This summer marks the twenty-fifth year I have been teaching what the speech communication discipline calls the "basic" course. At Penn State, the course is now Communication Arts and Sciences 100. Before I even graduated with my MA in 1988 I was hired over the phone to teach a "basic" course that began the next day for a community college in Northeastern PA.
This summer marks the twenty-fifth year I have been teaching what the speech communication discipline calls the “basic” course. At Penn State, the course is now Communication Arts and Sciences 100. Before I even graduated with my MA in 1988 I was hired over the phone to teach a “basic” course that began the next day for a community college in Northeastern PA. The instructor had reneged on his original agreement to teach the course, and I was all too eager to take the assignment. I said “yes” before I realized I had never taught a course in anything and being the youngest of three siblings I had never even taught anyone to tie shoes. I was twenty-three years old.
I still remember some of the students in my class. There were no more than fifteen students and one girl’s name was Honor. Quite an unusual name, I thought. I’ve never had another “Honor” in my class since. I made my syllabus by copying the one I had as a high school senior when I took the course at the local junior college. My high school was ahead of its time in allowing some of us to take fifteen college credits while still in high school. I chose the public speaking course because I thought I was good at it. I borrowed the “Resuscitation Annie” from the local American Red Cross to demonstrate airway, breathing and circulation. If, at age 17 someone had told me I’d be teaching public speaking for twenty-five years I don’t know what my reaction would have been, but it wasn’t what I imagined I’d be doing. I got an “A” in the course.
Some professors try to avoid teaching the introductory public speaking class, but I embrace it. Before I settled into my academic home at Penn State in 1995, I was a traveling teacher, a modern-day Sophist, teaching public speaking so that those who learned the skill could better their lives. I learned, too. I always learn something new about teaching the course every single time I teach it and this summer has been no exception. Blessed with what I would describe as a dream class of highly motivated students, I had to force myself to find useful criticisms on ways that they could take their speaking to the next level. And, as I usually do when surrounded by bright and engaging students, I had an “aha” moment.
Here it is:
I believe that reticent speakers may become more adept at speaking when they match the speech topic to their temperament. For example, one student, whom I gently chided for his seriousness, gave a number of speeches that earnestly warned against some impending doom, and you know what? It worked for him.
I’ve always been a believer in allowing students to choose their own topics, but this is more than that. This is giving students a certain comfort level by making the most of their natural inclination.
Remember when Bob Dole ran for president in 1996? Time magazine described him as “the nation’s mortician.” But he is more inclined to be dryly witty than bombastic. No, he didn’t win the presidency, but his speaking style was true to his nature. For student speakers that connection may be the key to beginning a lifetime of successful speaking.
I’m just tinkering with this idea. I’ve quickly reviewed some basic course literature and I can’t find much that speaks to this topic so I’ll keep thinking about it. If you’ve taught speech, have written or given speeches or if you have been a reticent speaker and have any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear from you.
In the meantime, remember, speak up and speak well!
Happy Twenty-Fifth Anniversary to me. The best stuff happens to me over the phone. But that’s a thought for another blog.
It is the end of another academic year and there is plenty of wrapping up and grading to do, but there are also celebrations and end-of-year fun. Next week is the Penn State Lehigh Valley Honors Convocation, one of my favorite events where we honor the excellent students, faculty and staff at Penn State Lehigh Valley and I’m enthused to have been invited to speak. Like the PR pros in DC do, I’m going to “release my remarks” ahead of the event. This was fun to write and I know it will be fun to deliver:
Tonight is a night to celebrate your hard work. Tonight is a night to give thanks to those who have helped you. Tonight is a night of reflection about where you have been and where you want to go.
It is easy to become cynical; to believe that education is overpriced and undervalued in our society that seems to reward starring in a reality TV show more grandly than it does original thought and hard work.
But tonight, we are reminded that hard work and brain power matter. And because you are here tonight, there is evidence that you have both.
Some of you come from families that have a long tradition of education –especially a Penn State education—maybe your parents met at Penn State. And some of you are the first person in your family go to college.
You are going where no one in your family has gone before and I know for some of you that is really scary. And the news media don’t help when it talks about high student debt and high unemployment.
Each of us has the power to create the story of our lives that we choose. The same America that honors Honey Boo Boo also honors brains and hard work. The hard working success stories just get less publicity, so I really hope the news media are here tonight. State of the Valley?
I want to remind you tonight that each of us – you and I –have the power to create our own storyline.
We are the authors of our lives and we can write whatever we want.
My advice: write the story of your life you want to read. It looks like you are off to a terrific start.
