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Multicultural Activities for the Public Speaking Classroom

Marlene C. Cohen
Prince George's Community College

Susan L. Richardson
Prince George's Community College

Tony D. Hawkins
Prince George's Community College

The sample Multicultural Activities exercises shown here are content examples for the Public Speaking classroom. Instructor Notes as well as instruction on how to use this material are at the end of the examples. Please note that full references are not included and page numbers refer to actual text pages and may not be applicable here. To see the workbook in its entirety, please go to our catalog to order a copy or call our Faculty Services Center at (800) 733-1717. To view an example now, please click on an underlined item in the Table of Contents.

    Achieving Success in Public Speaking Class 1
    East-West Assumptions 4
    The Culture Iceberg 6

    Audience Survey 8
    What Does My Audience Believe? 12
    Adapting Your Speech Topic 14
    Analyzing Audiences from Different Cultures 15
    The Tour 18

    Library Research Assignment for Collecting and Analyzing Supporting Material 19
    Perceptions Versus Realities 29

    Organizing the Speech 31
    Speech Mapping 35

    Ethics 37
    Credibility in a Multicultural Society 41
    Establishing Credibility with My Class Audience 43

    Cultural Differences in the Emotional Component of Public Speaking 45
    Traditional American Values 47
    Universal Values 49
    Interest Letters 51

    Beware of American Idioms 52
    Nonverbal Taboos 54

    Impromptu Speech Topics 55

    Informative Speech Topics with Cultural Emphasis 57
    Informative Sample Speeches 59

    Persuasive Speech Topics with Cultural Emphasis 64
    Persuasive Sample Speech Outlines 67
    Persuasive Sample Speech 71

    Design for Action 75
    Speaker Self-Evaluation Form 76
    Speaker Observation 80
    Public Affairs Programming/C-SPAN 81



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We began the project of creating multicultural exercises for introductory speech communication classes because we felt the intercultural dimensions of communication are too important to be left as elective study. Our society is becoming more diverse and the workplace already consists of people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. To be successful in the workplace and in our personal relationships, it is essential to communicate effectively with a wide variety of people.

More than most classes, your speech communication class is a good place for you to become more aware of multicultural issues. You will learn how to adapt to your listeners. You will become more aware of yourself as a communicator and become more aware of the ways in which you are similar to and different from classmates in values, attitudes, language use, and nonverbal communication.

We hope your class will be a comfortable place to address the vital topics of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc., in our society. Along with developing an understanding and respect for diversity, you will also be practicing many communication skills that can improve your ability to be flexible in your communication. Hopefully you will build a repertoire of ways of responding and develop sensitivity to making the appropriate communication choices at the appropriate times.

The terms below should help you with the multicultural approach you will be taking in this class.

Terms to Know

Culture: the learned product of group experience,1 including artifacts, concepts such as values and belief systems, and behaviors.2 In the United States people belong to cultures composed of various religious, economic, ethnic, age, gender, sexual preference, and racial groups.3

Diversity: "differences among people or peoples reflected in a variety of forms, such as race, culture, perspective, talent, interest, age, or religion."4

Ethnocentrism: "the tendency to interpret and evaluate others' behavior using our own standards." This leads to viewing the in-group's ways of doing things as natural and thus superior to other groups' ways.5

Intercultural communication: any communication situation in which the message to be understood "is produced by a member of one culture for consumption by a member of another culture."6


The original activity manual would not have been possible without the support of Prince George's Community College and Title III, United States Department of Education. We are grateful for that opportunity. We also thank Michael Kidwell for his computer expertise and Elliott Oppenheim, Meaghan Doyle, Brendan Doyle, and Alexander Kidwell for their patience.

Marlene C. Cohen
Susan L. Richardson
Tony D. Hawkins

1National MultiCultural Institute, Training of Trainers: Developing Cultural Diversity Programs for the Workplace, (Washington, D.C.: National MultiCultural Institute, 1993).

2Richard E. Porter and Larry A. Samovar, "An Introduction to Intercultural Communication," in Intercultural Communication: A Reader, 7th ed., eds. Larry A. Samavor and Richard E. Porter (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1994), p. 11.

3Larry A. Samovar and Richard E. Porter, Intercultural Communication: A Reader, 7th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1994), p. 125.

4National MultiCultural Institute, Training of Trainers: Developing Cultural Diversity Programs for the Workplace, (Washington, D.C.: National MultiCultural Institute, 1993).

5William B. Gudykunst, Bridging Differences: Effective Intergroup Communication, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 1994), p. 78.

