Speakers’ club for enhancing public speaking skills and English language

Gyanendra Yadav

Abstract

These days, public speaking seems to be an essential soft skill for an individual which needs to be focused in school. Speakers’ club can be an effective way to develop such skill in students in addition to enhancing language proficiency. Based on a case study, in this paper, I attempt at sharing my experience of being an active participant in a speakers’ club and conducting it in the school for a couple of years. In the first section of the paper, first I introduce readers with the notion of speakers’ club; then, I briefly talk about how I collected data for the study. Next, I discuss the importance of speakers’ club in public speaking in general and language learning in particular as well as the challenges we faced to conduct it regularly. And finally, I present possible ways to minimize such challenges before moving to the conclusion at last.

Key words: public speaking, speakers’ club, language development, social skill

Background

When I was doing my Masters, I attended a  Speakers’ Club in 2013, which was organized by senior English language teaching scholars at Kathmandu University. The speakers delivered wonderful speeches; in fact, they were so inspiring and motivating for me.  The programme encouraged to take part as a speaker in the next Speakers’ club. In the following programme, I was one of the featured speakers speaking on The person who shaped my life. It appeared to be an easy and interesting for me as I had written an essay on the same topic. I prepared as much as I could but I felt nervous to speak in front of mass. Actually, that was the first time I had ever participated in any speech competition. I shared how a teacher transformed me from an average student to a teacher. The participants were found to have touched by my story and some of them praised my speech at the end. I do not recall exactly who got the prize on that particular day but I cannot forget the way the toastmaster and other judges analysed and gave their feedback on my speech. This proved to be bedrock for my passion I developed in public speaking. Then onwards, I became one of the regular speakers of speaker’s club. It has been more than five years, but I still love to be part of it.

After years of practice, I realized that I have significantly improved my public speaking skill which has been an asset for me as a teacher. As a regular participant, it worked as a platform for me where I got familiar with the ingredients successful speeches and practised them in my own speeches. I was able to grab best speaker awards a number of times. I was so influenced that I introduced this concept in my school as well. Some students were found interested and they successfully conducted it throughout academic year. After one year, they became so confident that one of the students from my school took part in KU Speakers’ Club and was able to raise the best speaker award from the hand of ELT scholars doing masters and M. Phil. Similarly, the other students also followed him and gave influencing speeches and were successful getting award several times. Despite the fact that we could not run it regularly every year; many students were found to be benefited from this club and have developed themselves as powerful speakers.

Reflecting upon my experience as a participant in KU and coordinator of Speakers’ Club in my school, I realized that Speakers Club can be used as an effective means of developing public speaking and language proficiency. Thus, in this article I attempt at exploring the use of Speakers’ Club in the EFL context of Nepal.

Notion of speakers’ club

Speakers’ Club can be simply defined as a platform for language learners to develop their public speaking skills. Like an international toastmaster, it is a club one delivers and observes each other’s speeches. Participating in such club gives students an opportunity  for practising their public speaking skills and their language skills. First time, speakers’ club was introduced by a group of ELT scholars of KUSOED and it became so famous that many of us implemented it in our respective schools and college. I was one of them to take this program in school level.

The notion of speakers’ club was guided by the International Toastmaster which aims at developing public-speaking and oral communication (Sun, 2008, as cited in Hsu, 2012). While implementing this at my school, we modified some of the rules to make it suitable for school children. First, we became little flexible about the time in the beginning as students often ran out of ideas in the middle and could not speak for four minutes. Likewise, we paid little attention to grammatical errors  so that they would speak freely without stress . Moreover, we created a post: highlighter, whose job was to give compliment  on only positive aspects of the speech. This was found to be encouraging for students to take part in the club.

Besides these changes, the main notion of feature and impromptu speakers remained the same like in toastmaster. Thus like in toastmaster club, we also have two kinds of speakers in a session: four feature speakers and four impromptu speakers (see agenda sheet in Appendix 1). The feature speakers are given a topic of speech and they are supposed to speak for four minutes, not less than three and more than four. But the impromptu speakers, as the word suggests, are provided the topics for their speech on the spot and they have to speak for at least two minutes. This is found to be challenging for speakers as they are only informed about theme but the topics are unknown to them. Besides speakers, we have  toastmaster,  grammar checker,  fidget counter,  highlighter, and  timekeeper. The toastmaster  selects topic and theme of the speech and conducts  session effectively. Sometimes, guest speakers are called to deliver mock speech and their experience of public speaking and  sometimes we watch famous speech by professional speakers. Speakers’ club can also be significant for language learners in enhancing their speaking skills. In relation to speaking skill, Ur (1991) emphasized the importance of small talk that advanced or academic students need to develop ability to speak at length which can be developed through short lecture or talk. Likewise, Harmer (2007) takes student’s presentation as an activity for developing speaking skill by giving talk on a particular topic. It seems that when learners take part in speakers’ club, they get ample opportunity to deliver and hear many speeches and harness their skills by collaborating and learning from each other.

