Online public speaking course gives students confidence to be heard

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Students searching for a public speaking class will no longer find the course under its usual department category. Theatre and Media Arts 150 will be switching to a course offered in the BYU Counseling and Career Center’s student development category starting Fall 2015.

The public speaking class has been offered at BYU since 1955. This speech course teaches basic life skills that help students write better essays, speak more fluently, prepare for interviews and react in impromptu moments. The course is a service course, meaning it is offered to all BYU students, according to TMA Course Coordinator Stephanie Freeman.

“I believe the course was moved because you learn skills in the class that are helpful going into any career, not just theatre,” said Sophia Gardner, a former TMA 150 student.

TMA 150 is an optional course for some students, but it is required for certain majors. Some majors that require the course are dental hygiene, nursing, exercise and wellness, and engineering. The ability to present in front of others and to speak to others with confidence is a quality needed in many different careers and environments, Freeman said.

The course has no more than 20 students at a time. Anywhere from 17 to 20 sections are offered in the fall and winter semesters, with two sections in the spring and one section in the summer. The 10 professors who currently teach the course also work in full-time professional careers such as lawyers, Freeman said.

There are no written midterms or finals — only speeches (minimum of six) presented to the class throughout the semester. The course is considered GPA-friendly, with the professor mainly looking for improvement in the students’ presentation skills.

“The class has a friendly environment that helps students feel more at ease at developing a skill,” Freeman said.

TMA 150 is not only offered on campus. In 1995, the off-campus course was offered under Independent Study. Students had to mail in their video tapes in order to get credit for their assignments. Current technology allows students to take this course online. Two online sections became available in Fall 2014.

The online class is set up exactly the same as the class on campus. The only difference is that students have to record themselves giving speeches to an audience (adults 18 years and up) and then post the videos to YouTube. The professors then grade the videos and give feedback. Students also must be motivated enough to keep up with the course on their own time.

“Everything is covered online,” Freeman said. “You are guaranteed to learn, if you want to.”

One of the highlights of TMA 150 is its annual showcase. The showcase and competition have been held since 1969, when Donald C. Sloan, an internationally known public speaker, made an endowment to the public speaking class in order to ensure that the competition would continue on campus.

Classes elect students whom they think performed best in the course to compete at the semi-finals. The elected students submit speeches online, and judges select the top 10 speeches. All elected students are awarded a cash prize and a dinner with their donors. The donors are usually family members of the original endowment group.

At the showcase, the audience listens to the most skilled speeches. The next showcase will be held on April 14, 2015, at 7 p.m. in the Pardoe Theater in the Harris Fine Arts Center.

Students who have taken this course have had generally positive experiences. Madison Campbell, a sophomore from Arizona studying exercise and wellness, enjoyed what was taught in the class.

I loved the amount of comfort I gained speaking in front of the class,” Campbell said. “The little details of speaking in front of people that you don’t normally think about were brought to my attention, and I was able to fix them.”

Staff and students support the decision to move TMA 150 to the student development category.

Freeman said speech and debate have a rich history with BYU, dating back to when the university was still Brigham Young Academy. A great number of Church leaders were involved with speech and debate.

Students can look for Public Speaking 150 in the student development section starting Fall 2015, and use this list of 21 of the best speeches from the movies as motivation.

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