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Podcast: Katherine Taylor & Public Speaking Education

In this episode, we sit down with Katherine Taylor, Instructor of Basic and Advanced Public Speaking courses and basic communication program director at the University of Louisville. We discuss the importance, challenges, rewards, and more around teaching the most valuable skill, according to employers, in today's college graduates.


Tyler: We have Katherine Taylor here with us today from the University of Louisville, and you're the basic course director there?

Katherine: Yes, I'm in charge of approximately 35 or 40 sections of the public speaking and business and professional speaking class, I also teach the advanced public speaking class and we run a speaker center to help students with these skills and to hone their skills as speakers, and I've been there a while, let's just put it that way. A long time I've seen incredible students come through and I've seen a lot of students and I've taught a lot of classes, so that's all on that.

Tyler: So what your - and it may have changed over the years - but right now what's your favorite part about teaching public speaking?

Katherine: I think seeing students progress and seeing students have that moment, I guess it's their aha moment of that they can do this, that all of a sudden everything that they've learned about it just sort of falls into place and they realize that they can be a public speaker and they may not want to.

But they can do it and they've got the skills and it's given them confidence to go out and apply for other jobs or to move into companies and to work within the community, with organizations or community-based organizations or in volunteer and know that they have the skills that will take them where they need to go, and I think that's the change that we're seeing in that rethinking of public speaking.

Tyler: It seems like it is more in the news and you read trends and what employers are looking for and that type of thing, and we have an article that has been in Inc on their website actually, I guess it might have been in the magazine as well by Carmine Gallo and the title of it is Public Speaking is No Longer a Soft Skill. And basically it says it's the key to success in any field, because if you can become a great persuader then you have a competitive edge in this age of ideas.

Katherine: Absolutely he's so right, he is so right and it's nice to hear him verbalize that and put it into very succinct words, because the perception of it has been that it's always been I guess he calls it a soft skill or whatever, and soft skills weren't as important as hard skills and learning how to program or learning how to do the accounting work. And yet if you can't convey your message about the accounting work or about the program that you've created or about the theater piece that you've designed, if you cannot get your message across then what good is it to do you have a double job because you have to work really hard for them to see any value of the other, where with the soft skills of public speaking I can do that. And I'm not sure my whole point of anything is to persuade people, although that's what the article says so we reference back to that.

Tyler: But I mean you, in your speeches it could be a persuasive speech and many types of speeches, you're persuading whether it's an action or just to think about something the way you're thinking about it.

Katherine: It's information in a new way to get them to think, so it may not be persuasion as it would be in a dictionary, it's definitely moving them to change.

Tyler: Maybe it's as simple as I'm persuading you to listen to me and hear what I'm saying, you don't have to make a decision on it but you should listen.

Katherine: Well and in the public schools like K through 12 our system is set up with SBDM's or school based decision making councils, and even there even if you just bring in new information about oh do we want to go with this program, do we want to go with this textbook you're using persuasion to show them here's the reasons why. So ultimately I do think that that's what we're using it for, and everything builds up to that, but we can still be informational people.

Tyler: So I would say you're pretty clear that you believe in the need for public speaking in education, what do you think about and how do you feel about certain institutions, higher education institutions that are pulling the public speaking course out of their core curriculum?

Katherine: I'm a little torn because I don't like to say anything against other places, but I feel sorry in some ways for students because they're not going to have this opportunity to get this apprehension or fear taken care of in a classroom, and because as we go into the business world and as we read articles and we go online and look at those things or go into the business field, these skills are really important and some of the universities don't have time, don't have the function, don't have the money to be able to foster this. And so I feel very blessed that I'm at the school I'm at because they really have taken the need for public speaking, and the importance of it and made that something that is not going to go away in the Gen ED classes it's a core skill that they see and so I think the students are the ones that at those other schools, they're happy they don't have to take it. Okay? But they haven't recognized the value of it later in life. And some do choose to take the upper level courses or things like that because they've seen that skill, but they're still losing just a little bit of it.

Tyler: Well then I think about… I have my degree in engineering, and if I were at a school that did not include public speaking in their core curriculum I would have never probably had to take it.

Katherine: Nor would you have taken it.

Tyler: No, probably not.

Katherine: Given a choice people are not going to go oh yay, let me sign up, oh I'm forced to I have to do this in order to graduate and yet that almost all of them at the end of the semester go this was one of the best classes I've ever had.

Katherine: Yes, one of those push outside your comfort zone.

Katherine: Exactly.

Tyler: Well and maybe that happens like you said in a lot of cases at different institutions because of the lack of resources and the different demands they're experiencing, and some of the other things that they've tried to do and I know that U of L offers these online public speaking courses which when I first heard about that it seems how could that be, how can you take something that to me the main part of it was being in front of people and then put that to where you're sitting in a room by yourself potentially, what do you think about online courses?

