Public Speaking Can Be Taught

straw man walking?

The position taken by my classmate was that there was no way to teach someone how to be a good public speaker. It is just not a skill that can be learned. According to him, you either were good at it or you weren’t and that is that.
I did not get to completely destroy him with rhetoric, as I was fully prepared to do. I used pro athletes as an analogy. Pro athletes are the elite in their sport, and end up having presence in the media. As a result, they have to be able to speak on television and sound good. They don’t need to be great orators, but they definitely need to speak well enough to appear on camera. I asked if he thought that professional athletes who speak on television were born good speakers, or were they coached and instructed in how to improve their speech. He responded infuriatingly by avoiding the question altogether and attacking my premise, “They’re not good speakers.”
How do you like that for missing the point completely? I suppose, if you knew you were on an untenable position, you would want to avoid directly answering a question that exposes the fallacy of your claim.

what do they say about arguing with fools?

Actually, he did say something just after that that sounded very contradictory to his original claim. I pounced on the Gotcha opportunity. It should have been victory, but it wasn’t victory. I was jumping on a defenseless man who didn’t recognize the fact he was being attacked. There was no capitulation, no statement of, “Gee, I guess you’re right, people can be taught public speaking.” I can’t feel good about exposing his failed logic if there is not recognition. I let it go after it was clear that the professor was not going to allow the discussion about that particular idea continue. 

was it me?
Avoiding the topic, failing to concede when you are clearly beaten. Now that I reflect, it would seem that it was not a fair fight. Or was it? Did I communicate my ideas clearly and concisely? Was I a dick? Did I engage in intellectually dishonest tactics? I don’t remember anyone else weighing in or really caring about what this guy said. I don’t understand how the room doesn’t come to a grinding halt when he says this. It wasn’t just muttered once and let drop. He said, “I wouldn’t teach a class on public speaking,” the professor replied, “You wouldn’t, but people can be trained to do public speaking, right?” She gave him this out, this chance to save himself. ” No, I don’t think public speaking can be taught.” In a room full of people who had just recently done a class on lesson presentation where they had to get in the front of the room and speak, they all heard what he had to say, it appeared, without batting an eye. OK, maybe an eye was batted, but the uproar that should have erupted, did not.
Did I misunderstand? Did I take his statement the wrong way? Does he mean that the very greatest of public speakers have natural gifts that make them the best, natural gifts that are not taught?

jumping through hoops.

I don’t understand and that’s why it’s sticking with me. The rest of the class has been together for a semester already, maybe they know that when ol’ Mike gets to proclamatin’ that the best thing to do is just let him meander and eventually he’ll come back to the barn.

I was in an online class with this group, that is how I’ve gotten to know them. The problem with the online class was that nobody wanted to disagree. It was required to make so many posts, and so many comments on posts, so to fill the comment requirement people would typically just agree with other people rather than have a conversation. As we all know, the internet is home to many ridiculous debates, with tactics that range from childish to hate-crime level offensive. However, there are places, few and far between though they may be, where respectful discourse happens.


Disagreeing forces others to come up with something better than, “I’ve always thought that,” or “because I say so.” The problem I think, is this idea that the professor explained. In order to achieve something, like a diploma, or a certificate or a qualification, there are times when you may ask what the point of this activity is. Obstacles, such as “doing a research paper” and “posting a certain number of posts and comments” are simply “hoops” that must be jumped through in order to achieve the goal. I agree.

but not everything is a hoop.

Extending the hoop metaphor is problematic. What if you look at your job that way? Not just the parts where you put a cover sheet on your TPS reports because if you don’t you’ll hear about it from eight different people, but every aspect? Is there a part of your job or your field of study or your sport or your family where you do the thing because you care about it and do the thing as though you care about it? Think of an accomplishment that is unequivocal, that stands the test of time as a magnificent, monumental achievement in sport, science, philosophy, culture, or art. Think of Van Gogh. Think of Einstein. Lincoln. Jordan. Think of Copernicus declaring truths in a time when people were burned for saying them. Were any of them jumping through hoops? Think of the most important thing in your life. Think of an activity associated with that thing. Do you jump through hoops in that activity?

choose your battles. or do they choose you?

I don’t always disagree and take someone to task over everything they say that I don’t completely agree with. I needed to call him on his completely flawed thinking. This felt to me less like a matter of opinion and more like someone brazenly saying something like, “The Earth is flat. I can’t be convinced otherwise.” You’re majoring in Workforce Education, a major that can lead to careers in educating adults, and you’re going to sit there and say that you’re either a good speaker or you’re not? I couldn’t help it. I’m passionate about learning and teaching. It is, in my opinion, the future. We are living longer, we are having less career security, and we are developing new things faster and faster all the time. Those who want to participate will learn. Those who don’t want to learn will fall by the wayside.


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