Wednesday, April 26, 2017

USCA Scholars Showcase, Part 3

One last report from Scholars Showcase at USC Aiken. My student Grant Robinson gave an excellent oral presentation about the visionary work of Peter Diamandis. Grant's topic was, "Abundance in a World of Scarcity: The Vision of Peter Diamandis." Grant, who intends to pursue a business career, was fascinated by Diamandis' work on the concept of abundance: the idea that modern technology makes it possible for all of us to have what we need.

Grant L. Robinson at USCA Scholars Showcase
Grant's presentation, which he prepared and practiced thoroughly, explained Diamandis' ideas and put them in the context of the world's economic struggles. He spoke with enthusiasm and determination.

Wise business students understand that public speaking skills are essential to a business career. Grant's choice of a speech topic also shows his willingness to look at the bigger picture, which, I think, too few business people have been willing to do. I expect him to go far, and I expect that his speaking experience will help him throughout his career.

By the way, Grant got me interested enough in Diamandis' work that I plan to mention it in my own writing about political rhetoric. Most big-picture visionaries are actually crackpots, but Diamandis, idealist that he is, is saying something worthwhile.

See my earlier posts about Scholars Showcase here and here. Such wonderful students!

Photo by Elaine Clanton Harpine

Monday, April 17, 2017

USCA Scholars Showcase, Part 2

Here a few more of the outstanding students from the University of South Carolina Aiken's Scholars Showcase on Friday, April 14, 2017.

Michaela Day, a USCA Honors Student, gave an oral presentation in which she compared and contrasted the work of two prominent nature photographers. Her presentation was lively and interesting, and her interest in photography dovetails with her plans to become a field biologist.
Michaela Day at USC Scholars Showcase

Michaela and her colleague Rachel Saxon also presented a poster about their field research about the parenting practices of Wood Storks. Even scientific poster presentations require oral communication; the presenters have just enough time to give a quick elevator speech to people who are walking past them. Good visual presentation, such as photos, large graphs, and attractive colors help catch visitors' eyes so the poster will get more attention. More and more graduate schools want applicants to have some research experience, so events like Scholars Showcase give students an opportunity to start. Michaela and Rachel's poster used great color and photos to help the reader.

Matt Haslinger & Sara Puckett at Scholars Showcase
Sara Puckett and Matt Haslinger presented a poster about their work in Elaine Clanton Harpine's reading clinic. They also made good use of color to help the reader understand their work. They presented data in a bar graph, which is much more appealing visually than a squiggly line graph that requires viewers to squint at the page. They also had quick, enthusiastic elevator speeches to explain their work to the viewers who walked past their display. The Scholars Showcase gave them, as well as many other undergraduate students, the opportunity to discuss their project. In this case, they gave a report about their experiences helping children learn to read.

In addition to her oral presentation about student internships earlier in the day, Collytte Cederstrom presented a poster giving some research data from her work in Elaine's reading clinic. Lively and interesting, her quick poster talk led to questions and answers from the people who walked past her display. Collytte will continue this project in 2017-2018, during which she will be a University of South Carolina Magellan Scholar under the direction of Dr. Adam Pazda.

Ashley Conklin at Scholars Showcase
Many good research projects are group efforts. USC Aiken students Ashley Conklin, Matthew Haslinger, and Collytte Cederstrom collaborated on an explanatory project called "Helping Students for the Years to Come."  Ashley took the lead in presenting the project, which was also grew from Elaine's reading clinic. This poster also displayed some great visuals, including pictures, and gave the students a chance to explain their work, to talk about what they learned during the project, and to present a vision for the future.

Overall, it is important for students to learn to do research. One of the great benefits of American higher education is that, instead of simply memorizing facts, students learn to investigate topics that interest them and to draw original, creative conclusions that are supported by data, experience, analysis, and reasoned evaluation. My two blog posts (see earlier post) talk about only a few of the many students who presented at this event. And--on April 21--many of these students will be on the University of South Carolina Columbia campus for Discover USC. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

USC Aiken Scholars Showcase, Part 1

The University of South Carolina Aiken's Scholars Showcase on April 14, 2017 gave outstanding students across campus a chance to present their research and creative activities. Elaine Clanton Harpine and I were lucky enough to work with several of them.

