In directing the competitive speech and debate program for 38 years, I encourage the argumentation students to master effective reasoning. The results: they have won the national debate championship seven times, placed second eleven times and were victorious at over 200 tournaments.
More importantly, after leaving the program, they are empowered and equipped to do great work and be leaders in their chosen field. Our forensics students go on to rewarding careers in law, politics, media, the sciences and education. For example, Dean of University of Michigan Law School, Evan Caminker, Congressman Brad Sherman, author and media critic, Lisa Bloom, lawyer and scholar Keith Fink and Yale professor Donald P. Green were all active members of the program.
In studying the science and rhetoric of climate change, my students and I investigate why we as a society are poles apart on this issue. We test Yale law and psychology professor Dan Kahan’s assertion that: “The problem isn’t the public’s reasoning capacity; it is the polluted science-communication environment that drives people apart.” Each spring we revisit this debate and deconstruct it with the goal of cleaning up these toxic and polarized communication spheres.
Teaching the power of effective storytelling involves learning to simplify the message, doing the unexpected, making the abstract -concrete, being credible, and communicating emotion. It also includes listening, preparing, getting the facts and above all else-- telling the right story to the right audience. A story I told about a year in the life of a college debate team evolved into a screenplay and then a major motion picture starring Roy Scheider, Jami Gertz, and Kirk Cameron. You may enjoy the film here.
Nonverbal communication in the courtroom as well as expert witness preparation is another research interest of mine. I served as a trial consultant for the O.J Simpson murder trial. I also comment on local, state and national political debates for the media. You may listen to a recent interview here.
So, whether it is speech and debate, science and rhetoric or powerful storytelling, UCLA students are prepared to communicate effectively.