Tonight is all about rewarding your hard work and validating academic achievement and I am here to tell you to go boldly in the direction of your dreams and be ready to work really hard to get there. Samuel Beckett said: Try, fail. Try again, fail better. I think that one of the secrets to being successful is allowing ourselves to get comfortable failing.
I research and write about extraordinary women who have overcome significant obstacles to achieve their dreams. One way to look at it is the women I write about failed a lot. And they inspire me. Women like Margaret Chase Smith – who was the first woman to serve in both the House and the Senate. She got the courage to amplify her voice against her colleagues – all male—and speak out against McCarthyism. Upon leaving office, she was the longest-serving female Senator in history, a distinction that was not surpassed until 2011, when Senator Barbara Mikulski was sworn in for a fifth term. Margaret Chase Smith may have been dubbed “The quiet woman” but she didn’t back down and she didn’t go away.
Another remarkable woman is Shirley Chisholm who in 1972 ran for president. She broke a lot of barriers because she was both an African American and a woman. When Barack Obama became president he acknowledged that she made the way easier for him. But Chisholm or “Ms. Chiz” put up with a lot of abuse on the campaign trail and throughout her career. People thought she was crazy. She ran for president any way. As she liked to say, she was “unbought and unbossed.”
These were women quite comfortable with being uncomfortable and they let themselves fail.
My advice to you: write the story of your life you want to read.
Like many of you here with your parents tonight, I too grew up in a loving family with my mother and father and I have two older sisters. I like to joke that I came late to the party since my mom was 42 when she had me and back then that was OLD.
Both my father and mother came from large and financially poor families but they were rich in loving spirit.
My dad Nicholas, the youngest of ten told me that he was encouraged to become a medical doctor by his older siblings but instead dropped out of school after the eighth grade to help support his large family by working in the coal mines.
My mother Julia, a gifted seamstress and gardener– I call her the original Martha Stewart –also had dreams of her own—she was a HOOT—trust me—a true inspiration to me– but she gave them up to support her family and left school after the sixth grade.
They wanted more for their three children. My oldest sister Julie raised a family and works as a medical receptionist, my sister Teri a lieutenant colonel in the army with a master’s degree who is second in command at a state prison – you don’t want to mess with her – trust me– and there’s me, the baby. The older I get the more and more I really like that label. We used our brain power and our hard work to create a new story for ourselves – and one that honors the memory of our parents.
There isn’t much we can control in this world, but two things we have complete control over are
1. What we think
2. What we do
I am here to encourage you to THINK BIG – Go for the thing you really want out of life.
And I am here to encourage you to do something that lights a fire inside you, do something that matters to you and something that stirs your passions. And if you haven’t found that big thing that you love to do yet keep trying new things until you do.
You are smart. And you are working hard.
I am here to say keep it up. Because we’ve noticed it at Penn State and when you graduate from Penn State they’re going to notice it wherever you go. Find people who inspire you. Read about them. Maybe even write about them.
Clelia Merloni, founder of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus urged us:
“Love your work; perform it with joy. Do not allow yourself to become discouraged by difficulties, lack of success or humdrum daily duties. Be convinced that this is your mission.”
Congratulations, students! You are smart and hard working. Go forward and write the story of your life that you want to read.
And tonight, celebrate, give thanks and reflect! And always “Speak Up and Speak Well!”
The hip and modern TED Talks (here’s a link to one of my current favorites) feel like something new, yet speaking effectively in public is not a fad. Since 776 BC when Greek orators espoused the virtues of the first Olympic Games, people the world over have recognized the value of effective public speech.
That’s one of the reasons, as a professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State, I was thrilled to share my idea at the recent TEDxPSU conference at Penn State on March 17, 2013. TED stand for technology, entertainment and design. I want to say that the “E” in TED is doing double-duty, also standing for “energy” because the people surrounding the TEDx event at Penn State have infectious energy for what they are doing.
There are many great aspects to being a TED speaker: speaking (of course), meeting other speakers, getting your voice heard and being part of something special, but for me, meeting and working with the student organizers and others at Penn State has been the most uplifting and enjoyable aspect of the whole TED experience. The host of this year’s event, Rob Andrejewski, was incredible at his hosting gig and added a lot to the event. My speech angel, Lori Bedell, an instructor in the Communication Arts and Sciences department helped me refine my script and feel confident. She really knows her stuff.
