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Essential Element: Oral Communication

Employers increasingly cite effective communication skills as an essential attribute of the graduates they seek to hire. Direct instruction and practice of oral presentation skills early in a student’s college career can provide a solid foundation upon which to build competency in the classroom and beyond.

Incorporating the Oral Presentation Requirement

Oral presentations can be incorporated into your course in various ways and can be tailored to the content and needs of your course. Formats may include individual presentations, ‘elevator pitches,’ debates, small group presentations, speeches, and dramatic performances. In our observations of student oral presentations in Signature Courses, we found that the most successful presentations had many of the following qualities:

Explicit Instructions

Students performed best when given clear written expectations and grading criteria well in advance of the presentation date. We also saw much stronger presentations for courses in which the instructor had set aside class time to teach basic presentation skills to students. We hope you will consider discussing not only what you want students to present but how they should present.

Peer Evaluation

Many faculty members find it helpful for students to evaluate the oral presentations of their peers using a rubric. This helps students listen more closely to each speaker and gives them a better framework to plan their own presentations.

Structured Engagement

Q&A sessions following individual or group presentations require presenters to think on their feet and to demonstrate more advanced mastery of content. Encouraging or requiring non-presenting students to ask questions of the presenters can increase class participation and engagement with the topics. Q&A sessions pair effectively with use of peer evaluation rubrics.

Instant Feedback

Some instructors give brief, immediate feedback to presenters, typically highlighting one or two strengths of the presentation and one area for improvement. This can help push students to a higher level of professionalism as they know they will hear feedback in front of their classmates. This approach can also benefit students who have not yet presented by giving them a tangible sense of what is expected.

Rising to the Challenge

We see students perform best when given challenging, thoughtful assignments that require creativity and autonomy. The strongest presentations require students to analyze and synthesize information rather than simply summarize.

Public Speaking Center

The Sanger Learning Center and the School of Undergraduate Studies have partnered with the UT Libraries to provide free public speaking support for all UT students.

Faculty Consultations

The Public Speaking Center offers support for any instructor who assigns oral communication projects in their course. A professional staff member from the Center can assist with the design of public speaking assignments and rubrics, offer strategies for giving revision-oriented feedback about students’ performance, or simply be a sounding board for ideas related to supporting students in the development of oral communication skills. Contact Rachel Jenkins to schedule a meeting.

Deeper Dive Instructional Guide

Faculty are invited to enroll in the new Deeper Dive Instructional Guide (DDIG) on Teaching Oral Competency through Canvas. A collaboration between the Faculty Innovation Center and the Public Speaking Center, the DDIG provides best practices, stories from UT faculty, and ready-to-go rubrics to help faculty develop and assess oral communication assignments.

Canvas Commons Module

Faculty are invited to embed the new Oral Competency for Students Resource module from the Commons into their Canvas courses. A collaboration between the Faculty Innovation Center and the Public Speaking Center, this module provides tips, guided activities, and links to engaging videos and articles for students to explore at their own pace.


The Public Speaking Center provides an in-class 50-minute interactive public speaking workshop upon request.

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