How I Improved My Public Speaking…in a MOOC

The past year or so I’ve been working with folks at the University of Edinburgh to develop a course to deliver as a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). I was sure the course would fill an important ‘learning opportunity’ gap for health policy practitioners, and I was very excited about the work. I was much (much) less excited about making videos of myself. I am probably a ‘fair to middling’ public speaker and I rely heavily on connecting with the listeners in the room….which, of course you don’t have when you are lecturing to a video camera. I was looking for an opportunity to improve my public speaking that could fit in to my way-too-busy life. Though I’m familiar with the MOOC format, I was looking for a ‘real world’ course. I didn’t think the MOOC format would work well for public speaking. As the video-making dates loomed ever closer, and I hadn’t found any face-to-face options, I decided to check out MOOC options at  Class-Central (a database of MOOCs from most providers). I found the University of Washington would shortly launch an Introduction to Public Speaking course on the edX platform. Like most MOOCs, there was a free enrollment option, so I took the plunge.

The structure and delivery of the content was very good; the instructor, Matt McGarrity is a public speaking guru, and, not surprisingly, his video lectures were engaging and accessible. What surprised me was how well the ‘homework” worked. The homework was to prepare and deliver various types of speeches (e.g. informative, impromptu), which course participants record and upload to youtube [set to private viewing]. Prof McGarrity provides a grading rubric, which you use to review others’ speeches and provide feedback. I found these exercises amazingly effective. Knowing someone (anyone!) will view your speech elicits a fairly high degree of effort; and, reviewing others’ speeches with the rubric is illuminating also. For me, the fact that I had to VIDEO record my homework speeches was a huge plus. I think anyone interested in improving their public speaking skills would, however, find it very useful. I notice that Prof McGarrity is offering the course on the Coursera platform now. Check it out!

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