Every one of these vivacious organizers have the markers of greatness:
A Can-do Attitude
From the moment student TEDx content director George Hayward came to interview at home on his winter break (!), to his most recent follow-up correspondence, I am reminded that the world is going to be in very good hands when George and the other exuberant TEDx-ers have their way with it! Check out George’s upbeat vision of life on his blog. The videos from the March 17th TEDxPSU event will be released in a few weeks, and I can’t wait! A few us who spoke at Penn State may make it to the general TED Talk site. Fingers crossed.
So enthused by the TED concept, my CAS 100 H students are giving TED Talks this semester for their persuasive speeches. Can’t wait to see them! I think the modern approach has the class more motivated than it would be otherwise to make these presentations.
My point? If you get a chance to give a TED talk about an idea you want to spread, do it! And if you do it at Penn State, it will be a fun and unforgettable experience.
What do you think it will take to elect a woman president?
Do you think America is ready for a woman president?
I research and write about women and the United States presidency and I get those questions a lot. They both imply that there is something we need to “do” to prepare for the coming of a woman president. First, it is worth noting that countries around the globe have elected women heads of state and prime ministers. Currently twenty-one countries have women leaders. But America has yet to elect a woman president, I believe for two primary reasons:
1. We hold limiting stereotypes about the range of women’s possibilities; in particular, we impose a constant measure of her sexual worth, regardless of her intellect, goals, and passion.
2. Deep down, many of us, even those who say we would support a woman president can’t quite make that commitment in the voting booth.
Let’s talk about stereotypes –
Has someone ever heard you mention what you do for a living and comment that you don’t look like a person who has that job?
A stereotype is a framework within which someone is expected to operate. It creates a range of expectations about intelligence, competence, and behavior.
We expect police officers to enjoy a donut every now and then. We expect our trainer to look better than we do.
The range of expectations gets really problematic when it limits who someone is and who they see themselves as capable of becoming.
When the scope of who a woman can be is confined only to what has come before her, this is a problem.
If she can’t look like what she wants to be–if what she wants to be has never been imagined to be someone like her, she has to navigate new waters to get there.
In 1988, Pat Schroeder, the former Colorado congresswoman who got into the race for the US presidency kept hearing “you don’t look like the president.” Well, I guess not.
Hillary Clinton who almost won the democratic nomination in 2008– got closer to the US presidency than any woman ever. Much has been written about her image. Famously, she adopted a pant suit look. This led observers to speculate that she wanted to “masculinize” her appearance to look more like a man (or the model of the United States presidency) maybe that’s true, or maybe she just liked wearing pant suits.
She was interviewed by Barbara Walters who asked her ‘a very personal question’– no, not about whether or not she will be running for president in 2016, but instead about how she styles her hair.
Shirley Chisholm, 1972 presidential candidate, said “The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, ‘It’s a girl.’”
And Hillary Clinton isn’t the first –but we can make her the last—woman to receive misogynistic treatment in the press. Elizabeth Dole, Barbara Mikulski, Sarah Palin, Debbie Wasserman Shultz, Michele Bachmann and others have, too. These women have found the spotlight for doing big things–even running for president. And yet, time and again, the focus is on their image often instead of their message.
Some research suggests that the more women we have in the pipeline, known as –gendered pipeline research– the better the chance of electing a woman president. Yet, if we sexually stereotype these women in the media, what difference will more numbers mean except to give the late night comedians and pundits more material?
And here is the second factor that has made the election of a woman in the United States difficult:
According to a 2008 study in the journal Public Opinion Quarterly, Public opinion
polls show consistently that a substantial portion of the American public would vote for a qualified female presidential candidate. Because of the controversial nature of such questions, however, the responses may suffer from social desirability effects. In other words, respondents may be purposely giving false answers so as not to violate societal norms. In other words, they may have lied. Using an unobtrusive measure called the “list experiment,” researchers have found that public opinion polls are indeed exaggerating support for a female president. Roughly 26 percent of the public is “angry or upset” about the prospect of a female president. Moreover, this level of dissatisfaction is constant across several demographic groups. Therefore, no matter what she does to her image, it won’t make a difference.
But it’s 2013. Are things changing for the better?
A couple of years ago a young female student came to speak to me about my research. She was bright and curious. She was, as Sheryl Sandberg suggests, “leaning in.” As she left our meeting she looked at me warmly and said, “I give you a lot of credit for your work, but I just don’t think that we are ever going to have a woman president – at least not in my lifetime.”
