Re-Envisioning the Rehearsal as Workshop:
New Media Tools for Speeches & Presentations
By Amy J. Riordan, Assistant Professor of Communication at Bethany College
“To be a teacher of process [. . . .] We have to be quiet, to listen, to respond.”
Donald M. Murray in “Teaching Writing as a Process Not Product” pp. 5
As a writing composition instructor by training, when asked to teach public speaking, I approached it through the lens of process theory. In simple terms, using process theory means addressing how a student arrives at a finished product. I tend to value process and product equally, but regardless of how the theory is put into action, focusing on process means valuing each student’s own messy, recursive, (largely) indistinct phases of prewriting, writing, and rewriting.
The strategy of revision is at the heart of many process-focused writing courses. To revise is to look at again or reconsider with the goal to make substantial changes to a piece. So, I wondered, can the principles of revision—rereading, re-seeing, and reworking—be applied to the ephemeral nature of speaking?
Composition scholar Nancy Sommers says, “No.” Arguing against using classical rhetorical models meant for oratory to teach writing, in “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers” Sommers claims, “what is impossible in speech is revision” because speech is irreversible (pp. 379). Indeed, delivered words cannot be erased, retracted, or reworded before the original utterance is heard, and so the final performance of any speech can never be revised in the same manner as can be the final draft of an essay.
A major difference between writing and speaking is the final product—speaking, created for and within a live environment, is transitory, whereas the very nature of writing seems eternal. Many of the top public speaking textbooks incorporate principles of process theory when discussing speech writing and researching, but prewriting, writing, and rewriting are rarely components discussed with regard to delivery because of its seemingly irreversible, transient state.
Instead of referencing rewriting or revision, textbooks discuss the importance of rehearsing a speech. The act of rehearsal is a vital aspect of improving as a speaker, but it isn’t just a mechanism meant to fine tune or improve a skill through repetition. To rehearse is to repeat aloud with the goal of applying knowledge, to note what works and what doesn’t, and then substantively rework both the written and performative aspects of the speech.
Much like revision in a writing course, speakers use rehearsal to solidify the central idea, strengthen the organization, and effectively use their supporting materials, such as research, props, and slides. But speakers also use rehearsal to listen for their cadence, pitch, volume, and articulation as well as to hone their body language and facial expressions. Therefore, rehearsal isn’t simply practicing a polished speech, but rather it functions as a strategy for speakers to reconsider and rework their written words and their delivery.
As I designed my first speaking course, however, I wondered, if students’ performative bodies are inextricably part of the speech, how do they revise a project they themselves can physically experience but not see as an audience member? And I found myself wishing for a way to socialize the rehearsal process by having students watch earlier drafts of each other’s speeches in a way that mimics the social interactions of the writing workshop.
New media tools provide speakers with opportunities to workshop speech drafts in a way that supports a process theory approach. Below are some suggestions pulled from my own experience for how to use rehearsing as workshopping. I’ll start with the best tool I’ve found to date, and I’ll explain what each can bring to the classroom.
Timestamped Video Feedback
GoReact is my favorite online video feedback platform because it is specifically designed for performative-based learning. McGraw-Hill offers a similar program with Stephen Lucas’ popular textbook, The Art of Public Speaking, but I found the cost prohibitive. The pricing for GoReact is reasonable, especially if paired with a handbook instead of a textbook, and you can use it for any type of performative course, not just public speaking.
To workshop, students record and upload a speech draft using their mobile device (they can also upload their written outline), they watch each small group member’s speech and provide timestamped feedback (very similar to margin comments in an essay), and then they leave an end comment for each speech that discusses it as a whole. I typically hold group conferences to discuss each speaker’s plan for revision, and I do quite a lot of revision-focused, in-class work in addition to these new media components.
GoReact also offers many options for the finished product that are productive for students and time-saving for the instructor. I record final speeches using a webcam during class so students still experience performing for a live audience. Audience members can provide timestamped feedback during the speech, but I don’t use this option because I want to ensure students watch the speaker and are not buried in their devices. I create an easy-to-use digital rubric to quickly grade, and I leave timestamped encouragement and comments while watching their live speech to personalize my feedback. Then, speakers view their own speech at a later point, reflect on their successes, and note areas still needing improvement.
Because the feedback, drafts, and finals are saved in one place, GoReact even facilitates student speaking portfolios. There’s a lot more you can do with GoReact, but what I like best is that the program is easy to use and it supports process and product equally.
Media Files & Discussion Threads
If your institution’s learning management system supports integrating media files and discussion threads, you can use your school’s software for online workshopping. But if your system can’t integrate these two tools, try the free version of Schoology or Google Classroom.
Before I found GoReact, I used Schoology, but with either platform, instructors set up small groups and require speakers to upload a speech draft. Then, group members watch each speech and respond within the accompanying discussion thread. The set up for this method is more labor intensive for the instructor than GoReact, but it does provide a way for students to interact with an audience and see each other’s feedback.
Media Sharing on the Cloud
In order to learn from each other, I think it is important for students to have access to all of the comments in their small group, but if a discussion thread isn’t possible, students can still share their speeches through cloud file sharing. Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneDrive are all examples of cloud storage that offer file sharing (chances are your institution already uses one of these), but I suggest the whole class use the same platform so the instructor has easy access to all drafts.
With their mobile device, students upload a speech draft to a shared folder stored in the cloud. Written feedback can be exchanged in class, emailed before class, or shared within the online folder. This method isn’t my favorite as there are a number of challenges like video format compatibility, but it shouldn’t be discounted as an option.
Workshopping Speeches Live
When new media isn’t practical, workshopping can be done in-person. Speakers rehearse in small groups for constructive feedback from a live audience. Ideally, I suggest reserving a room for each group. Doing so helps keep noise down, provides speakers with an opportunity to stand at the front of the classroom (which helps with stage fright), and reinforces that speakers are only rehearsing for their small group. This in-person approach has advantages, but scheduling constraints may be your biggest challenge as workshopping speeches live requires a lot of time from the course schedule.
There’s Always YouTube
My search for new media tools for the speaking course started with YouTube. In order for students to cumulatively learn from speech to speech, I knew I wanted them to at least view their final product.
Using a video camera, the instructor records every final speech, uploads it to YouTube as an “unlisted video,” and sends each student his or her link. (Instead, you could email the video to students, or you could upload the file to the class’s shared media folder.) Students may then watch their speech and complete an analytical reflection assignment meant to help them see how the written and performative aspects of their speeches develop and improve with each assignment.
As this option focuses exclusively on the final product, I advise pairing it with media files and discussion threads, cloud sharing, or live workshopping so students also have the benefit of rehearsing early drafts for an audience. Ultimately, though, I found uploading videos and sending links to students quite time-consuming.
Whereas composing with multiple modes (i.e. words, image, sound, etc.) in writing courses is only recently gaining momentum, speaking has always been multimodal. Speakers weave words with gestures, facial expressions, and varying pitch and volume as well as with multimedia visual aids. Therefore, prewriting, writing, and rewriting the written outline is only part of the speech development process. New media tools enables a re-envisioning of rehearsal as workshop, providing student speakers with additional ways to learn and improve as speechwriters and performers.
Amy J. Riordan is a PhD candidate in Rhetoric & Composition at TCU as well as a professor teaching courses in new media, rhetoric, writing, and speech. For help getting started composing with multiple modes, email the Studio at email@example.com or schedule an individual consultation by clicking here.