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Fear Factor: Morning Minutes, May 5, 2016


–Erik Palmer

Glossophobia. Big word. Big fear. The fear of public speaking, as most will attest, nearly always ranks among the top as one of our greatest fears. We don’t like to speak in front of others. All eyes are on us. We are being judged. It’s an action that creates, for many, unparalleled anxiety. As such, most of us avoid it all costs, which only creates more fear in the end, and so, when the opportunities to speak in front of others arise, we are never comfortable; even more, we are rarely ever really effective because we don’t get enough practice. I was reminded of this in a discussion with my kids earlier this week.

Ramping up for our speeches in June, I introduced Erik Palmer’s PVLEGS approach to the skills that make for effective public speaking/presenting. To begin our discussion, I asked kids to consider and discuss with a neighbor why people fear public speaking as much as they do. Of course, they replied with the reasons that most could anticipate: “All eyes are on us,” “People are judging us,” etc. And then Danica, during fourth period, shed some light, especially when it comes to speaking/presenting in school. “So, you take something that truly frightens us, something that we do once, maybe twice a year, and you grade us on it?” Huh? I thought. She’s right. We take this supremely scary thing, sell it as being an incredibly important life skill, generally tack on a large number of points, and then rarely–if ever–give kids the necessary practice, much less feedback, on something that we suggest is vital to their lives.  We suck. No, truly. It’s no wonder people hate speaking. In the course of their educational careers, we put them in scary situations with little or no support, and we expect them not only to lose their fear but also be great. Who does that? Well, I have. But that has to change, so this time I decided to do different. Here’s the approach in a nutshell.

  1. Introduce and use PVLEGS as criteria for assessing growth. Love how simple and straightforward Mr. Palmer’s approach is.
  2. Set the stage by acknowledging the fear we feel, and intimating to kids that I don’t expect them to be great. I only expect them to get better.
  3. Create growth opportunity. Kids present a one-minute practice speech, during which their peers assess them on PVLEGS using a 5-point scale (5 = great, 1 = unsatisfactory), making one suggestion for improvement.
  4. Place kids in the hot seat. Here the kids receive immediate verbal feedback on their performance, getting specific PVLEGS comments from their peers. Of course, I very intentionally and carefully set the stage by discussing with the kids why feedback, though scary, is necessary for growth.
  5. After all kids have gone and been assessed by peers, each student will then cut out the “feedback forms” (six to a page) and give them to the owner. In most classes, this then means that each kid will get 29 feedback forms from their peers, complete with input on PVLEGS and a suggestion for improvement.
  6. Each kid will then analyze the data, determining a growth goal based on peer/audience feedback. Once they have completed their data analysis and set their goal and progress plan, they turn it in to me. I keep it until after the real performance (speech), during which we repeat the process and the kids complete their final self-assessment/reflection, hopefully demonstrating growth between the two ends.
  7. I will give feedback for their performance, but their grades (this year anyway) will be based on their own growth goal and progress. More importantly than giving kids a grade here, I am giving them opportunity to grow, hopefully making less-terrifying the act of public speaking, instilling some confidence. At least that’s what I am telling myself. If not, I’ll do better next time. Do. Reflect. Do Better.

Happy Thursday, all.


One Reply to “Fear Factor: Morning Minutes, May 5, 2016”

  • I was wondering if you plan on teaching the students on how to be a good critique? One thing that can be frustrating for those who want genuine feedback would be not getting anything but generic one liners. I think a good way that can help them is by modeling a critique session where you will be critiqued. This can bring you closer to a relatable person as they get a chance to criticize you and you in-turn show them where there criticism helped or was worthless.

    Second thing and just kind of a side note. PVLEGS would be something that is not a universally culturally appropriate way to speak in public. While this is great for most western cultures there are many cultures that eye contact is a sure fire way to get people to stop listening to you. A culture that I am study has many of the important talks happening facing away from the audience, looking at the ground and talking softly. This is the culturally appropriate way in which to give a speech. Just an interesting side note.

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