The case study

This program was introduced in our schools’ academic calendar and was conducted twice a month. Basically students from grade eight and nine participated in the program. In the beginning, the students were hesitant; I had to guide them in selecting title, themes and word for the day for speech. Sometimes, I had to play the role of grammarian and check their grammatical errors as they could do on their own. But slowly and gradually, they not only improved their speech but also learned to organize the event themselves with little support from teachers. Now, they seem to have become independent; they can organize the program on their own. After successful implication of Speakers’ Club for two years, last year the school introduced Nepali Speakers’ Club as well.

The respondents for the present study were M. Phil graduates and my students who had been actively taking part in Speakers Club. They were selected purposefully so that I can get the required information for the study. I used interview and FGD as data collection strategies and my own reflective notes. The participants were given pseudo-names to maintain confidentiality in the study. First, I interviewed three respondents using interview guideline (see Appendix 2), however, it was used just as a guideline to cover the emergent issues. It mainly covered three aspects: participants’ experience, challenges in conducting speakers’ club, and their learning as speakers and language learners. Similarly, I also conducted an FGD with my students focusing on the same aspects. Their interviewed were transcribed and finally I developed different theme for analysis and interpretation. These themes have been presented and discussed in detail in the following section.

Importance of Speakers’ Club

All the respondents expressed that Speakers’ Club has been beneficial for them in enhancing public speaking as well as other skills. Regarding importance, Bimala argued, “I have not found anyone who express speakers’ club is not beneficial or uninteresting”. All the respondents agree that they have benefited from speakers’ club in many different ways which was also reported by Yu-Chih (2008). Their responses can be presented and discussed under three major sub-themes: Building confidence, enhancing public speaking skills and developing language.         

Building Confidence in speakers  

Most participants expressed that they developed confidence as a result of participating in speakers’ club. Building confidence appears to be a common phrase in almost every respondent’s   answer when they were asked to express the benefits of speakers’ club. In the process of sharing her experience as a speaker, Bimala mentioned that earlier she had habit of looking at ground while giving speech and she would become nervous when she looked at her audience. In her own words, she put “I learned to be normal” by thinking audience as nobody and herself to be superior to them. Similarly, Rajan emphasized that hesitation or fear of speaking is one of the main problems which he overcame by giving speech in speakers’ club. He believed that through practice one can decreases their hesitation and can become better speaker. This seems to be supported by students in the FGD and by other study (Iberri-Shea, 2009). Most students agree that after long practice, they felt confident while giving speech in mass.

Improving public speaking skills

Enhancing public speaking was found to be the main expectation of each respondent. However the way they express their development as speakers vary from one to another. First, Sunil opined that he adored being part of speakers’ club. According to him, speakers’ club is “a platform for learners where they can practice and develop their skills to deliver effective speech in the mass”. Furthermore, he shared that he learned to use quotation and personal stories in his speech which made him winner twice. But he believed that winning is not final goal; rather speaking is an opportunity to explore their ability and a process to collect required information on particular topic which can be used to influence our audience. So, he seems to have connected speaking skills to personal and professional development as well. This seems to be in line with Yu-Chih (2008) who states that through such club students improve their proficiency in public speaking and other various skills.

Next, the respondents of FGD view public speaking a way to develop research skills. They expressed that speakers club gave them opportunity to research on different new topics. As a result they developed habit of collecting information from different sources to prepare and give speech. Their understanding was found to be in line with Iberri-Shea (2009) who states that “public speaking tasks require students to conduct research and develop support for their arguments” (p.23). Likewise, Rajan articulated that he became conscious about his errors yet it did not decrease his fluency. He expressed to have learned to maintain both accuracy and fluency even after being aware of his error.

Above all, the participants were able to learn to present themselves as speaker, use anecdote and quotation, research on different topics and developed as speakers. By the same token, Al-Tamimi (2014) argues that “public speaking such as speakers club has been proved as a suitable pedagogical activity for ESL/EFL students to develop their speaking competence” (p.66). They can better relate their stories with the context, make inferences from observation and experience, and derive conclusion effectively. These skills can be important in real life situation besides learning language and public speaking. In this line Thornbury (2005) states that for language learners, the experience of presenting ourselves in front of class and giving talk can be an effective way of preparing for real life speaking.

Opportunity to practice target language

In response to my question regarding language development, they believed to have developed their speaking skill and improve their grammar. First, a respondent in FGD put that learning English or any other language is not limited to book; it can be learnt better by speaking. He belied that the more one speaks the more they develop speaking skill. In the same line, Sunil also echoed this respondent when he stated that speaking, as a productive skill, needs practice; so the more we speak the more we develop speaking proficiency. He also added that such practice can have positive impact on writing as well since speech can be turned writing.

Next, Rajan and Bimala expressed that speakers could improve their grammar by focusing on the comments given by grammarian in the speakers club. They believed that speakers club can be used as platform to reflect on our error in order to minimize them and become better speaker. In this line, Ur (1991) states that developing leaners’ ability to express through speech is an important factor in language course.

Thus, delivering speech in speakers club seems to provide EFL learners immense opportunity of using language to influence people. They learn to use their communicative competence – “knowing when and how to say what to who” (Hymes, 1971, as cited in Larseen Freeman, 2000) in their speech to influence people. Thus, such meaningful discourse can help EFL learners acquire language subconsciously just like in natural setting (Krashen, 1982).