Katherine: I think online courses are a part of our future, and so we have to, it's never going to go back and it is what it is, but I think that we have to especially as teachers and as programmers like myself have to figure out how we can best give the student a face-to-face feel or atmosphere within the online context, because it's not going to go away. And I see some need for it especially in business, when you're doing Skype calls or zoom pieces I think it's extremely important to also have that, but I personally love face-to-face, I don't think I would want to do an online course because I like the people and I feel like when you have a person and audience sitting there with you the feedback you get is huge.

So I think we have to recognize where we are and then see how we can tweak it, make it more accessible and more interactive for students and because of the nature of the internet now there are so many programs that we can use in that online format if we expand ourselves and we start to, we being the teachers, start going out and looking at all these different ways to maybe redefine public speaking.

Tyler: And I hadn't really thought of it in the context of a changing atmosphere in the professional fields that people are in, you may need to communicate over a computer but before that really wasn't feasible, because it's text communication over computer email but video calls and that kind of thing haven't really been useful until recent years, they were too leggy and whatnot.

Katherine: Well part of one of the biggest pieces about communication or public speaking is the transactional nature which is that it's simultaneous and some of these programs, these computer programs allow for that now, so it does redefine those pieces. And so maybe what we do is instead of calling it public speaking, we take the public out of it and just call it speaking skills or some other title that because my perception when I see public speaking is I'm going to be having live people right there with me.

Tyler: Like a TED talk.

Katherine: Yes exactly, and so maybe we need to as we revolutionize some of this we have to revolutionize how we think about it and how we perceive it.

Tyler: So do you think whether they're having an online class or in-person, course, public speaking communication, business communication are students being prepared and maybe it's, obviously it's not going to be the same across the board at every school, but you feel like the way that you're teaching your students coming out prepared for the professional world?

Katherine: The way I teach it?

Tyler: Yes.

Katherine: Absolutely, no brainer on that one. I think that if we at any university or any school whether it's K through 12 or a community college or private school or a public university, if we even get them some of the knowledge about public speaking and the skills and the tools to do it, then we are moving them towards that, I'd love more time. I'd love more time with the students and to be able to feel like once, we have them for 15 weeks in our class and so the first part of that and the basic course is we give them the skills and then we have them do them and I would love to have time that it was a two semester that we give them the skills and then we give them all these different settings to practice those or apply those skills and so it would be time. We have 15 weeks, we're confined by that and so what we give is as much as we can about here are the basics of it and what public speaking entails, now practice it and then we still send them out, so I would love time.

Tyler: So how do you think a class like the ones that you teach compares to or does it compare to maybe a co-op or a real actual world experience while you're in school, do those have a place to maybe coexist or does one replace the other?

Katherine: No, but that's a really good idea because we could create an internship or a co-op that is public speaking based in the content or discipline area that the student has chosen, but it's really geared towards always doing presentations, always having this, so we could actually devise and develop our own internship towards it, kind of, new thoughts.

Tyler: Yes I mean with students more people and more people are going to college you need a competitive advantage when you come out, if you had a program geared toward giving you that kind of experience, knowing that employers are looking for that type of thing, if you had someone that was primed and ready, they've already gotten their feet wet and they've been out there a little bit and they weren't just focused on doing work but they were focused on doing the work and communicating what it is while they're doing it maybe.

Katherine: Well you know there's a an organization called NACE National Association of colleges and employers, and if you look at the statistics or the data from them for many years now some of the top skills that employers are asking for are communication skills, whether it is the ability to put the messages together which would be public speaking, the listening skills, the interpersonal skills but mostly the public speaking aspects of it. And that's what employers are really focusing on, that they want their incoming employees to have. So it kind of would combine that outcome, that organization saying how important it is with putting it into the hub, using it in an academic world. Part of it is that we still are we being in the public speaking discipline sometimes fight against, oh speaking it's not really important, it's one of those soft skills that we don't need because we do need you to know how to be a bioengineer or we need you to know how to do this, I think we need to know both. And so we're sort of fighting a preconceived notion of us so that's part of the ongoing thing that we have to look at and say so how can we prove ourselves to these other places, and I think that goes back to your question about the universities and online and so we're still at that point of where we want to be and how we want to do it, we have to recognize not everybody sees it the way that Gallo or say Warren Buffett or even Melinda Gates see it. They see communication as being something that's probably one of the greatest things you can learn how to be comfortable with.

Tyler: Well I think that's probably a pretty good place to wrap it up, you can't sum it up any better than that.

Katherine: We'll continue this; I think we'll continue this because it is ever-changing.

Tyler: Yes.

Katherine: Thank you.

Tyler: Thank you.


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