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Melanie Morgan and Jane Natt
Effective Presentations grew out of a need to address a large basic course (130+) sections/semester at a large Midwestern university whose primary focus is on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The students in our population were struggling to relate to the course and text. We needed a book that engaged our students, their interests and their strengths. While we strongly believed it was necessary for the text to address the five cannons of rhetoric including: invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery, it had to do so in a less conventional and more contemporary way. So, we took a three-pronged approach to making the book more accessible for our particular students.
First, the book capitalizes on current events. We use examples from leading figures in industry and examine news stories which feature presentations and analyze what went right and wrong in a given presentation context. Examples include Steve Jobs and his famous keynote presentations at Macworld Expos and the unsuccessful pitch made by the U.S. Olympic Committee to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. We use current events to teach ethics as well. Each chapter contains one or two boxes called “Ethically Speaking” where we address an ethical issue related to the chapter material and connect it to a current event. For example, when discussing the ethics of fictionalizing narratives we link the topic to the controversy surrounding the book, “Three Cups of Tea” and the veracity of the opening narrative told by co-author, Greg Mortenson. Through these examples, we are able to discuss not only ethics but the consequences to the speaker as well.
A second challenge with our audience or student population was their scientific focus. They found it difficult to relate to the rhetorical tradition presented in many existing texts. They wanted “hard scientific proof” to support ideas and recommendations made in a text/course and found the historical tradition less persuasive. In response to this criticism, the book uses a social scientific approach, while still paying homage to the roots of the discipline. We use research studies and theories to explain the ideas and recommendations the book promotes. In an effort to incorporate more research we have research boxes that describe studies and findings on issues such as Fear Appeals, Inoculation, and Organizational issues. Every chapter presents at least two spotlights on research that relate to the material presented in that chapter. The book also incorporates more theoretical explanations for why some approaches might work better than others within the narrative of the text. We also use prestige testimony to further support the claims and recommendations advocated in the text. We include speaker tips and boxes titled, “Professionally Speaking” from industry leaders, such as Brian Lamb, founder and CEO of C-SPAN, so students can see experts advocating the advice promoted in the book. The advice and anecdotes highlighted in these boxes underscore the importance of speaking well to career success.
Additionally, we had to hone students’ ability to explain scientific information to a diverse group of audiences. So, the book also incorporates best practices for explaining complex information.
Finally, many students bring a strong technological background to the course and wanted to explore the use of technology in modern presentational contexts. Therefore, we have included chapters that focus on using technology to make presentations and the best practices for using such technologies. We focus on asynchronous and synchronous distributed presentations, as well as the use of social media to make presentations more effective. We have also included a “Technically Speaking” box into all of the chapters that focuses how to address a particular skill via technology. All of this is accomplished in an accessible text that promotes the traditional skills underpinned by historical and contemporary communication scholarship.