Challenges in conducting speakers’ club

From the interview and FGD, I found three main challenges in conducting speakers’ club successfully. First, they expressed that most students were hesitant to participate in speakers’ club. Bimala and Sunil mentioned that some appeared to be unaware of the benefits that speakers club can offer and therefore they were not interested in being part of it. Similarly, Rajan added that some participants were even found to have fear of speaking in public as it might reveal their mistakes. Rajan was in line with Ur (2005) who mentions being worried about committing mistake and fearful of criticism or losing face as common problems in speaking activities.

Next, it appears to be challenging to run this program smoothly. Time management because of busy schedule was expressed to be a major cause for irregularity in speakers’ club both in KU and in my school. In addition, toastmasters’ inability of selecting suitable topic and conducting program was also viewed as one of the reasons for discontinuity in the program. Third and most importantly, most participants argue that voting system had negative impact provided that some speakers could get more vote because of their popularity. They mentioned particular session in which the deserving candidates did not win even after giving better speech; instead a popular friend was selected as winner.

Ways forward

Having shared the above challenges, I present some possible solutions offered by the respondents in order to overcome them. First, managing suitable schedule and time can minimize a number of issues mentioned above. As suggested by Bimala, it would be better to manage routine in a way so that maximum students can participate. Next, Rajan suggested that guest speakers can be called to deliver speech, especially inspirational speeches. This might make demotivated participants realize the benefit of public speaking and motivate them to take part in the club. And they can be the in charge of their leaning (Iberri-Shea, 2009). Finally, voting system can be modified giving fifty percent right to the judges and fifty percent to the participants. This can minimize the biasness so that deserving candidate will have better possibility to be winner.

Conclusion

Speakers’ club is proved to be an effective platform for me and my students. This seems to be beneficial in EFL context as it builds confidence in speakers, enhances their public speaking skills, and develops language proficiency. Running this program smoothly for long period of time appears to be challenging if the participants are not enthusiastic and hesitate to participate. This can be minimized by planning, preparing and conducting the program properly. Effective time management and inspiring speeches by guest speakers can lead to better participation.

References

Al-Tamimi, N. O. M. (2014). Public speaking instruction: Abridge to improve English speaking competence and reducing communication apprehension. International Journal2(4), 45-68.

Harmer, J. (2007). How to teach English. London: Pearson Longman.

Hsu, T. C. (2012). Enhancing college students’ global awareness through

campus Toastmasters clubs. International Journal of Research Studies in Education, 1(1), 21-34.

Iberri-Shea, G. (2009). Using Public Speaking Tasks in English Language Teaching. In English Teaching Forum, 47(2), p. 18-23.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and principles in language teaching (2nd edition.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Krashen, S. D. (1982). Principles and practice in second language acquisition. New York: Pergamon Press.

Thornbury, S. (2005). How to teach speaking. London: Pearson Longman.

Ur, P. (2005). A course in language teaching: Practice and theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Yu-Chih, S. (2008). The Toastmasters approach: An innovative way to teach public speaking to EFL learners in Taiwan. RELC Journal39(1), 113-130.

 

Contributor

Gyanendra Kumar Yadav is a research scholar at Kathmandu University and teaches English language at different colleges in Lalitpur. He is pursuing his M. Phil. in English Language Education from Kathmandu University, School of Education. He is also a life member of NELTA, and has published several journal articles and presented papers in NELTA conferences. His areas of interest include teaching English through literature, teachers’ professional development, and critical pedagogy.

Appendixes

Appendix 1

Speakers’ Club-KU (Season 7, Session 1)

4th Floor, Building C, KUSOED Hattiban

10 September 2017

Topic for Featured Speakers: Introduction

Theme for the Impromptu Speakers: Teaching profession

 

 

Word For the day: Passion

  • Toastmaster: Gyanendra Yadav
  • Grammarian: CB Khatri
  • Highlighter: Raju Shrestha
  • Time Keeper: Anupama Manadhar
  • Ah counter: Sharmila Parajuli
  • Fidget counter: Kausalya Khadka
  • Tech-support: Manuka Adhikari
  • Prize Sponsor: Regent school

 

Featured Speakers Impromptu Speakers
  1. Damodar Poudel
  1. Sudip Neupane
  1. Ishwar Koirala
  1. Keshab Prasai
  1. Jhaggu Gahatraj
  1. Deepak Regmi
  1. Yogendra Ruwali
  1. Birat Chaulagain

 

Best featured Speaker Best Impromptu Speaker
 

 

Appendix 2

Guideline for interview (speakers’ club)

Experience sharing

  1. Have you taken part in speakers club?
  2. Would you like to share you experience of being part of speakers’ club?

Importance of speakers’ club

  1. Do you find any benefits in participating in Speaker’s club?
  2. Can you share any concrete changes that you notice after participating?
    1. In Public speaking
    2. In Language development /as EFL learners

Challenges and ways to overcome them

  1. It is found difficult to continue the program for long. What is your view regarding it?
  2. What other challenges do you find?
  3. What can be done to overcome such challenges?