Student Presentations: Do They Benefit Those Who Listen?

RhetoricLee Speaking

Seventy-three percent of the students agreed or strongly agreed that peer evaluations made them pay more attention to the presentations.

Source: Student Presentations: Do They Benefit Those Who Listen?

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Q & A with Student: Will You Tell us If Our Monologue is Bad on Rehearsal Day?

Student: Hi Dr. Pierce. If you don’t think what we have chosen is aiming high for this assignment, will you tell us when we meet to practice in class or will we just do our best for the 5 points when we deliver the monologue next week?

Me: Hi _______. That’s an interesting question, which means it is also complicated to answer. When we meet for class on rehearsal day (the day when you are bringing in a hard copy of your script) we will talk a little bit further about what makes for a compelling theme but for the most part we will focus on delivery generally and delivery of the monologues in particular. If, after that discussion, a student is convinced they need to change their monologue I’m not going to object but I also won’t be telling anyone that their monologue should be changed. Generally speaking, I will recommend to everyone that they stick with the monologue they bring to class when we meet to rehearse because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to do all of that practicing in class and then switch monologues.

Ultimately if you look at the assignment description this is a small assignment (5%) and everyone who delivers any monologue at all gets at least 2/5. The remaining 3/5 is split equally between delivery and content of the monologue. So ultimately I would rather students did a really excellent job of performing a monologue with a less-than-stellar theme than I would students change their monologues and risk poor delivery, start-overs, and general dissatisfaction with their performance.

 

Q & A: Can I Do An Accent for my Speech?

Q: I just had a question about the monologue speech. I know in class today you said try not to use accents. The monologue I want to do actually is of a girl doing a British accent. Would it be alright if I did the British accent? I think it will definitely help me separate myself from the character an just be the character. I have been practicing the speech in the accent and have also been told that it is a pretty good British accent.

A: It’s not really a “is it alright” question – I just want you to use your judgment. I recommend against accents because a) they’re hard to do, b) it’s an unnecessary complication to what is already a challenging assignment, c) they’re usually (and this is where you might have a different issue) irrelevant to the material being communicated…so why add the labor?, d) even if all of those other things are true, most accents (this isn’t usually true of British accents) just wind up making the speaker appear racist. So if you have objections to those concerns than use your judgment and do what you think is going to get you the best possible performance with the least amount of possible distractions and complications. Sorry I can’t be more “yes” or “no” but exercising judgment amidst uncertainty is roughly 92 percent of what we do all semester – so I want you to practice!

Response from Student:

Ok. Thank you. I will try it without the accent or just practice with both and see which is most comfortable. I am just so used to hearing it in the accent.

Response from Me:

LOL the email was supposed to indicate that I was leaning toward “do the accent” without stealing your agency- if its more work to drop it than to keep it AND it’s British and therefore not likely to come across as racist AND you prefer it to help you get into character AND your accent is pretty good….see where i’m going?

Against Introductions to Introductions

Most public speakers (especially new public speakers) have a bad habit of re-introducing their speech. It usually looks something like this:

“Hi everybody. I wrote this speech on (insert topic) so, yeah….”

“Dang I am SO nervous…”

“My name is (insert name) and well here goes nothing…”

Although it’s a natural inclination I strongly recommend against the pre-introduction, introduction for a couple of reasons.

  1. It disconnects you from your audience. While telling the audience that you are nervous makes you feel relief, it sets them up to not like the speech; so alleviating your nervousness (which it won’t, by the way) comes at the expense of the audience’s interesting. You’re basically saying, “I’m not ready to do this, don’t bother listening.”
  2. It undercuts your introduction. You spend time writing an introduction, on paper, trying to think of something captivating. If you want to say your name, then put your name IN the introduction. But if everyone begins with their name, then after the first few speeches it becomes a signal that your speech is just like the speech of everyone else. So write a catchy introduction – if you want to say your name or something then say it – don’t leave it for some kind of “extra” sentence or two.
  3. It messes with your time. I’ve seen people add 30 seconds to a speech just because they rambled ahead of time. That can be the difference between ending on time and not.
  4. It gets you off track. You have a speech. You’ve practiced the speech. When you add things in the beginning that you didn’t plan it can often get the rest of the speech off track. I’ve seen people give “extra” intro-intros and then freeze and say, “crap I can’t remember the beginning of the speech.”
  5. Because great public speakers don’t do it. Martin Luther King didn’t stand up and say, “so yeah I’m MLK and I’m stressed out about this speech.” They went in, and they went in hard. Act as if. Believe in what you’re saying. If you have this urge to tell people the speech isn’t that good then….well….maybe you don’t love it and next time you should try to write something that you’re EXCITED to say.

I love this little blog from Ginger Public Speaking (a public speaking training/coaching firm) that discusses 5 great “opening lines” from various Ted Talks: http://www.gingerpublicspeaking.com/best-speech-opening-line

Q & A Edit Length of Monologue?

Q: I’m working on finding a monologue for our assignment and I think I’ve found a good one. I found a script of it on one of the websites you put in the folder. However, after watching the scene, the script was much shorter than the actual scene. I can fit all of the script into two minutes but can’t pause as much as he does in the actual scene. Is it allowed to cut out parts of the monologue that are unnecessary for understanding the theme?

A:

Hello anonymous student,

I don’t recommend using a script from the internet. I recommend watching the scene and writing the script yourself, especially if you can start out writing it by hand so you remember it better.

Once you’ve done that, if the scene is still too long you can either start it later or end it earlier, trying not to cut out anything important for the central idea. In some instances I’m okay if you take out a chunk from the center but that’s it, only remove one big chunk. Don’t cut and paste. It will make it harder to memorize because it will lose the flow of the script.