6Porter and Samovar, Intercultural Communication: A Reader, p. 19.
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Achieving Success in Public Speaking Class

Chapter 1: Introductory Activities

  • To orient yourself to what strong students do.
  • To determine important student behaviors which you would like to improve.
  1. Read the "Action Rules for Successful Students" list below.
  2. In writing, sign on to the first three rules and write in your own words your commitment to try to do well.
  3. Then put into writing the other items on the list that you wish to accomplish this semester to succeed in this class.
  4. Finally put into writing what your instructor can do to help you achieve your goals. Tell him/her of anything going on in your life that might get in the way of your success this semester.
*INSTRUCTOR: See Exercise Notes for this exercise in the Instructor's Notes section below.

Action Rules for Successful Students

Creators choose their own rules. Circle all of the action rules below that you commit yourself to following this semester to reach your goals. Each commitment is a promise to yourself; no one else will see your commitments unless you show them. Don't lie to yourself! CREATE AND FOLLOW YOUR OWN RULES!
  1. Attend every class from beginning to end.
  2. Do my best work on assignments and hand them in on time.
  3. Respect and support my classmates and teachers in achieving their dreams.
  4. Write down my long- and short-term goals.
  5. Review my goals often.
  6. Plan my weekly written schedule, including sufficient time to study.
  7. Take good notes in every class.
  8. Review my notes often.
  9. Make appointments to talk with my instructors about anything that confuses me.
  10. Seek out and use a tutor.
  11. Nurture myself: get proper rest, eat well, exercise regularly.
  12. Study and learn from the written feedback I get from instructors on my assignments.
  13. Associate with winners and positive people.
  14. Follow directions carefully.
  15. Use the library.
  16. Avoid drugs and excessive use of alcohol.
  17. Bring course tools (books, notebooks, pens, etc.) to every class.
  18. Do assignments early.
  19. Find a good study place and study there often.
  20. Strive for excellence; do more than just enough to get by.
  21. Laugh and have fun.
  22. Write a visualization of my goals; read it often.
  23. Participate, volunteer, and get involved in class.
  24. Listen carefully.
  25. Enjoy my classes.
  26. Post our course affirmations at home and say them daily.
  27. Compete with myself to do better than last time.
  28. Give myself frequent small rewards for daily successes.
  29. Talk positively to myself.
  30. Say a prayer.
  31. Talk in class when appropriate; otherwise, focus on the speaker.
  32. Request assistance from family and friends when needed.
  33. Join or create a study group.
  34. Take frequent breaks while studying.
  35. Read difficult assignments twice or even three times.
  36. Create possible test questions to study from.
  37. Go to the appropriate lab (science, reading, writing, math, computer, etc.).
  38. Complete my college assignments before socializing.
  39. Look at myself in the mirror every day and say, "You are a master student."
  40. Remind myself daily that I am capable, lovable, and worthy of a great life.
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East-West Assumptions
Chapter 1: Introductory Activities

  • To identify the Western values with which we generally operate.
  • To identify contrasting Eastern values, alternatives to many of our common values.
  • To recognize how differences in values can result in conflicting points of view and behaviors.
  1. Write a paragraph or two describing a specific conflict situation you have experienced with a person or people from a cultural background different from yours, being Eastern or Western. Eastern as used here includes Asian and other indigenous cultures, such as Native American Indian cultures. Western refers to nations whose systems of law and of reasoning stem from Greek and Judeo-Christian tradition. Of course, all such categorizing is generalization that cannot be applied as absolute to all situations or people.
  2. Use information from the following list of assumptions and values. What values and behaviors distinguish the perspectives of the person or people involved in your situation? Why might you differ in your opinions or expectations?
  3. Discuss how the differing values can be understood, modified, or directed to reconcile the conflict toward greater harmony or productivity.

*INSTRUCTOR: See Exercise Notes for this exercise in the back of the book.

