Public Speaking as an Online Class

For the past twelve years or so, I’ve heard the same argument time and time again. I wish I had a nickel (or preferably a beer) for every time someone has said something like:

“You can’t possibly offer an online public speaking course!”Barry Dahl speaking at tech conference

Of course they don’t mean that you can’t offer it, they mean that you can’t possibly have a high-quality public speaking class if it’s offered online.

I say bull. Emphatically.

First. This class has been taught and taught well for at least ten years at various schools. The naysayers (and there’s lots of them) do not want to hear about people who have developed effective techniques for teaching this class – they (the naysayers) just aren’t willing to believe or accept any evidence that differs with their world view.

Second. Just because we use the word “online,” doesn’t mean that the entire class occurs only in front of a computer screen. Many online classes require students to engage in active learning or various other techniques that do not involve the computer – except maybe to document the work they’ve done or for other class communications. The idea that an online course eliminates face-to-face interactions is just plain wrong – unless you design it to avoid all interaction. You can absolutely require the F2F interaction, as you’ll see below (see fourth).

Third. This one is my favorite. The naysayers seem to think that there is something special about the traditional way of teaching the Public Speaking class on college and university campuses. Please explain this to me: How can you possibly call it “PUBLIC SPEAKING” when a student is standing at the front of the closed classroom with a dozen fellow students (mostly friends) and one instructor? What exactly is public about that? In what ways does that possibly resemble standing up in front of an audience in a normal public speaking venue? How did this ever become the gold standard for college public speaking courses?

Fourth. Although it is possible that some instructors primarily have their students record their speeches and post them online (more on that later), many that I am aware of require their students to speak in front of live audiences such as Kiwanis Clubs (Lions, Rotary, etc.), church groups, senior centers, Toastmasters groups, or many other similar groups. Compare this experience with the “classroom speech” described in number three above. It begs the following question: why don’t all public speaking classes (regardless of delivery method) have this same requirement?

Fifth. Last time I looked, the calendar says 2012. YouTube and other sites that allow anyone to communicate with the public are the norm, not the exception. Being able to communicate and effectively present yourself through electronic media is an extremely important skill for future success. Doesn’t matter whether you like that situation or not – it is what it is. A whole new audience opens up for those students when they record their speeches and post them online. That’s an interactive audience that can leave comments and suggestions, but not be restricted to being in the same room at the same time as the speaker. Does a student have extra incentive to do well knowing that both Grandma and a future employer might see this speech – or are they more motivated by their 12 classmates in the classroom?

Sixth. Even better than just recording a speech and posting it online, use live broadcasts via tools like,, or – or several other similar tools. All these free tools allow for the live broadcast to be recorded for future viewing and critique, but they also have the pulse-racing feature of going live to an unknown audience. A while back I asked someone if she would be willing to tune in to the LiveStream Internet channel to watch college students give their speeches for the online public speaking class. She replied that as long as she was not already booked, that she would “absolutely tune in to watch and comment.” The person that I was talking to was the college president. Hmmh, both grandma and the president (and many others) can watch your students perform in your public speaking class. Game changer?

Want to build an audience for student speeches? Embed your Livestream channel on the college Facebook page.

There’s also a Facebook app for Ustream.

All of these work on mobile devices (Ustream page).

Through face-to-face live events and both live and recorded Internet broadcasts, an instructor with a little imagination can build a high-quality, 21st century, online version of the college Public Speaking course.

But of course, all of this stuff is just nonsense, right?

4 Responses

  1. Thanks for this post Barry. I attended the League of Innovation last week and participated in two sessions on this very topic. There are Speech Communication professors like myself who do believe that Public Speaking can be taught online.

    A sample of the technology they are using to teach this course is Yourspeechclass that allows for annotating an uploaded video with informative comments.

    I meet too many professors that are just not creative enough to envision how to use new tools to teach online courses and instead attempt to force fit a face-to-face course into the online environment.

    Thanks again for this.

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  3. I teach language online, so I know there is no reason one can’t teach speaking online:

    Voice Thread, voxopop, vocaroo, audiopal and the Wimba tools make it possible

  4. […] Public Speaking as an Online Class […]

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