Collytte Cederstrom gave an excellent oral presentation about Elaine's reading clinic. Her topic was "Inside Look at Freshmen-Sophomore Internships." She spoke energetically without notes. Collytte has been active in Elaine's reading clinic for two years now, and is slated to lead the instructional program next fall. She drew on this experience to discuss how much she learned. Since most internships are reserved for college seniors, her presentation offered a new and important perspective.
Collytte Cederstrom at USCA Scholars Showcase

This kind of event gives students a great opportunity to present their ideas to an audience and to gain public speaking experience. Many people don't realize that completing a research project is only the first step. Researchers also need to present their ideas to the academic community and the larger public. Many social scientists and natural scientists (sadly, not all) also speak and write very well; otherwise no one would know about or believe their ideas.

Another excellent student, Davonte' Jenkins, gave a serious, very well-received presentation in which
Davonte' Jenkins at USCA Scholars Showcase
he examined the credibility aspects of two speeches on race relations: one by former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, and one by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott. My college Dean was in the audience and made a well-deserved very favorable comment. Davonte' worked with the credibility theory of Theodore Clevenger and Kenneth Andersen. Andersen was one of my professors in graduate school, so I was especially impressed.

Since we usually think about race relations as an issue for liberal Democratic politicians, Davonte' decided that it would be interesting to examine race relations speeches by conservative Republicans. He showed how the two speakers displayed competence, good will, and dynamism.

By the way, Collytte and Davonte' were both very well prepared, which is, of course, one of the secrets of a great speech.

Many students are reluctant to engage in research. Does research sound scary? What research really means is that you learn something important, and then communicate it to other people. This is what makes progress possible.

Anyway, I have more to say about this event, so stay tuned for Part 2 in a day or two. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Free Speech on Campus: A Better Outcome?

Controversial libertarian scholar Charles Murray spoke at Indiana University yesterday and--guess what!--he was able to finish his speech, and most of the students listened. He encountered some hecklers, most of whom seemed to be outside the lecture hall, but not enough to prevent his presentation. We have had many complaints about conservative speakers being barred from college campuses, so it's only fair to read about Murray's more favorable reception.

IU student Bill Walker commented, “If there’s a liberal protesting, it’s not in their best interest to protest. . . . They could come in here and listen to what he has to say and maybe rebut it.” Good point. When I attended college in the early 1970's, that's how my classmates and I would have handled the situation. 

Let's note that, although I think Murray is a very fine researcher, I cannot agree with everything he says. Some of his opinions seem like non sequiturs; i.e., his most controversial ideas often seem to be the opinions that have the least empirical support. Still, he has much to say that is worth hearing. 

Let's also note that the report linked above goes to the Indiana University student newspaper. This shows, once again, the high quality of journalism found in student papers. One often gets much better insights into college events and controversies from the student news than from the MSM. Not to knock the MSM, but the students bring in-depth understanding of campus happenings. I was on my own college newspaper staff, the Flat Hat, for three years. 

See my earlier posts about free speech on campus here and here. And here. A lot of posts! As a speech professor, I am a big First Amendment type. Let people speak. Let's listen to one another.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Janet Yellen Speaks at the University of Michigan, April 10, 2017

In what has been described as an unexpected move, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen had a conversation with an audience with Susan Collins, who is Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan last night. I have not had a chance to digest her discussion fully, but have a few comments:

1. The words of the Fed chair carry a lot of weight in short-term financial markets. The public appearance was scheduled right after market close to minimize volatile reactions.

Janet Yellen, Fed portrait
2. She had a free-wheeling conversation rather than a speech per se. She and Dean Collins sat on stage in comfortable chairs, and Yellen responded to questions. This was in some ways more interesting than giving prepared remarks.

3. Given the college audience, she began by talking about the Fed's role and the reasons that it exists.

4. As usual, Yellen's delivery was calm and measured. She spoke with variety and emphasis, but was careful not to sound excited. This helped to present her ethos as a calm, objective specialist as opposed to an ideological advocate. Standard persuasion theory suggests that an energetic delivery enhances a speaker's credibility. This is true in general, but the Fed Chair is probably an exception.

5. Yellen explained her points clearly and articulately. She reeled an array of historical and statistical facts off the top of her head, which, in turn, helped to establish that she was credible. She adapted to the audience of college students, while, at the same time, she obviously was reaching out to the larger economic audience.

The general public probably pays little attention to the Fed Chair's speeches, which are far less exciting than the exciting speeches that we expect from politicians, convention keynote speakers, and so forth. In contrast, the financial community hangs on her every word.

N.B.: In her remarks, Yellen took a middle route and defended Fed policy; at the same time, she was willing to admit when the Fed made mistakes, and explained how they learned from their mistakes. Are the ideological politicians, who never admit they are wrong, paying attention?

