Speaking Skills for the Modern Workforce

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As we explained in the last posting about writing, communication skills rank highest among employers of the modern workforce. So this week we'll look at the skill of speaking, and how best to teach it in school. Unlike writing, to which we devote untold hours of a student's learning time, we hardly teach speaking at all in our schools. Especially for students in technical fields.

einsteinspeakingAnd yet speaking is a key competency for just about every worker. It includes the ability to explain something to a group, or to persuade a customer to purchase your product, or to give directions to a fellow worker. Public speaking is also essential to the modern citizen's responsibility to contribute to the democratic civil discourse about public policy. And the first thing that shows forth in a job interview is the candidate's ability to speak clearly and look you in the eye.

Speak to Learn

Like writing, the only way to learn to speak is to speak frequently. So we must first of all require our students to speak publicly as part of their assignments in every course. Neither a superb textbook nor a stellar lecture will go very far to develop your students' speaking skills. Instead, they need myriad opportunities to speak, in a variety of settings, for a variety of purposes. As you construct such assignments, try also to employ some of the new digital technologies that can assist in the task. Here are some examples:

• Assign students to work in pairs in your Office Practices course, to script and record, on their personal computer or mobile device, a mock telephone conversation between a customer service representative and an unhappy customer. Give extra points if the conversation leads to a positive outcome. They can submit their work via your school's LMS or by email. You can listen to them on your own device, and provide written feedback through email or LMS.

• Assign students in your Networking Fundamentals course to prepare a five-minute slide show that explains a communication protocol to a young technician. Then record themselves narrating the slides. Post these on the course web site, and let other students provide feedback on how the speaking could be improved.

• Ask students in your Database Programming course to produce a 5-minute narrated screen recording that shows how to construct and run a complex SQL query using the Navicat editor. Provide these recordings to the students in the Introduction to Databases course, who will vote on which recordings are the most effective.

• At the beginning of each class meeting, ask one student to deliver an oral summary of last night's reading assignment to the shoe class, standing in the front of the room, and practicing effective speaking techniques such as eye contact, gestures, timing, and diction. Of course, this will work better if you let them know in advance and give them a chance to prepare.

Have you found some effective techniques for developing speaking skills in your courses? Share them in a comment below.

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