And a couple of really cool things happened. Because of a glitch the first day of this project, I had the students record themselves ranting instead of presenting live. As I watched them back, I realized something: these recorded speeches were everything that their previous Live Speeches To Class were not. Their previous speeches were nervous, wooden, and kind of dull, but the videos of the rants? They were funny. They were passionate. They elicited emotion from the audience. They connected.
Then, today, I got a few groups to present their speeches/rants live in front of the class audience, followed by showing the videos that they recorded yesterday. The assignment was then to compare the two--the presenters compared how it felt to present live versus presenting in a small group on video, and the rest of the class compared how engaged they felt by each. While many of the presentations to the whole class were quite good, they weren't nearly as silly or the kids as confident as the ones we watched on video.
In doing so, we confirmed a couple ideas we've sort of known all along. First, students present better when they're talking about something that they are actually, real-world invested in, even if that something is "the dust in the bottom of their Goldfish bag" or "those kids that stand in the middle of the hall and socialize and block everyone else from getting to class." This is true whether we're talking about a little rant in September or a massive end-of-semester research project.
And second, it's much harder to connect to a big audience than it is to a small group of your close friends. Big audiences come with far more variables-- you don't know what everyone will find funny, you're more nervous to start with, and it's a lot easier to tune someone out as a member of an audience of 30 than it is when you're part of an audience of 3.
Where we're headed with this, I'm not quite sure. My guess is that we'll talk about what we learned about engaging an audience through these rants, and then how to apply these lessons to all of our speeches (and hopefully all our assignments in other classes).