Summary of Underlying Assumptions and Values
  • Western
    Western refers to nations whose origins of law and of reasoning stem from Greek and Judeo-Christian tradition.
    • Universe is created and controlled by divine power.
    • Universe is a lifeless mass.
    • Universe separates the knowing human from things to know.
    • Thinking leads to clear and distinct ideas in categories.
    • Knowledge leads to awareness of specific facts.
    • Knowledge comes from scientific method and analytical logic.
    • Growth can lead to social change.
    • Time is moving from past toward future; humans synchronize their time with clocks and machines.
    • Individual needs may come before group.
    • Communication is direct and verbal.
  • Eastern
    Eastern as used here includes Asian and other indigenous cultures, such as Native American Indian cultures.
    • Universe unfolds itself, not caused by outside power.
    • Universe is one vast living organism, continually changing and impermanent.
    • Universe is one vast living organism of many interrelated forces and parts; humans are a part of life force.
    • Things are known holistically, not by analysis; thinking leads to imprecise statements.
    • Purpose of knowledge is to see unity of all things.
    • Knowledge comes from intuition.
    • Growth can lead to oneness with the universe.
    • Time is a continuous wheel; humans synchronize their time with nature.
    • Group conformity is necessary for unity.
    • Communication is indirect and often silent; understanding is often grasped by observation.
Richard E. Porter (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1994), pp. 415-425.

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The Culture Iceberg

Chapter 1: Introductory Activities

  • To discuss elements of individual culture.
  • To define "culture."
  • To discuss how membership in a culture affects your perceptions of others and behaviors toward others.

  1. Consider the following items and write your responses to each on paper:
    1. What groups are you a member of?
    2. Identify an important group for your self-identity: gender, class, race, religion, sexual preference, geography, etc.
    3. What have you observed other members of your group doing?
    4. Has your group ever discriminated against others?

  2. Meet in small groups to discuss your answers.

  3. Share with the full class group the similarities, differences, and trends your group discovered. Share observations and/or realizations.

  4. Look at the "Culture Iceberg" model below.

  5. Read the following:

    A person's race, gender, or physical disability may be his or her most, but region of the country or religious affiliation may be the most important characteristic to him or her. We can't judge others' group memberships by appearance.

    As with an iceberg, only one-tenth of who people are culturally is visible to others. It is what is below the surface that explains cultural behaviors. For an example, select one or two issues from the iceberg list that help to explain that some of your own behaviors are based on your own culture.

    For example:

    female gender -- preference for cooperation, not competition
    Midwestern work ethic -- incentives to work, work hard, do the best you can, etc.

  6. Discuss how each of us chooses how to self-identify from among our many cultures.

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Instructor Notes


We began the project of creating multicultural exercises for introductory speech communication classes because we felt the intercultural dimensions of communication are too important to be left as elective study. As faculty, we know how tough it is to find the time to learn about multiculturalism and then find time to implement it into our classes. That is why we wrote this book. Our original product was designed for use by the speech communication faculty of our college; it has been edited and expanded to create speech communication activity manuals in a variety of communication areas.

More than most disciplines, speech communication is a good home for the teaching of multicultural issues. The speech communication classroom is a place where the need to know and to adapt to one's listeners makes understanding multicultural perspectives essential. Awareness of self as a communicator naturally should include the ways in which one is similar to and different from classmates in values, attitudes, and verbal and nonverbal communication approaches, including ideas of when to speak and to whom.

Consequently, we argue for inclusion of multicultural perspectives throughout the course, not as an add-on. We strongly believe that the speech communication classroom can provide the safe haven students need in order to address the vital yet intimidating topics of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc., in our society.

Rather than avoid such topics or face them only in tense moments that flare, then disappear,the instructor can establish a multicultural dimension that makes cultural issues integral to the course.

To do so effectively, two parameters are essential. One is the establishment of ground rules that lead to reducing personal fears and providing a supportive, respectful, and comfortable climate for those who have pain, anger, or strongly held views to express. The class should participate in the first week in the establishment of ground rules by which all agree to abide. They might include the following:
  1. No dumping or blaming.
  2. Respect others' rights to their views.
  3. Be open to listening.
  4. There is no hierarchy of pain; it is counterproductive to weigh who has suffered most.

It is also essential that the instructor be an effective model of the acceptance and respect we ask from the students. Entering into multicultural issues creates some level of fear in the instructor as well. The instructor must be willing to say, "I don't know," and "I never thought of it that way," giving up ownership of classroom expertise in ways that demonstrate genuine curiosity, openness, and respect for all views. We cannot encourage openness and then shut it down when it gets too close to home. We need to self-explore and to be aware of our own "hot buttons." We are entitled to express our views too, but we need to demonstrate acceptance of alternatives. A wonderful advantage of a classroom situation is that we can postpone discussion until reading and contemplation of that reading have taken place. If an opinion expressed seems unfounded, the class can accept the challenge to find the facts to test the opinion.

