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Teamwork in Public Speaking

Instructor: Lisa Kuchta

Lisa has a master's degree in communication, has taught college communication and writing courses, and has authored a textbook on presentation skills.

In this lesson, learn how to plan and deliver speeches as a group. Discover specific techniques to help you learn how to accomplish tasks together, communicate effectively, and present cohesively as a single unit.

The Benefits of Teamwork

So often when I tell my students that they will have to present a project as a team, I am greeted with a rousing round of groaning, complaining, and eye rolling. Forget the fact that in the business world, most work is done in groups and most presentations are delivered in teams. Forget the fact that being able to work effectively with others is a vital skill for almost every workplace. Forget the fact that planning and presenting together gives teams more resources, a greater range of abilities, more knowledge, and more moral support. What my students (and most other people in these situations) seem to focus on most are the potential downsides to teamwork - uneven workloads and personality conflicts. But the truth of the matter is that most students end up greatly enjoying their groups and the work they produce together. Speaking in groups can be a productive and rewarding experience, when you know how to effectively plan together, communicate together, and present together.

Planning Your Time Together

One of the greatest challenges of group work is ensuring that all of the parts of the project come together in a timely fashion. Whereas individuals can 'get away with' writing or practicing at the last minute, groups cannot. Therefore, it is incredibly important that one of the group's first orders of business is to create a comprehensive schedule. Think of all the tasks that need to be completed for the speech to be written and executed well (e.g., research, outlining, writing, practicing). Then, create deadlines for your group to get those tasks completed.

Once the timeline is established, I would strongly suggest against merely dividing the tasks among yourselves. While it's tempting just to say, 'I'll write the intro and first main points, you do the second, you do the third,' etc., it really isn't practical. A group speech should sound coherent, like it was written by the whole group, not like it is a collection of individual parts put together piecemeal at the last moment. Sure, perhaps one or two people can do the brunt of the research, but they should then share what useful information they found with the group. Sure, someone can take the lead on outlining or writing, but ultimately you all need to have a voice in and approve what is done. Here's the key: do as much together as your time and willingness allow to ensure the greatest level of cohesion.

Communicating Together

Communicating as a group may come with challenges. The best groups are ones with members that think differently; that diversity is the best way to get new ideas and perspectives that allow the group to perform better than an individual would have on his or her own. Of course, different styles can often be difficult to navigate. Here are some tips to help you and your group work effectively together:

  • Elect a coordinator - A coordinator is the person who will help to lead your team. The coordinator should not order people around or assign jobs; they are not the boss. Instead, the coordinator is responsible for overseeing the project and helping the group stick to their schedule and vision.
  • Establish group norms - As a group, it is important to talk to one another about what you want the norms to be for your team. Norms are the expected rules your group will follow when dealing with one another and working together. Talk as a team about what kind of work ethic, behavior, and communication patterns you want from one another. For instance, how do you prefer to communicate? Do you prefer frank and unfiltered straight talk, or does brashness make some of you defensive or offended? How should you all share ideas - just shout them out, or are some of you too shy for that method? How should you critique one another when work is not done well or presentation skills are lacking? What modes of communication do you prefer when you are not together - talking on the phone, texting, email? What will you all do if one of you under-performs? Having some norms established before you get into the thick of working together will make the process run more smoothly.
  • Keep a we-focus - Much of our lives is focused on individual achievement. We may be put in groups in school, but ultimately our course grades are our own. We may be put in groups at work, but salary increases, bonuses, and promotions are often only given to individuals. Staying in an I-mentality when trying to work with others, however, will be detrimental to the group's outcome. Put your ego aside and focus on what is best for the group's speech, rather than just what is best for you. This means that if one group member is not as poised or confident when speaking as the rest of you, it is in the group's best interest that you all help that person learn to speak more assertively. Yes, it's more work for you, but ultimately a better group performance will benefit all of you.

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