My heart sank! I thought – are you kidding me? You and all the young, bright college educated women like you are potential future women presidents. I wondered if, like the poll in the journal Public Opinion Quarterly, other young women had the same negative feelings about a woman president. So I conducted a poll of more than 500 college age women and I asked them if the bids of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in 2008 encouraged them to think that a woman would become president in their lifetime. Well over half – in fact almost 350 of the women polled said YES, they are encouraged by women running for president. It makes them feel like they can do it, too. That’s almost 90 percent–
And here is more good news:
We elected Barack Obama president because we imagined that he could be president. An unprecedented number of new voters and volunteers were caught up in imagining Barack Obama as president. He may not have looked like any president we ever had but we chose him to lead us.
And consider this: and African-American man and a woman were the final two nominees for the democratic ticket. We were engaged in powerful imagination.
So what will it take to elect a woman president?
We need to continue to call out sexist stereotyping in the press – by alerting Web Sites like the Name It Change It Campaign from Women’s Media Center and we need to write the editors and producers of media that mistreats women. Let’s tell them we won’t read their newspapers or magazines and we won’t watch their TV stations or listen to their radio shows until they treat women like complete human beings, not sexual objects considered first by how they look, and covering their beliefs and vision only an afterthought.
When will America be ready for a woman president?
When we understand what’s been going on, recognize our own prejudices, and when we say that we will vote for a qualified female candidate and then actually cast our vote for her. When we overcome the sexual stereotyping and not just say we will vote for a woman, but actually vote for her, the United States will, indeed prepare for the ‘coming’ of a woman president.
There is no denying the progress that woman have made in the United States. Watching the engaging and well researched PBS series The Makers: Women Who Make America, which chronicles the major achievements of the women’s social movement, it’s apparent that women have more political power and economic opportunity than ever.
At the same time, a firestorm of controversy was set off by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer for abolishing its work-at-home policy and ordering everyone to work in the office. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that an equal number of men work at home than women do, working women may benefit most from the flexibility that work at home arrangements provide. While many men work from home, it is women who still prepare more family dinners, and remain the chief child care givers.
As a member of a book club consisting primarily of working women in the prime of our careers, most who have raised children or still have children at home, the issue of child care is fresh in our minds. At a recent book club meeting, the conversation was lively when we discussed two books with central themes focusing on women’s rights. Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ’60s and Beyond, by Jane Maas is the biography of the Madison Avenue advertising executive who thrived at a time with men dominated the boardrooms. Her navigation of her role of mother and high powered career woman was of interest to the group who marveled at her honesty in confessing that she wanted to make enough money so that she could pay a nanny to spend time with her children because she didn’t want to stay home. In The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace, we were reminded that no matter how well women wrote, they were often relegated to the role of researcher for the male writers.
As the evening went on our conversations turned personal and each of us recounted our own lives and the feelings we have about motherhood, work and our place in society. One theme that kept re-emerging was the feeling that raising children and staying in the workforce is a challenge. Those of us at the end of our child rearing years feel a sense of relief, but we still wonder if it had to be as hard as it was. The easier path at the time might have been to stay home, put our careers on hold and hope that we can catch up once our children went back to school. Some women who stay home might say that it is harder to stay home than to be in the workforce. For me, a first-generation college educated person in my family, that didn’t seem like a smart option. I didn’t feel I had the luxury to take the time off and hope that when I got back into the workforce opportunities would still be there. Like Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook COO is urging, I felt the need to “lean in,” enrolling in a Ph.D. program just after giving birth to my second child. My bit of stand up at the end of the night in the early years was the line: “They are alive! I did my job!” Still makes me chuckle.
Regardless of our choices as mothers and fathers, two things became clear as our stimulating book club meeting came to a close: our country can do better to support families. Of all the countries in the world, the United States is one of the least supportive to families who have children. And, options are what we want in the end. Whether we go work full or part time or we stay home with our children, what we want most is the luxury of choice.
What is exciting is that many of us feel a new sense of opportunity as our children turn into adults. I feel like I’m just getting started.
When Hillary Clinton was interviewed by Barbara Walters for the 2012 most fascinating people special, I appreciated learning about the number of countries former Secretary of State Clinton visited, what she plans to do next, and what she thinks is the answer for Middle East peace. But I was disappointed to hear Walters ask the “very personal question” about how Secretary Clinton styles her hair. Clinton was very gracious in her response and more magnanimous than I would have been in that position.
Of all people, Barbara Walters, who has been in television news perhaps longer than any other woman on television should know a sexist question when she asks one.
It may seem like a simple, innocent enough question, but I think it is at the root of why we have not had a woman president in the United States.
Asking her about her look doesn’t have any place in your line of questioning. So Barbara Walters, please don’t ask brilliant women leaders about their hair or any other aspect of their appearance. You should know better. We never *do* ask the men that question and we expect more from you.