Which College Textbook for Public Speaking is Best?


Have you taken a college course in public speaking?

Have you taught a college course in public speaking?

Which textbook did you use, and would you recommend it?

I’m interested to hear all your recommendations, the good and the bad.

In particular, perhaps you can help out a Six Minutes subscriber from Switzerland who teaches public speaking and writes:

Have you ever taught public speaking to college students? If so, do you have a recommended book? I am using a book right now (Hogan et. al, Public Speaking and Civic Engagement) that I am 50% happy with, but find the focus too American. My class is full of international, mixed-culture kids and they can’t relate to all the U.S. references.  I have used Lucas [Ed. The Art of Public Speaking?], you probably know his work, but find it too practical oriented and not academically very challenging. So I am searching for a “global public speaking” book. Any recommendations?

If we get a number of responses, I’ll compile them together in a future article.

Your responses can go here in the comments. Thank you!

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Comments icon12 Comments

  1. I have taken a public speaking course and found the textbook to be subpar, at best. Even worse, is the textbook was a “custom edition” for our university in attempt to curry relevancy with the students. This did not happen. Fortunately, lectures, and small group sessions made up for the lack of written content.

    If I were to teach a course, I would probably make a reader of speeches (contemporary and classics, good and bad) for students to have a reference point, I would supplement these with excerpted chapters from more practical books (Slide:ology, Presentation Zen, Beyond Bullet Points, Confessions of a Public Speaker, Robert McKee’s “Story”, Syd Field’s “Screenplay”).

    Then I would include multimedia: supplementing reader material with one or two recent salvos from the blogosphere, and have students submit bi-weekly reflections of YouTube speeches, and spend the last quarter of the term working on a YouTube video with a team.

    Ultimately the goal is to give the student a safe space to practice, and the knowledge to find relevant resources (blogs, books, videos) to help shape their own style.

  2. Patricia Cotton says:

    I am anticipating a great manual when you get it all compiled together. I have not had a speaking class in college.

    Thank you,

    Patricia Cotton

  3. I have not taught public speaking in college. However, I am Vice President-Education for a Toastmasters club. I have been looking for material to supplement the Toastmasters manuals.
    How about a free textbook resulting from a collective effort by college professors in the American Communication Association (ACA)? It is called the ACA Open Knowledge Guide to Public Speaking and can be found at http://www.textcommons.org. It began to appear in September 2008. Right now it consists of a series of 13 modules (chapters) that can be downloaded as Adobe Acrobat files. Eight chapters can be read online as well.

  4. I don’t think you learn public speaking from a textbook. You learn it from DOING it (under guidance). The syllabi I’ve seen from college public speaking courses don’t turn out better speakers. It’s not an academic pursuit.

    That said, I refer just about everybody to “Made to Stick” (for messaging), “Give your speech, change your world”, and “Speak like Churchhill, stand like Lincoln”. I am preparing to teachfor a college course in the fall and will make them required reading.

  5. I agree with Alan in “Made to stick” recommendation. It’s an absolutely great book, very useful for any kind of communication, in fact.

    I also read “Give your speech, change the world”. I liked it very much but I LOVE the “public speaking world”. I don’t know if it’s a good recommendation for college students.

    The problem with books like “Presentation Zen” and “Slideology” is that they focus very much on slides and that’s just an optional part of a presentation (although they are great books).

    Maybe “Advanced Presentations by Design” could be a good recommenation for college students. It contains the “Extreme Presentation Method”. Maybe it’s not the best one but it has 10 steps to follow.

    I think that sometimes students need first some guided steps to follow and after that, they can do some research on their own to learn more about public speaking.

    Besides, there’s a lot of information about charts, something very used at College.

  6. I would like to put in a plug for my own text, “Pocket Guide to Technical Presentations and Professional Speaking”. It covers an enormous amount of material in a short, easy-to-follow manner. The last chapter is about a wide variety of speaking situations.

  7. Zaldy Co says:

    The Art of Public Speaking by Stephen Lucas is an excellent textbook but needs to be complemented with a workbook to become academically challenging. The Toastmasters Competent Communication manual comes to mind as the workbook.

  8. Eric Leist says:

    I absolutely agree with Alan. I’m a college student at Boston University, and I just finished a speaking course last semester. I took one in high school as well.
    I think the reason why so many people are not satisfied with the textbooks in speaking courses is because the best way to teach that material is to have students get up and DO it. The activity of speaking should come first, any other material should be complementary. I like Josh’s idea. I can see handouts being very effective.

  9. ridwan says:

    i used the art of public speaking by stephanie e lucas….i find it interesting and practical.

  10. I taught from the Osbourne and Osburne Public Speaking text about 5 years ago. These days I would supplement it with an article or book about communicating with visual presentations.

    Also, if I were to do it again I would focus far more on actual in class speaking projects as opposed to memorization for the midterm and final. Giving them actual experience and the potential of developing a portfolio is so much more important than them memorizing words they will forget 80% of in 48 hours. This is what the science of constructivism and learning science concludes anyway.

    Great blog…

  11. Denise Menchaca says:

    One thing that’s important to understand is that not all communication courses are public speaking courses. Public speaking is a co-discipline in the field of Communication Studies. What’s very popular now in first year college curricula is the “hybrid course” which provides an overview of the field of Communication Studies. Hybrid courses usually offer only a unit on public speaking. With that said, I think the best text for public speaking really is the one the instructor compiles for students from fine internet sources, such as this blog. Why reinvent the wheel when others are providing such a wonderful service to the internet community? Thank you for the quality material your blog posts!

  12. Mark Dorrough says:

    I have taught public speaking for 10 years and have coached competitive speech teams at the 4 and 2 year level. It sounds to me like you are looking for a theory heavy text book. If you are then I suggest Rhetorical Public Speaking by Nathen Crick might work. I personally just go for A Pocket Guide to Public Speaking by O’Hare for the students to reference then fill in the rest with my lecture, activities, handouts, and discussion

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