Dr. Shane Gunderson’s (Florida International University) “Dimensions of Public Speaking” Builds Student Confidence

If you say you’re a good public speaker, and you believe it, and work towards it, you can get there, even in small bits. – Dr. Shane Gunderson, Florida International University

Dr. Shane GundersonDr. Shane Gunderson is an Adjunct Professor of Communication Arts at Florida International University, and the author of Connect For Education’s Dimensions of Public Speaking webtext. Dr. Gunderson has been teaching Public Speaking for over 10 years at three different universities. Dimensions of Public Speaking provides an in-depth approach to teaching students how to develop core public speaking competencies. It adds to traditional communication syllabi by exploring speech scenarios relevant to professional communication in a host of different workplace contexts. Dr. Gunderson is mindful of student fears, and has developed assignments that not only help to build student confidence, but that enable them to collaborate with and learn from the examples of other students.

C4E: What were your main sources/ influences for Dimensions of Public Speaking?

SG: I have used some of the best textbooks in the past, such as Judy Pearson’s Human Communication, Stephen Lucas’s The Art of Public Speaking, and Joseph DeVito’s The Essential Elements of Public Speaking. While these books helped to inform the way that I teach, for Dimensions of Public Speaking, I added some creative chapters.

C4E: How does your webtext improve upon these books?

SG: Each book has strengths. The most important ideas they offer is the breakdown of a speech into organization, content, and delivery. These are the core concepts that the NCA (National Communication Association) has deemed students need to learn in public speaking. I built these ideas into Dimensions of Public Speaking, but I have expanded upon them.

For example, there’s one chapter about how to use humor in public speaking. We have a chapter about public speaking in politics and for community engagement. There’s another chapter on crisis management, which is very important for people in professional communication positions. There’s also a chapter on compliance communication in the workplace, which is an idea that I got from the Judy Pearson book. By compliance, I mean that supervisors in the workplace need to have a set of skills surrounding compliance in order to manage and encourage employees.

There are so many disciplines that can improve their communication skills by using this webtext. I designed templates for individuals within the medical professions, such as nurses, who need to know how to speak publicly about patient reports.  There are also templates for engineers and scientists. At FIU, there are business majors who really need to know how to present business plans to investors, and how to plan for crisis management.

Students will become better organized, will learn to present their ideas in a sequence, and will be better researchers.

Dimensions of Public Speaking includes lessons and speech assignments that are traditionally taught all over the country in public speaking courses. These are informative, persuasive, special occasion (a toast or eulogy), and narrative speeches. I went into incredible detail about how to meet your goals, and I qualify what are good main ideas and purpose statements for each kind of speech. I even went into all of the sequences for professional speeches that students might have to give.

There’s a chapter on how to use humor in speeches. I encourage students to be self-deprecating, but to never ridicule. In the chapter on storytelling, there’s a really great lesson on how to use Aesop’s fables. This is a place where I encourage them to use hand gestures a lot more. I teach students that they should touch their chest when they say “I” or “me.” I emphasize that they should always speak with their palms open and facing up, because this signals friendliness to listeners.

My chapter on ethics has more material on the importance of free speech, and goes into some of the important legal cases. Communication students should have some knowledge of the law.

C4E: What are your favorite assignments to use from the book – both for communication and non-communication majors?

SG: My favorite activities are face-to-face activities. They’re actually in the book. I like to challenge students to give a one minute impromptu speech from a grab bag, and they can’t say, “um,” “uh,” or “like.” Very few students can get through one minute. There’s another assignment where they have to read an Aesop’s fable using hand gestures and facial expressions. If they’re a lion, or a peacock, they have to have the same posture that a lion or peacock does. If they’re a mouse, they have the same voice that a mouse does. This helps them learn vocal variety, and the reinforcing gestures that go with the message. This is usually done as an icebreaker in the course, so that students have fun and enjoy practicing gestures and vocal variety.

Students that are taking public speaking need to cast aside the negative thoughts they have developed about their communication skills.

I also put a “diary” assignment into the webtext. The “diary assignment” is a self assessment. They’ll go into the hallway, after they’ve given their speech, and speak into their phone, and record what they’re feeling. This goes with speech anxiety and apprehension, and the different levels of nervousness they experience. Before the speech, there’s a fear of uncertainty, and speaking to strangers. Once you’ve given a speech, the people in the room are no longer strangers. You’ll see them week after week, and usually the nervousness goes down. As far as the uncertainty, we ask students to go to the room before hand to make sure that the powerpoint and the slide projector is working. If they see what the room looks like, their uncertainty will be resolved.

C4E: Having a metacognitive idea of the process certainly helps to calm students! That’s very thoughtful of you. What have been your favorite teaching experiences?

