Mystery Meet: Students Succeed with Surprise Saturday Speeches

How well can you give a speech on the spot?

Thanks to an in-class exercise, the students in my COM-103, Public Speaking class at National University now know their answer to this question.

Two months ago — during a class on Saturday, December 3, 2011 — I challenged them to give one-minute informative or persuasive speeches about one item they randomly selected from a bag.

They energetically engaged the assignment and succeeded superbly (as I anticipated, despite initial hesitancy on their part)!

Here’s how completed the exercise:

I brought to class a bag I had earlier filled with 20 random items. After announcing and explaining the exercise to my students, I walked around the room, bag in hand, instructing each student to reach in and retrieve one item without looking.

The selected items included:

  1. Bac’n Buds Plastic Jar (3.25 oz)
  2. Black Wine Gift Bag
  3. Blueberry Muffin Mix (7 oz)
  4. Göt 2 Be Hair Gel (2.5 oz)
  5. Hand Sewn Bag of Marbles
  6. Hand-Held Hole Puncher
  7. Large Yellow Sponge
  8. New England Patriots Helmet Bank
  9. Playing Cards from London (52)
  10. Rayovac 6 Volt Lantern Battery
  11. Red Bandanna Neck Cooler
  12. Synthetic Pillow Stuffing.

I then gave my students 15 minutes to research and prepare a minimum one-minute speech about the item (using the computers at their desks).

Once they were ready, we began. While each student spoke I clocked their presentation without giving them any indication as to their progress or total time.

After giving the speech, each student wrote his or her name on the board and, next to their name, the length of time they guessed their speech to have been. I then told them how long their speech actually was, which they then wrote down on the board next to their estimated time.

My intent was to help them understand the differences in perceived time versus actual time — while also gaining practice giving speeches in a somewhat improvisational way.

Notably, with one exception, all of the students underestimated their total time, generally by a large margin. In one surprising case, a student’s estimate of her time was exactly the length of her speech!

The results are as follows:

  1. Guess: 0:55 | Actual: 3:20 | Difference: -2:25
  2. Guess: 0:45 | Actual: 1:11 | Difference:  -0:26
  3. Guess: 1:05 | Actual 1:05 | Difference: 0.00
  4. Guess: 1:00 | Actual: 0:26 | Difference: +0.34
  5. Guess: 1:01 | Actual: 0:51 | Difference: -0:10
  6. Guess: 0:40 | Actual: 1:00 | Difference: -0:20
  7. Guess: 0:40 | Actual: 0:57 | Difference: -0:17
  8. Guess: 1:21 | Actual: 1:31 | Difference: -0:10
  9. Guess: 1:07 | Actual: 2:04 | Difference: -0:57
  10. Guess: 1:04 | Actual 2:09 | Difference: -1:05
  11. Guess: 0:12 | Actual: 0:15 | Difference: -0.03
  12. Guess: 1:30 | Actual 1:35 | Difference: -.05

In one particularly poignant speech, the student with the red bandanna neck cooler first presented a thorough overview of the history and uses of the item, but then explained how it also represented gang affiliation and death in her Los Angeles neighborhood. I was touched and impressed by how mature and meaningfully this student presented something so personal.

Overall the students seemed to enjoy the exercise . And, as I anticipated, each approached his or her item with a unique angle, but with an equal ambition to achieve. In total, the exercise took an hour to complete, and it really helped us start the class off with exceptional energy and excitement.

So are you ready to give your surprise speech?