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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2006

Автор: Платт Д.

Why should public speaking be taught at institutions of higher education in Kazakhstan?

Consider for a moment that someone studying in a University somewhere in the United States right now will some day be giving an inaugural address after being sworn in as president of the United States. It is not unlikely also that a student studying in one of Kazakhstan’s many universities right now may some day become president of this great nation. Perhaps another student will make a remarkable breakthrough in science, medicine, technology, or government. In all of these cases, these individuals would likely be requested to share their feelings, conclusions or strategies in front of hundreds of their peers.

In addition to those exceptional individuals, there will be thousands more who will need the skills taught in a public speaking class to present information about products, to give testimonies for or against individuals accused of committing crimes, or to impart knowledge to future school or university students. Many people may scoff at the preceding ideas, or argue that they don’t apply to them personally. If they are not convinced, perhaps the following information will change their minds.

Today alone, more than 7,000 speakers will stand in front of audiences in the United States to deliver speeches [1]. During the same twenty-four hour period, people will make more than 30 million business presentations [2]. In whatever career university students choose, the vast majority of them will eventually need to present information to a group of people. The material covered in a public speaking course would make them better public speakers, more prominent citizens, or at least more open-minded to the opinions and views of those around them.

Even with all of these examples, many students may ask why they should decide to take, or be required to take, a public speaking class. The answer to that question has three parts: studying and practicing public speaking will benefit them personally, professionally, and publicly.

Personal Benefits of Studying Public Speaking

A public speaking course could benefit students in three ways.

1. Studying public speaking helps students to succeed in college.

2. Studying public speaking increases students’ knowledge.

3. Studying public speaking helps build students’ confidence [3].

First, becoming proficient in public communication can help students gain skills important to their success in their fields of study.

To succeed in college, undergraduates should be able to write and speak with clarity, and to read and listen with comprehension. Language and thought are inextricably connected, and as undergraduates develop their linguistic skills, they hone the quality of their thinking and become intellectually and socially empowered [4].

Something happens to students when they know they will be expected to speak in front of their peers. Suddenly, instead of just trying to scrape by with the basic requirements of the course to get the desired grade, the course becomes a competition — for many of the students—to see who can produce the most exciting, entertaining, or thought-provoking speech. Many of them decide to learn rather than just survive.

Taking a public speaking course also helps students to learn how to think for themselves and better understand the thoughts and ideas of others. In preparing a good public speech, the students will need to learn to analyze research, organize worsd, and deliver their speeches. These are transferable skills that they can then take and apply in their other academic studies and in their chosen careers. These skills are gaining importance in an increasingly westernized academic climate. If students in Kazakhstan continue to “research” the way they have in the past, most of them will never make a significant contribution to society.

Second, public speaking can help you become more knowledgeable. According to one study, we remember:

10 percent of what we read,

20 percent of what we hear,

30 percent of what we see, and

70 percent of what we speak [5].

Consider for a moment two different ways of studying lecture notes for an exam. One method is to read and reread your notes silently. An alternative is more active and makes you a sender of messages. You stand in your room, put your lecture notes on your dresser, and deliver the lecture out loud, pretending you are the instructor explaining the material to the class. Which method do you think promotes better understanding and retention of the course material? You will not be surprised to learn that it’s the second method [6].

Speaking is an active process. When someone speaks, they must first formulate their ideas into a message and then deliver that message using their voice and other non-verbal communicative gestures. Giving a public speech tests a student’s thinking skills. Author E.M. Forster once said, “How do I know what I think until I’ve seen what I’ve said?” As students prepare and present their speeches, they begin to better understand what they truly believe and helps the subject matter become distinctively their own.

Besides the invaluable knowledge that comes from researching and preparing their own speeches, students also benefit greatly from the speeches given by other students through the course of the school year. The more frequent exposure students have to public speeches, the better they will learn how to be active listeners to others’ presentations and class lectures, and this will further boost their learning. Being better listeners will not only help them in school, but will allow students to benefit in their personal and professional lives as well.

A third way that a public speaking class can benefit students personally is that it will build their confidence. The fear of speaking in front of a group of people is widespread. In fact, the first edition of The Book of Lists tells of a survey that asked 3,000 Americans, “What are you the most afraid of?” “Speaking before a group” came in first place, ahead of heights, spiders, debt, deep water, sickness, and even death [7].

By taking a public speaking course, most students would be able to learn how to transform that anxiety into confidence. Most people know someone who seems almost completely undaunted by speaking in front of groups. Doubtless, they have learned somewhere in their past how to cope with speaking anxiety. Edward R. Murrow, a renowned pioneer in the broadcast industry, once said, “The best speakers know enough to be scared. Stage fright is the sweat of perfection. The only difference between the pros and the novices is that the pros have trained the butterflies to fly in formation.” Students who master public speaking will be the ones that others talk about as being fearless in front of those groups.

So far, we have discussed the three ways that taking a public speaking course could benefit students personally — it helps them succeed in college, it helps them gain knowledge, and it helps them build their self-confidence. Next, we will discuss how taking a communications class—and especially public speaking—can benefit students professionally.

Professional Benefits of Studying Public Speaking

Numerous studies have been done that show a strong relationship between communication ability and career success. Effective speaking skills augment students’ chances of securing employment and then being promoted in their careers. In a 1999 report, the National Association of Colleges and Employers listed characteristics employers consider most important when hiring an employee. Communications skills ranked at the top of the list [8].