SG: Some of my favorite teaching experiences involve getting the students to debate a state budget. I have them sit in a mock legislature, and I teach them Robert’s Rules of Order. I love to see them learn how to use motions. I love it when it becomes competitive, when they’re trying to win the vote on the appropriation of money. They make a lot of speeches about about the importance of education funding, and this is where I see the lightbulbs go on. It’s great to see someone who has been quiet and non-participative become competitive and want to debate their classmates around the importance of education, or maybe the funding of law enforcement.

C4E: Who have your most influential teachers been?

SG: At USF as an undergraduate, I took an oral interpretation course with Dr. Downs. This course taught me how to take risks, and how to behave in the moment, like actors and actresses. My gestures, my voice, my face, have to have some emotions that the audience will feel.

C4E: What are your favorite video examples to use from YouTube?

SG: Here’s my philosophy on what videos to show students, and when you should show them. If you bring in new students, and you show them Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream,” speech at the beginning of the semester,  and tell them that they have to give a speech just like this, you will scare them. Many of us dream of speaking as well as Martin Luther King. So, I believe in showing students examples of other students giving speeches, with lots of strengths and lots of weaknesses. I show them TED videos, and I stress that TED speakers should be their models. This is a reasonable expectation. In this webtext, we include videos of one of the award-winning students in the United States. He delivers a bad version and good version of the same speech. Maybe after doing a few speeches on their own, you can show students some of the most important speeches, so they’ll understand the history of public speaking. But never show them an example of a professional speaker and say, “You should be able to give a motivational speech just like this.”

It’s great to see someone who has been quiet and non-participative become competitive.

Within each unit, or page of the online course, there are some great videos, like Ellen DeGeneresgiving the 2009 graduation speech at Tulane. In the chapter on politics, you can see the famous 1988 vice presidential debate between Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen, where  Bentsen tells Quayle, “You’re no Jack Kennedy.”

C4E: There’s so many great fictional characters on television now giving compelling speeches. What are your favorite shows to watch, and do you see them as relevant to the work that you do?

SG: I watch Madam Secretary. She’s a very no nonsense public speaker. They portray her with some vulnerabilities, and with many issues, but she’s still able to maintain her cool when she has to speak.

C4E: Who is your favorite public speaker of all time?

SG: Bill Clinton, most definitely. I worked on the steering campaign in Florida in 1992 and 1996. I coordinated the bureau of speakers, who gave public addresses on behalf of their platform.

Clinton is such an excellent speaker because he is able to establish a common ground. One of the greatest speeches he gave was “The Address to the Nation on Airstrikes Against Serbian Targets in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” in 1999. Here, he stated, “ We need a Europe that is coming together, not falling apart.” He talked about building a bridge to the new millenium. The New Covenant for America was the theme of his first campaign. A covenant is a biblical idea, and a connecting type of image.

C4E: What are your other academic interests?

SG: I have a book coming out in March called Momentum and the East Timor Independence Movement. I am very knowledgable about sociology, social movements, and protest acts. I am very involved in civil rights.  I have worked in the public defender’s office for 26 years. Here, I worked towards police reform, and getting inmates proper health care. I want to make sure the country moves towards equality for all.  I also teach political communication and intercultural communication.

I believe in showing students examples of other students giving speeches, with lots of strengths and lots of weaknesses.

C4E: What do you think are biggest challenges for student in your courses? What are the most important skills needed for them to master the art of public speaking?

SG: Students that are taking public speaking need to cast aside the negative thoughts they have developed about their communication skills. Especially if they’ve been told that they are bad public speakers. I always ask students if this has ever happened to them on day one in the class. I explain to them that once they’ve taken my course, they’ll be above average. Most people in America have never taken a public speaking course. I make them say positive affirmations, because if they don’t think positive things about themselves, no one else will.  If you say you’re a good public speaker, and you believe it, and work towards it, you can get there, even in small bits.

C4E: What are the indications that a student is really on track?

SG: Students stop reading and use their notes less. They use gestures, and smile when they’re talking about something happy. Students will become better organized, will learn to present their ideas in a sequence, and will be better researchers. As an instructor, you’ll see that students relate to their audiences better.

C4E: Final question – I’m giving a speech in a friend’s wedding next week. Any advice?

SG: I’d suggest that you make sure to make your comments are balanced, and apply half to the bride, and half to the groom. You can make fun of yourself, but you should never ridicule the bride or the groom. Make sure to make sure to relate to everyone in the room, to both sides of the family, and not just to the couple being married. Make sure that everyone feels conviviality, and that people believe that you’re a friendly person.



Alisa Gross
Content and Social Media Specialist at Connect For Education
Alisa Gross is the editor and webmaster of the College Teaching and Learning Blog. She holds advanced degrees in the History of Art from the Courtauld Institute, London, and Johns Hopkins University. Alisa has also worked as a math and writing instructor and tutor to high school students in New York, London, and Philadelphia over the course of eleven years.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

student evaluations
Student Evaluations Can be Helpful: And Here’s How
online students
Empathizing with your Online Students
Popular vs. Scholarly Sources 101
Social Justice
Mere Education