Following the TV parental guidelines created by the Federal Communications Commission, the public comment portion of December’s Tyler school board meeting met the criteria for a TVMA rating for mature audiences only and an (L) content label for crude, indecent language.
Speakers used the words pornography, pedophilia, bestiality, masturbation, dick and sexual arousal in an apparent attempt to make a point with board members. Officials, they argued, should be more transparent about the selection of books in the school’s library.
Their presentation prompted younger audience members to leave the room. At least two presenters plugged their ears when another speaker read a graphic description of a sexual act from a book.
The irony of the situation didn’t elude board president Wade Washmon, who advised speakers to choose their words carefully because even though only adults remained in the room, the meeting was being broadcast live.
“Would you want a child to hear the words you are about to read?” Washmon asked.
“Well, they can turn it off,” a speaker replied.
Subject matter aside, one Tyler speech expert summed up most of the presentations as a “dismal display of lack of reasoning.”
“Appalling,” said Dr. Yvonne Thrash, a speech professor who co-authored two textbooks on effective public speaking and business and professional communication. “I think they needed to have specifics, factual information, state the history of the problem and then provide a solution based upon factual information.”
Instead, she said, some of the speakers relied upon emotion in attempts to embarrass board members or promote public fear.
“As people who claim to be Christian on your board profiles, do you think allowing grooming materials for pedophilia in public places is reflection of Christian behavior?” asked one woman who read aloud each trustee’s name and where they worked or which church they attended.
Thrash said speakers failed to offer factual evidence supporting their claim that reading or viewing pornography leads to pedophilia.
“The good thing is they identified their interest — as mothers, nurses — but they failed to support their position that reading pornography leads to pedophilia. That was their main thought,” Thrash said. “They never gave any proof about the children or students read those books, how many of those books have been checked out — which they could verify. Where is the proof that reading pornography leads to pedophilia?”
One of the speakers made that point in her presentation to the board.
“The general population are aghast at some of the people that come up here and claim to know that our children are being sexually abused or reading material that will just make them degenerates,” she said. “These are not based on facts. These are not based on observations in our town.”
Thrash also questioned the speakers’ use of the word pornography without defining it and explaining how they determined the community’s values.
“Values differ according to different cultures,” she said. “One cannot assume everyone holds the same values.”
Thrash said she supports a person’s first amendment right to express an opinion and encourages citizens to become more involved in making public policy. She just wishes those who do would adopt a more effective approach.
Thrash’s advice for speakers at public meetings
As people become more active participants in our democracy, learning how to effectively express ideas or concerns in an attempt to persuade a city council, a school board, county commissioners or lawmakers is key to a potentially positive outcome.
The same approach also can be used in evaluating the effectiveness of a political candidate’s campaign or speech — a useful tool during the upcoming election year.
Before applying these tips for making a presentation effective, it may be helpful to understand a little history behind public speaking.
In the fifth century B.C., Greek philosopher Aristotle identified three types of reasoning that persuaded people: ethos, pathos and logos. Those same appeals hold true today.
Ethos, or ethical reasoning, is an appeal based on personal expertise. That is, people usually take medical advice from a doctor.
Pathos, or emotional reasoning, appeals to feelings or emotions. For example, “Would you be so callused as to send your sobbing six-year-old daughter back into the classroom where she is bullied every day?”
Logos, or logical reasoning, is based on factual information. It can be determined. You use statistics, real examples (not hypothetical) and other facts to prove a point. For example, “I did not have electricity for a week last year when there was ice on the ground.” That statement can be determined; therefore it is a fact.
When possible, use all three methods of persuasion. Use the first two to identify interest and to draw attention to the presentation. But for long-lasting effects, use logical reasoning. That is, listeners will remember logical reasoning longer. They may more likely persuaded than by the use of a sad story that illustrates but doesn’t prove anything.
The key to making an effective presentation is in organizing the material. That way, listeners can follow and remember emphasized points.
There are several ways to organize information. Some speakers prefer breaking the content into two basic parts: Identify the problem; and tell how it can be resolved.
The outline would look something like this:
I. Introduction. Gain attention and establish expertise or interest, i.e, why they should listen to and believe you.
A. Define and prove the problem exists. Use factual information.
- What Is the history of this problem?
2. What caused the problem?
3. Who is affected by this problem?
4. How long-lived is the problem
B. Show possible solutions to the problem and which would be best. Use factual information.
- Analyze each possible solution, including those supported by the policy makers
2. Where has it been tried?
3. How effective was it?
4. How cost effective?
5. Why it isn’t the best for your locale.
6. Explain why the proposed solution is the best
- Tell them what they can do
2. Leave them something to remember
Remember, if a speaker is effective in proving a problem exists but fails to offer a viable solution, the audience becomes extremely frustrated.
The time constraints placed on the speakers at public meetings may make it necessary to divide parts of the above outline among two or three like-minded people. The first speaker may give the introduction and present the problem, and the second speaker may present the solutions and conclude.
Each governing body has its own policies and procedures governing when and how long a speaker may address the group. The policies usually are posted online under the respective organization or entity. Most require the speaker to register before the meeting. Following the regulations is part of effective participation.
Another important element of effective speaking is to remember it is almost impossible to change a person’s mind if they have made a public pronouncement of their opinion. They believe they would lose face if they changed their mind after listening to the presentation. Therefore, don’t encourage them to voice their own belief prior to listening to arguments for a better solution.
Effective listening to others also is essential. In this year of political campaigns and rallies, it is imperative to listen carefully. Question yourself: How factual is that information? Is that merely an opinion? Check the ethos. Does the speaker have the credentials, or are they in a position to know what happened?
Active participation can help government entities form sound policies. Being an effective speaker as well as a good listener are the keys.
Vanessa E. Curry is a journalist with nearly 35 years of experience as a writer, editor and instructor. She earned a B.S. degree in Mass Communication from Illinois State University and a MSIS degree from The University of Texas at Tyler with emphasis on journalism, political science and criminal justice. She has worked newspaper in Marlin, Henderson, Tyler and Jacksonville, Texas as well as in Columbia Tennessee. Vanessa also was a journalism instructor at the UT-Tyler and Tennessee Tech University. Her writing has been recognized by the State Bar of Texas, Texas Associated Press Managing Editors, Dallas Press Club, and Tennessee Press Association. She currently is working on publishing two books: “Lies and Consequences: The Trials of Kerry Max Cook,” and “A Gold Medal Man, A biography of Kenneth L. “Tug” Wilson.
Yvonne Thrash earned a PhD in rhetoric and public address. She is a retired speech professor with 47 years of experience that include co-authoring two textbooks on effective public speaking and business and profession communication. She also has written numerous articles and conducted workshops on the subject. She currently lives in Tyler.
Love what you're seeing in our posts? Help power our local, nonprofit journalism platform — from in-depth reads, to freelance training, to COVID Stories videos, to intimate portraits of East Texans through storytelling.
Our readers have told us they want to better understand this place we all call home, from Tyler's north-south divide to our city's changing demographics. What systemic issues need attention? What are are greatest concerns and hopes? What matters most to Tylerites and East Texans?
Help us create more informed, more connected, more engaged Tyler. Help us continue providing no paywall, free access posts. Become a member today. Your $15/month contribution drives our work.