In another study, 1,000 randomly-selected human resource managers were asked to determine the “factors most important in helping graduating college students obtain employment.” Oral communication skills came in first with written communication skills in second and listening in third [9]. The researchers ended by saying:

From the results of this and the previous study, it appears that the skills most valued in the contemporary job-entry market are communication skills. The skills of listening, oral communication (both interpersonal and public), written communication, and the trait of enthusiasm are indicated to be the most important. Again, it would appear to follow that university officials wishing to be of the greatest help to their graduates in finding employment would make sure that basic competencies in oral and written communication are developed. Courses in listening, interpersonal, and public communication would form the basis of meeting the oral communication competencies [10].

It seems obvious that if this excerpt is true, the most important subject that could be taught at a university would be communications. A public speaking course, taught correctly, will teach the crucial skills of public speaking and listening, which, in turn, will help students obtain good employment after graduation. Is this not the goal of most universities?

A survey of 500 executives found that speaking skills “rated second only to job knowledge as important factors in a businessperson’s success” [11].

Another survey found that while on-the-job public speaking only took up about six percent of managers’ and technical professionals’ time, it nevertheless ranked as more important to job performance than did time spent reading mail and other documents, dictating letters and writing reports, and talking on the phone [12].

It is my understanding as well that there are very few public speaking courses offered in universities in Kazakhstan. As relationships between Kazakhstan and the United States continue to develop, these skills will be increasingly valuable—especially those who understand western thought and American methods of speaking. The student in Kazakhstan that receives this fundamental training will have a distinct advantage over the peers in his or her professional life, be it local or international in scope.

Public Benefits of Studying Public Speaking

One of the most fundamental parts of a democracy is the ability and desire of citizens to freely discuss events that transpire in their lives. Public speaking is an important part of creating a society of informed and active citizens. Kazakhstan, for the most part, has the ability. What I have struggled to find so far is the consistent desire of the citizens to publicly discuss the things that most bother, concern, or frustrate them.

In discussions with some of the more educated people in Kazakhstan, I have learned that even most of them blindly pay the taxes they owe with no knowledge of what is being done with their money. These are the attitudes that need to be changed. These are the practices that must be stopped for the people in Kazakhstan to realize their full potential as a democracy. Public speaking can open students’ minds to a realization of what they have. They will be more able to share their thoughts with others in their communities and be able to understand the different ideals of foreigners that they encounter.

People that learn how to speak publicly will be the ones that someday may stand in front of a city council and secure funding for an orphanage, or be able to help the elderly to gain access to higher pensions. The student that learns these skills may be the future police officer who informs residents of a crime-ridden area and what they can do to protect themselves. They will likely be the leaders in their communities, and if taught well, they will use their knowledge and advantages for the good of their communities and improve societal communication.

In order to accomplish any of these tasks, the individual will need to use the power of the spoken word to address a need or invoke a particular audience response.

In this paper we have discussed briefly the importance of communications and public speaking in the classroom. We have discussed how a public speaking course would benefit university students in Kazakhstan personally, professionally, and publicly. Is it worth the work it would take to set up these programs?

In my experience teaching at the Kazakh American Free University in Ust-Kamenogorsk, I have seen many students take hold of the information they have received in their public speaking classes and improve themselves with it. No longer will most of them be too concerned about addressing an issue, or an audience, because all of them have done it. Most of them have developed the confidence and experience necessary to share their opinions and make their voices heard. All they need now is a subject they can feel passionate about and an audience willing to listen to the arguments they have to share. They are far from perfect, but as the great American poet Ralph Waldo Emmerson once said, “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first”. And these students are much further along than the vast majority of their peers. In my opinion, yes, it is worth it.

If more students in Kazakhstan could be prepared in such ways now, the future of this country would most certainly be thrilling. The first step is to convince more people that communications in general, and specifically public speaking, is critical to their students’ growth and education. The next step would be to set up programs and find qualified teachers to impart the knowledge and light fires in those students. The final and most enjoyable step would be to sit back and watch those fires burn [13].


1. Robert Johnson, “For One Reagan, You Can Get Many Mikki Williamses,” Wall Street Journal 30 January 1992: A1.

2. “Critical Link between Presentation Skills, Upward Mobility,” Supervision October 1991: 24.

3. George L. Grice and John F. Skinner, Mastering Public Speaking, 4th Ed. (Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2001) 5.

4. Ernest L. Boyer, College: The Undergraduate Experience in America (New York: Harper, 1987) 73.

5. Cited in William E. Arnold and Lynne McClure, Communication Training and Development, 2nd Ed. (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 1996) 38.

6. Grice, 5.

7. David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace, and Amy Wallace, The Book of Lists (New York: Morrow, 1977) 469-70.

8. Planning Job Choices: 2000, 43rd ed. (Bethlehem, PA: National Association of Colleges and Employers, 1999) 20.

9. Jerry L. Winsor, Dan B. Curtis, and Ronald D. Stephens, “National Preferences in Business and Communication Education: II.” Speech Communication Association Convention, Marriott Hotel & Marina, San Diego. 26 Nov. 1996: 17.

10. Winsor 11.

11. This survey was conducted by Communispond, Inc., and is reported in “Executives Say Training Helps Them Speak Better,” Training: The Magazine of Human Resources Development October 1981: 20-21, 75

12. Roger K. Mosvick and Robert B. Nelson, We’ve Got to Start Meeting Like This! (Glenview, IL: Scott, 1987) 224.

13. Much of the information in this article was based on the ideas and references of Mastering Public Speaking 4th ed. by George L. Grice and John F. Skinner (Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2001) 4-7.

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2006

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