Friday, April 7, 2017

Less Is More: President Trump's Syria Strike Speech

Yesterday, President Donald Trump gave a brief speech announcing his decision to retaliate against Syria for its chemical warfare attack, which occurred during the Syrian civil war. Now, I am no foreign policy expert and I make no statement pro or con the President's decision. Let's just look briefly at the speech.

In contrast to some of his more bombastic offerings, Trump used measured language. He did call Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a "dictator" and referred to the "innocent civilians" who were killed.  He commented that "No child of god should ever suffer such horror." He referred to the United States "vital security interest" to "deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons." He expressed confidence that Syria did, in fact, use prohibited chemical weapons, and explained the illegality of their further justify the retaliation, Trump explained that peaceful attempts to change Assad's behavior had failed "very dramatically." The listener will note that Trump referred to Assad's behavior, personalizing the issue, and not to the Syrian government. He called on all "civilized nations" to bring peace to Syria and to end terrorism. He ended with a brief prayer and reasserted the United States' commitment to justice and peace.

Donald Trump, WH photo
The speech's organizational pattern was quite straightforward: an evil deed was done, the guilty party was identified, a specific military action was justified, and the nations of the world should join with God to bring peace. Quite classic.

A feature of Trump's style came through strongly: Trump relies on adjectives and adverbs:

"...a slow and brutal death."
". . . beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack."
"...we face the challenge of our very troubled world."
"Years of previous attempts at changing Assad's behaviour have all failed and failed very dramatically."
"innocent civilians"
"civilized nations"
"such horror"
"vital security interest"

Most modern writers avoid adjectives and adverbs. A friend of mine, a very good writer, says that if you need an adverb, it means that you used the wrong verb. Still, the style seems to work for Trump, as he speaks this way often.

The speech's brevity was part of the point. If the cause has already made itself obvious, a long speech is unneeded. Speech students are taught that a short speech is harder to create than a long one. One must reduce the proof down to the basics in order to give a short speech. It's harder than it sounds.

N.B.: the transcript uses some British spelling. Is this an transcribing error? Or is Trump an Anglophile? We'll see.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Speech against the Vietnam War

An article by Benjamin Heden in the New Yorker reminds us that this is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech in New York's Riverside Church opposing the Vietnam War. King filled the speech with his usual passionate and eloquent language. Unlike some of his more famous speeches, however, the Riverside Church speech was organized as a logical sequence of arguments.

He began the speech by giving broader context about his moral attitudes, and then stated his controversial thesis right off: he quoted the Riverside Church's statement that "'A time comes when silence is betrayal.' That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam." He reminded the audience of the danger of "conformist thought." He then listed and discussed at great length "seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision." Thus, common ground with his audience led him to a broader principle.

For the first of his seven reasons, he said that the war had diverted attention from the nation's efforts to help the poor.

Second, he pointed out that the poor were disproportionately "sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands" to the war in disproportionate numbers.

Third, since his civil rights movement was founded on nonviolence, so, he said, the government should help Vietnam without violence.

Fourth, he warned that the war ran a moral risk: "If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read 'Vietnam.'"

Fifth, he mentioned the moral obligation placed on him by winning the Nobel Peace Prize, devoted to "the brotherhood of man."

Sixth, he continued that "even if it [the prize\ were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ." He said that Jesus loved his enemies.

Seventh, he reminded the church that "We are called to speak for the weak,for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls 'enemy,' for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers."

That seventh argument just got this very long speech started. King continued with a long discussion of how the war actually countered its own ends, as the violence in Vietnam, he said, only served to turn the population against the United States.

King gave a five-step plan for ending the war, including an end to the bombing and a cease-fire. King quoted poet James Russell Lowell and ended by quoting the Bible: "when justice will roll down like waters."

From a policy standpoint, King said during the speech that:

"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

That issue is still with us today, as government debates whether social programs should be cut to make room for a military buildup. Which is the better route to security? Justice or strength? Or both? Perhaps history will be the final judge.

Finally, I note that communication scholars have largely neglected the study of this impressive speech. There is, however, an excellent 1992 article in the Western Journal of  Communication by George N. Dionisopoulos, Victoria J. Gallaher, Steven R. Goldzwig, and David Zarefsky

We can learn much about public speaking from this speech. King was willing to cause controversy. He backed his controversial comments with moral, religious, practical, and poetic arguments. He understood that reasoning was vital to the speech's success.