Our own experiences tell us that the more often difficult issues of cultural experience are raised, the more the instructor's comfort level grows. Simultaneously, more unengaged students become engaged, finding that their perspectives are vital to class learning. Adrienne Rich has asked, "What happens when someone with the authority of a teacher describes our society, and you are not in it?" (Takaki, p. 16). At its core, good multicultural teaching is good teaching.

What constitutes this "good teaching" in a multicultural classroom? Good teaching is part philosophy, part methodology.

Through multicultural activities, we are asking students to bring personal information into the classroom. Faculty need to be highly sensitive to protecting the egos of all students who share their perspectives in class, as well as to protecting the right of students not to share.

Recognizing that students have differing abilities and personalities, the use of a variety of teaching techniques is recommended. Some students may be introverted, so they can be encouraged to participate through the use of writing activities geared to helping them organize their thoughts before speaking.

There are many excellent group techniques that help students participate and think critically. (See William H. Bergquist and Steven R. Phillips, in Classroom Communication, for an excellent review of thirteen communication structures to involve students, ranging from a panel discussion to debates and role playing.) Some students need to be actively engaged in their learning. Group activities encourage this.

In lecture-discussion classroom situations we need to allow students time to think, to interpret their experiences in light of questions asked by the teacher, and to complete thoughts. By increasing the amount of "wait time" to three seconds or more we can increase the variety and the number of student responses. The quality of the answers should improve as well.

Students have different learning styles and the traditional lecture method may not be as effective in reaching students who prefer to learn through visual or kinesthetic channels. Techniques such as the use of media, collaborative exercises, and field trips are recommended.

The type of questions asked by the teacher is also important. If the questions are only to test the recall/memory of the students, we are not sharpening their critical thinking skills. More questions should ask students to interpret, apply, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate information and ideas. (A hierarchy of the levels of questioning has been developed by Allan Bloom.)

None of these ideas are new, but in the multicultural classroom we need to encourage students to contribute to their own learning.

Finally, we feel it is essential that multicultural study be more than appreciating differences across cultures. That is a vital step, but not a final step. If we end a course feeling separated into multiple groups, we hardly improve the level of communication in our society. The instructor needs to guide students toward an ending-point perspective that values communication across cultures as an avenue to staying connected with fellow human beings. We have found students in despair when they have stopped at the stage in which differences seem to make connection impossible. Out of hard work to understand and respect differences grow appreciation and a sense of personal connectedness. We have created exercises in which students will demonstrate common feelings of isolation, of pain, and of feeling accomplished, effective and empowered to succeed in communication.

Using These Materials

The goals of these materials are twofold: to broaden the content of the classes to reflect the diverse cultural backgrounds of our students and our society, and to foster the use of diverse teaching practices that fit a variety of learning styles and student experiences.

Each activity is self-contained. Each one can be used in a variety of ways to stimulate discussion, set up activity/role play, provide information on multicultural issues, or offer thoughtful topics for student speaking or writing.

Each activity is designed to be as simple and as adaptable as possible. Develop them further to fit your own class needs. Time is sometimes at a premium, but it is important to allow adequate time for the class to process, draw conclusions, and resolve conflicts that develop from activities used.

Most of the activities depend on some knowledge of the concepts being demonstrated. It is essential that students be urged to read relevant class readings prior to doing the exercises. Once the expectation is built for in-class activity dependent upon reading, motivation to read chapters should increase.

We have included a section of activities in the Assessment section of this book. They range from self-evaluations to outside-of-class observations of others. Modify these assignments to meet your own classroom assessment needs and fit them in where you feel they are most appropriate.

Marlene C. Cohen
Susan L. Richardson
Tony D. Hawkins

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Exercise Notes

Achieving Success in Public Speaking Class

Chapter 1: Introductory Activities

Make sure you explain to the students those rules that you think are especially helpful for students in your class to succeed.

Have the students put in writing to you what they are willing to do to succeed in your class and have them tell you what you could do to help them achieve their goals. These papers can be read privately. You may choose to respond personally to each student's list.

This exercise helps establish students' attitudes because students tend to be very honest. This exercise is useful for planning your approaches to potential student difficulties.

Not all students know how to be successful in school; this exercise familiarizes students with college culture. It also establishes an early instructor interest in student success, and helps build rapport.

East-West Assumptions

Chapter 1: Introductory Activities

Consider using the table to discuss United States values and assumptions with the whole class. You could also discuss how these assumptions influence intra-United States, as well as international, cultural conflict situations.

