended audience. Appropriateness is generally thought of as the degree to which a message suits the immediate setting and circumstances as well as the listeners’ demographics, beliefs, values and existing knowledge of the topic. Appropriateness also implies that the speaker bears important ethical responsibilities with respect to the goals, the content and the presentation of the message.
In developing assessment tools, professors using oral communication activities should be guided by these general considerations. More detailed criteria should be developed to fit the particular goals of each assignment.