"You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart." - John Ford
Words are important. Only through words can we express such concepts as awe and wonder. Thanks to them, we aren't reduced to pointing up at a starlit night sky and grunting, hoping that the other person can understand that we mean to say, "How magnificent is the universe, how epic is this tapestry woven by some unseen hand across existence, and how beautiful is this life that is ours … "
Recognizing that words are important means that being able to use our words well is paramount, and it is with that in mind that I want to turn your attention to the speech classes here at UCF. I regret that, after completing one of these classes, I must take the position that they can actually be harmful to the goal of becoming a good public speaker.
A student taking a speech class at UCF will be shackled in adherence to creativity-stifling requirements. They will be assigned two or three speeches to give throughout the semester and a pointlessly rigid rubric to follow. Deviation from this rubric will result in a low grade. Outside-the-box thinking is forbidden immediately, making any sort of adaptation to your audience incredibly difficult.
The immediate question to the inquiring mind is, "How is restriction supposed to make someone an effective communicator in real-world situations, where being able to adapt to your audience is critical?"
Several tests are taken over the semester, not tests in the form of delivered speeches, but normal pencil-and-paper tests, which is absurd given what the class is supposed to teach. But rather than have me tell you this, why don't I give you a real test question and have you decide for yourself if it is of any value in learning to speak effectively?
"What organizational pattern did Martin Luther King use in his 'I Have a Dream' speech?" The answer is that Dr. King used a wave pattern, which gives me a few questions of my own. Questions like: "I wonder if Dr. King knew he was using a wave pattern?" and "How does knowing that some 'communications experts' sat down one day and decided that Dr. King used a speaking pattern that they would call a wave pattern make me or anyone else a better public speaker?" and "How does being required to purchase a $100 480-page textbook on public speaking in order to answer this inane question really make someone more dynamic and powerful in his or her speaking?"
There is a magic in hearing "I Have a Dream" that cannot be reduced to something called a wave pattern. Speaking with people, truly speaking with them and not at them, is something that no textbook can teach and no pencil-and-paper test can evaluate. It is something that is better developed through practice and freedom.
Practice speaks for itself, and I say freedom because we have had many great orators throughout history — you can hear them on the news and you can hear them on the old films of history's greatest moments, but you can also hear them on TED talks and at business conferences. What is common among them is that they are effective, but they all speak on different topics and in different ways.
This is what makes creative freedom prime; Jon Stewart can't give the same speech Ronald Reagan could, but that doesn't make either of them any less effective.
For this, I implore UCF's well-intentioned professors to break away from thinking of students as sheep to be herded through a particular delineated curriculum, in which they're taught "various models, theories and heuristics of oral communication" (that's from the syllabus) to pursue a conception of these students as the future history makers and business leaders of the world, for whom being comfortable and effective in their unique capacities as communicators cannot be done by having them ingest and regurgitate nonsense, but by practice and the cultivation of real skill in the art of speaking well.