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The Moth: A Method To Improve Students Speaking Skills

The Moth: A Method To Improve Students Speaking Skills
The Moth is an example of an opportunity to gain public speaking skills, valuable in the workforce but untouched by the average degree program. Photo by Brian.

Since about 2000 I have been associated with the global organization Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) that promotes students’ engagement in the communities for betterment of our lives. SIFE is appealing since it invites all the willing teams to come, first, to their regional competitions, where each team in about twenty-five minutes has to impress judges (usually sponsoring firms’ upper level management) with the team’s projects, but also with the quality of vocal and visual presentations.

In my opinion, it seemed that an impressive and powerful presentation was a very important factor in moving onwards to a next round and ultimately to the National Championships. Great performing teams from a variety of schools have well spoken students who are experts in public speaking. These students spoke eloquently, their voices projected well , they had great  body language, eye contact, great arms/hand motions, etc…After one of these great presentations, that particular team’s faculty advisor had told me that obviously some of his students were “born” as great speakers, but they still spent hours and hours rehearsing and practicing.  This particular group even hired a theater professor to teach them stage movements and composure.

My whole life I have always enjoyed listening to people telling stories. About two years ago I was exposed to Moth. What is The Moth? Moth is a popular venue in cities like New York and Los Angeles, where people from all walks of life get up on stage and tell a story, without any devices or reading. Stories can be of any content. They can be humorous, sad, imaginary, realistic or of any other genre. They last for about five minutes. Stories are told to an audience and in some cases, judged (Grand Slams) and winners are announced. Once I heard about The Moth, I realized that I can start it in my classes with objective to improve students’ public speaking skills.

In each of my classes I announce The Moth as a chance to earn up to 3% points bonus toward the next test. Each student is required to come in front of the class and tell the class a story. Usually, the first time we do it, students can choose their own topic and later in a semester I either announce a topic prior to class, or, to make it really demanding, announce a topic once the student is in front of a class. Grading varies from only me deciding on a bonus from 0% to 3% points to the whole class placing a grade like a ballot vote and then I average all the numbers. The grade is based on the following points: the quality of vocal presentation, eye contact, body language, the topic discussed and mainly the level of confidence the student has while telling the story.

I have noticed that the larger the class, the less volunteers stand forward in each class. It seems that students are not comfortable to speak to large audience. Actually, some have a pure case of glossophobia (the fear of public speaking) and regardless of the size of the bonus, they will not talk.  The closer to their test time, more volunteers are willing to give it a try and get bonus points. It usually starts with one brave student mustering enough courage to “break the ice,” and then others follow.  Incentives are amazing. Students prefer to choose their own topic and believe that their peers will evaluate them higher than faculty. Overall, they do enjoy the experience and a chance to tell others their story (experience).

Finally, as a faculty I realized that the age difference can play a large part in what I think is a good topic/speech and what the class thinks. Some stories that were honestly very uninteresting to me, received very eager attention and loud applause upon completion. Therefore, class reaction plays a role in my grade decision. After all, they are talking to their larger audience, their peers, not a single older faculty.

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