My Most Rewarding Class

There are a few different types of classes in college. First, there are the classes in my major that are directly relevant to my field of study. Second, there are classes that are fun and interesting, but completely optional. And then there’s a third kind: required classes that don’t necessarily relate to anything I’m studying, usually called gen eds.

The latter category is the most frustrating. These are the classes where I usually feel like I’m not having fun or learning anything useful. However, these classes aren’t always the huge waste of time and money that many students think they are. One of my general requirements turned out to be the most rewarding class I’ve taken so far in college.

Public Speaking

I’m going to take a look at the things this class didn’t have, and how taking away the elements of a standard college class made me learn far more than I would have in a traditional class.

There were no big reading assignments. Nobody likes reading textbooks. They aren’t fun to read, and I usually don’t learn well when I’m bored out of my mind. Public Speaking wasn’t taught out of a textbook, so there were no huge reading assignments for 75% of the class to blow off. Sure, there were a few small readings, but they were painless enough that students could just share the textbook. The result: I always showed up to class and actively paid attention because there was no crutch to fall back on.

There was no confining schedule. “Hey, I have a great idea! I’m going to plan every lecture and due date before I meet any of my students and hope they can keep up.” Whoever made this a standard practice did little to benefit the education system. Having a plan isn’t necessary a bad thing, but it can be hazardous when a professor’s guesswork is wrong and an entire class finds the pace of a class too slow or too fast. Public Speaking was not confined to a schedule. The result: The class was taught at the students’ pace.

There were no papers. In a writing class, papers make perfect sense. However, there are other classes where writing is a tedious way to fill up the recycle bin. Too many professors assign papers just because that’s a normal thing to do in college, even when there is no real benefit to the students. Not this one. I only had to write speech outlines and short reactions, which directly contributed to the quality of my speeches. The result: I could focus my time on practicing a valuable skill instead of just writing about it.

Many tasks weren’t graded. A big problem I find with education in general is that students are punished for being wrong from the beginning. Mistakes usually lower your grade, even though making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn. In Public Speaking, many of our speeches and assignments were not graded. The result: My mistakes were a valuable learning experience rather than points off my grade.

So what did I do in this class with no big readings, schedule, papers, and very few grades? I gave speeches. A lot of them, only 5 of which contributed to 70% of my grade. The other 30% came from active participation and speech outlines. In a traditional class, I probably would have read a textbook about proper public speaking techniques, watched a bunch of videos of famous speeches, written a paper about how an influential speaker changed society forever, and then maybe given a short speech or two.

The goal of this class wasn’t to learn about public speaking, the goal was to do public speaking. And it worked beautifully. This class helped me hone an important skill that I’ll be able to apply through much of my life: the ability to effectively communicate with a large group of people. It’s already helped me more times than I can count.

And that, my friends, is why Public Speaking is by far the most rewarding class I’ve taken so far at Northwestern.

You don’t always need a textbook and boring PowerPoint slides to learn how to do something. Sometimes you just need to jump right in and do it.

Note: Every Public Speaking teacher teaches the class in a unique way, so not all classes are the same. This post described Ryan Lauth’s method of teaching the class.

© 2024 Sean Gransee