This exercise can be done alone, in dyads, in small groups, or as a whole class. If your students are not culturally diverse in ways that would provide such East-West experiences, locate current events stories to use as examples.
Example One:

Following the death of Kim Il Sung in 1994, the changeover in leadership in North Korea was handled in a very vague and secretive manner, by Western standards. Americans may have expected a strong emergence of son Kim Jong Il, but for weeks he did not speak publicly, even at his father's funeral, and no statement was made naming the new leader. Americans may have expected an immediate, clear and distinct announcement of the changeover in power; Lyndon Baines Johnson was dramatically sworn in on an airplane immediately following the death of John F. Kennedy, with Americans watching on television. But weeks passed in North Korea without any public statements about new leadership. Progress toward the future was not the focus of attention; Koreans were mourning.

Assumptions and values that apply to this situation are as follows:
  • Thinking leads to clear and distinct ideas in Western cultures, compared to the way things emerge holistically and without precise explanation in Eastern cultures.
  • Time moves from past to future in Western perspective. Thus moving on is greatly valued in our culture when a president dies. Eastern cultural values can allow for a time for mourning without a preestablished ending time.
  • Communication is direct in the United States, whereas silence regarding the name of the new leader was acceptable in Korea.

Example Two:

Many Americans perceived the Singapore government's caning in 1994 of American Michael Fay as a violation of personal rights. But Singaporeans place group standards above personal rights. The more the United States protested, the more it was essential to Singapore not to show an American boy receiving treatment any different from others'.

Assumptions and values that apply to this situation are as follows:
  • Individual needs may come before group needs in Western cultures, whereas in Eastern cultures group conformity often is perceived as necessary for unity.
  • In Eastern cultures, punishments such as caning seem appropriate to deter crime; in the West they are perceived as violations of individual rights.

Audience Survey

Chapter 2: Audience Analysis

After the students have selected their topics for their persuasive speech assignment, have them create their own survey for that specific topic. Discuss with the students the types of questions they might wish to ask, depending on their topics. You might require a specific number of questions (10-15) and require that they use a variety of question types. These questions might follow some organizational plan.

Have the students bring to class enough copies of their survey to hand out to everyone (including the instructor). Use one class period to have the students distribute their surveys; have the class fill out the surveys and return them.

Have the students tabulate their results as homework for the speech.

Ask students to write two paragraphs indicating what they learned from the class survey that will help them organize and present their persuasive speeches. They should answer these questions:
  • What did you learn about this particular audience?
  • How will you adapt to this audience in your speech?

You might require students to include some of the data from the survey in their speeches.

Students enjoy creating the questions and analyzing their survey results. It helps them in thinking through how to approach their own speeches and links their success more closely with their audience surveys.


Chapter 5: Credibility and Ethics

Students are likely to discover cultural differences in deciding what is ethical behavior. What constitutes cheating, lying, and taking credit for completed work (a group versus an individual getting the credit) differs among cultural groups.

This exercise also gives the instructor a chance to clarify what he or she expects as appropriate classroom behavior.

Interest Letters

Chapter 6: Emotional Appeal

Select an interest letter that deals with a relevant contemporary issue: i.e., a letter from the World Wildlife Fund, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and distribute copies to all students.

Have the students read the letter and circle the persuasive appeals that are present. Begin with any visible appeals (color pictures, handwritten notes, cute logos, etc.); go through the letter with the class and discuss any attention-getting devices, needs, benefits/concerns, themes, and actions.

After they have completed the evaluation of the letter, ask the students the following discussion questions:
  • What was the impact of the letter on you, the reader?
  • How does the writer establish credibility with you?
  • What reasoning devices are used to attempt to get you to act?
  • As a result of what the writer included in the letter, what power do you have as the mediator of change?
  • What action of yours will have the most impact on the situation described in the letter?

Ask the students for possible topic areas for the persuasive speech. Ask them to determine how they will establish their credibility with the audience, what warrants/data/claims will be used, and the potential emotional appeals.

This exercise provides a clear demonstration of persuasive appeals and introduces the importance of the classroom as a forum for demonstrating effective public speaking techniques.

Public Affairs Programming/C-SPAN

Chapter 11: Assessment

You may gather numerous examples on videotape of speech structure, style, and delivery.

Taped C-SPAN events are within the public domain and used for classroom purposes, thus are not subject to copyright laws.

Or you may purchase C-SPAN compilation videos from the Public Affairs Video Archives at Purdue University. They may also help you search for speeches according to subject, affiliations, events, or dates. Contact: Purdue University, Public Affairs Video Archives, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1000.

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