What really is the value of a public speaking class?

$588.87, in Manhattan.


It started with a simple question: If you wanted to enroll in a public speaking class outside of undergrad, how much would you have to shell out?

As I visited first-year seminars this week to introduce the program, I hit on all of my usual points about the Speaking Fellows: we work peer-to-peer, we are professionally trained, we are flexible and accessible, and we are free. I’ve always mentioned that last point to contrast what public speaking classes can cost outside of undergrad, but without any real statistics. So this week I set out on a quest to discover what really is the value of a public speaking class outside of Barnard.

I started my search an coursehorse.com: a good aggregator of classes and workshops in NYC. They compile classes, workshops, sessions etc. from large professional companies and also “hackerspaces,” pop-up shops, and peer-to-peer classes. I used this source to get the full range: public speech classes geared towards corporate professions, and public speaking workshops for the average small business person, storyteller, New Yorker…

I made a list of the top twenty-five Public Speaking classes offered during fall 2013 – “top” referring to their listings on search engines, so that means a combination of popularity, number of reviews, web-presence, and other factors. There may be more then 25 classes offered this fall, but if they exist then they are very hard to find online outside of a private network – so I’m confident that my list of 25 is a good representative sample of the kinds and costs of Public Speaking workshops offered in Manhattan.

I made a chart of the course title, organization offering the course, location, dates and duration, and cost. I imported the chart into ArcGIS to map the results.


The most expensive program I encountered cost $2699.00 dollars for a three day workshop, offered by NetCom Learning.

The least expensive workshops ranged between $25.00 and $35.00 for hour to two-hour long sessions, offered by The Story Source.

The average cost of a public speaking workshop in Manhattan is $588.87.

I make no claim in my research to know anything about the quality of the classes I’ve investigated or the organizations that offer them, but assuming all else equal, I can draw a few conclusions. (1) Supply and demand. New Yorkers (a) want public speech classes and (b) are willing to pay for them – $588.87 on average. (2) Public speech classes are remarkably versatile and do not strictly target corporate/professional/executive fields.They focus (just like the Speaking Center) on a range of topics from executive presentation skills, to pitching articles and blogs, to storytelling, to overcoming public speaking panic, to conflict resolution and negotiation, to sales and marketing. (3) The training I received to become a speaking fellow – 1 semester of theory seminars, skills labs, coaching sessions, practice workshops, etc. – is utterly incomparable to any other public speaking skills course offered in New York City.

Bad Writing

Bad Writing[1]

by Olga Fostiy, Writing Fellow Alumna (BC ’11)


Hearing somebody say that they are a bad writer rubs me the wrong way.

Of course there are good and bad writers.  I encounter bad writing all the time.  But what if you are working with a student and your student has ideas.  Ideas she’s trying to express and to communicate.  Can your student be a bad writer?

Those ideas she’s trying to express might not be clear.  She might not know what words to use or even be aware that what she’s trying to say doesn’t make sense.  It’s vague.  It’s not backed with evidence.  But you ask her what she means.  You ask her to rephrase.  You ask her to walk you through her logic.  And she tries to explain it to you, comes up with new ideas, links them, clarifies them.  She moves her sentences around, writes new ones, questions her word choice.  Her writing might not earn her an A or even a B, but is she a bad writer?

She thinks she is.   When she says she’s a bad writer she says this is who I am:  I am not eloquent.  My vocabulary is limited.  I just don’t have the words!  Moreover, my writing has no rhythm, style, beauty.

But this is a view of writing when form weighs in over content.

When my student says she’s a bad writer I hear something else:  I have ideas but I can’t write them out so that you too understand them.  I have ideas but I can’t explore them more deeply, creatively, critically.[2]

To say you’re a bad writer is like saying you’re not a writer at all.  And this is what rubs me the wrong way.  You might not have fancy words, but you have ideas.  So use the best words that you can!

But then what you write confuses your reader.  Why did you use that word your readers ask. Your grammar is wrong.  What do you mean here.  What is your logic.  What is your point.

So you try to be clearer.  You explain what you mean.   You realize you can make your logic more palpable, connect your ideas more, say more directly why what you wrote is indeed important.

And this is what writing is.  You have ideas and you try to communicate those ideas with readers.  It might be hard.  But the key is that you’re trying.

[1] In the context of this piece, writing refers to essay or non-fiction writing.

[2] Or, to hell with it – I don’t have ideas worth communicating at all.  (But in my books this is a cop out).

Landmarks: 10,000

The Writing and Speaking Fellows Blog, Fellow Voices, has now reached over 10,000 views from all around the world and all around the Internet. Since February 2012, we have tried to bring you insightful and well-written posts about speaking, writing, fellowing, and life!

Thanks to all you wonderful people who made this milestone happen. Please continue to follow along, as we have some great posts coming up for you soon!

A few words on a word.

Every now and then, someone will say something like, “If you don’t come with me to this party, I will literally kill myself.” Whoa! Okay, man, give me a few minutes then, because I literally have nothing to wear.

I know that the misuse of the word “literally” is not a new phenomenon. I also know that misusing the word “literally” is not an act of terrorism or a hate crime. I mean, when was the last time that a little hyperbole hurt a nation?

But misusing words is like your roommate misusing your hairdryer to dry her clothes. It’s probably fine every once in a while, but after a while, it’s expensive, ineffective, and you can’t even use it for its original purpose—drying your hair. The word “literally”  is like that hair dryer. If you use it for the wrong purpose, soon you won’t be able to dry your hair.

Imagine that you are me, you are teaching eleven-year-olds and you give them homework. If you give a student a homework assignment, they will probably say something like, “We have to read a hundred pages? That’s literally child abuse.” These students, the future of America, have already learned that misusing words is totally acceptable. (For the record, the book had really big font and wide margins.) But what’s the big deal? They’re just being dramatic. It’s not really hurting anyone, right?

But then think: if these children are comfortable slinging around words that they don’t mean, then what if they don’t know to stop at the word “literally?” These children will grow up learning that words like “hate” or “rape” can be used just as informally. Surely you’ve heard someone say, “Wow, that final exam raped my face.” That statement should make you disgustingly uncomfortable. That statement is also representative of what we’ve become. We’re growing up and learning to casually toss around the most horrific crimes against humanity.

The definition of the word “literally,” according to Google, has now changed to include “informally used for emphasis while not being literally true.” We might as well redefine “definitions” as “not definitions of words themselves, but used for emphasis.”

literally copy

So let me just clarify something, once and for all. Using the word “literally” to mean “not literally” is wrong. It’s wrong. The word “literally” means “literally” and not “figuratively,” “metaphorically,” or “I’m-using-this-for-emphasis-but-I-don’t-mean-it.” And the next person I hear using “literally” incorrectly, I will literally strangle*.


*strangle |ˈstraNGgəl|• verb [ with obj.]

1. squeeze or constrict the neck of (a person or animal), esp. so as to cause death.

2. emphasizing the expression of aggressive feelings, while not literally strangling.