With respect to delivery, I don’t recommend significantly altering the delivery of the scene especially if it’s to make the time. However, some slowing down or speeding up isn’t a huge deal. I find that most monologues are actually too fast for me. But in some instances they’re way too slow. Mostly, however, I try to stay within 10 or 20 wpm of the original.

I hope that helps.

Lee

The “Interestingness Hypothesis”

You all should REALLY read this….

Most students, when faced with a similar interview situation, fall back on emphasizing their activities and the traits they signal. “Running my church youth group,” they might say, “is another example of my leadership ability.”Olivia followed a different path. She didn’t emphasize her activities (which, in isolation, weren’t all that impressive) or the qualities they supposedly signaled, instead she let her natural interestingness come through – and her interviewers were entranced. Put another way: she rejected the list quality hypothesis, embraced the interestingness hypothesis, and won a full-ride scholarship for her efforts.

Source: Want to Get into Harvard? Spend More Time Staring at the Clouds: Rethinking the Role of Extracurricular Activities in College Admissions – Study Hacks – Cal Newport

Thoughts on the “NSA” Monologue from Good Will Hunting

I pick this monologue to make a point about the differences between a monologue that has a strong theme or central idea and a monologue that, well, does anything else. And this is one of those tricky ones that you can’t really tell but, ultimately, does not have a strong central idea.

If you’re not familiar with this monologue you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrOZllbNarw. Here is the script: from http://genius.com/Good-will-hunting-good-will-hunting-nsa-monologue-annotated. (The annotations add some depth to the monologue that is interesting but beyond the scope of this post).

Why shouldn’t I work for the N.S.A.? That’s a tough one, but I’ll take a shot. Say I’m working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I’m real happy with myself, cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army… in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never met, never had no problem with, get killed. Now the politicians are sayin’, “Oh, send in the Marines to secure the area” cause they don’t give a shit. It won’t be their kid over there, gettin’ shot. Just like it wasn’t them when their number got called, cause they were pullin’ a tour in the National Guard. It’ll be some kid from Southie takin’ shrapnel in the ass. And he comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, cause he’ll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile, he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And, of course, the oil companies used the skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them, but it ain’t helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. And they’re takin’ their sweet time bringin’ the oil back, of course, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and fuckin’ play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain’t too long ’til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy’s out of work and he can’t afford to drive, so he’s got to walk to the fuckin’ job interviews, which sucks cause the shrapnel in his ass is givin’ him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he’s starvin’, cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat, the only blue plate special they’re servin’ is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what did I think? I’m holdin’ out for somethin’ better. I figure fuck it, while I’m at it why not just shoot my buddy, take his job, give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.

Essentially there is no central idea to this monologue. If you wanted to read into it very, very deeply and bring some extra things to the scene that Will is not providing you could argue that there is a kind of “banality of evil” or “criminality of just doing what you’re told” hiding in here and you’d be right. (Think of the cliche “if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.) But you couldn’t highlight a sentence or a phrase in the actual monologue script that even comes close to saying something like that.

You could also say that the monologue’s theme is something like, “everything has consequences” or  the whole “drop in the bucket” idea. But that’s not a theme that’s interesting. That’s just an obvious statement. Obviously everything is connected; choices in one place influences outcomes and new choices in other places. I don’t think anyone would argue against that AND it’s not a unique idea to this movie. So it’s not as strong a theme (especially considering all of the work that it takes to memorize it).

Also if you think about the larger scope of the movie there’s no dominant theme about, for example, the interconnectedness of the world or the cowardice of “just doing your job” when it might cause someone else harm. So if the movie isn’t taking on those bigger issues then it’s unlikely it would bother to devote two minutes and a LOT of good writing to tackling issues that don’t really concern the plot.

So then what’s the point of the monologue?

Characterization.

We like this monologue because it establishes Will’s character. He’s a quick thinker who can rapidly produce details, pile them up, and deconstruct and construct arguments. He’s a fast talker. He’s a charmer. And he’s incredibly brilliant. He’s also anti-authoritative and doesn’t like to do what he’s told. To enjoy the movie the audience has to LIKE Will even though Will is sort of a pain the ass. Monologues like this accomplish that task. He’s establishing himself as a complex person and a smart ass at the same time – he’s likable but he’s duplicitous. The themes of the monologue are irrelevant because they’re really just byproducts of Will’s ability to spin yarns and wrap people up in logic. He doesn’t believe what he’s saying – he’s not making a point about the greater good – he’s just being a likable pain in the ass.

Now there are parts in the movie where he does all of this AND there’s a theme. The classic example here is the “how do you like them apples” scene where he dresses down the yuppie in the bar and comments on the importance of having original ideas over and above monotonous knowledge that might be correct but isn’t creative. There you see this theme get developed into a much stronger argument that resonates more with the audience as a kind of lesson. It’s also a lesson you’ll notice that gets repeated throughout the movie. For example, in Robin Williams’ character’s choice to become a small town psychiatrist instead of a big shot so that he could pursue his own path or Will’s decision at the end to go after the girl instead of take the awesome job.

In these moments the movie is trying to help the audience understand, in an interesting way, what life is about and if it had a theme it would be something like “your choices define you not your circumstances.” The second “apples” monologue picks up on that theme but the NSA monologue only does so very, very vaguely.

Understanding the difference between character development or plot advancement and strong thematic resonance is a difficult task and one we will keep working on throughout the semester. It makes the difference between a public speaker who is enjoyable to hear and a public speaker who is actively sought after.