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The People's Microphone

It's an obvious idea, but seeing video of people using the People's Microphone, I decided to teach the technique in my English for Activists course and use it for language practice.

The Flow

  • Introduce this as a technique used at Occupy Wall Street as a solution to a very simple problem: no sound permit. (Could lead to an interesting discussion about laws regarding speech and assembly in different countries.)
  • Briefly show video of Cornel West speaking at OWS, a good example of an eloquent but simple speaker. (Also introduces Cornel West -- a terrific orator -- to people who haven't seen him before.)
  • Explain the "mic check" as a way to test the system and get people focused and ready to participate.
  • Joker models it, using very simple statement about any topic (Example: "Mic check. On Thursday, I had a party -- and many of you were there -- I am grateful for your participation -- and I hope you had a good time -- let's have another party -- again some time.")
  • Then get a volunteer to try, and take turns. When people have trouble following the speaker, or understanding, or repeating, remind them about the mic check -- as a tool for getting back on track.
  • At the end, talk about what this technique does, how it works -- notice that everyone uses the language of another person, making it her/his own if even for a moment; notice that you have to listen carefully and understand what people are saying in order to use this, so speakers who want to be understood have to speak clearly and simply; notice that everyone gets to have her/his words become everyone's words, breaks down isolation; notice that you don't have to agree with what people say, but you have repeat it accurately. Notice the way repetition can be powerful.
  • Ask people if this is something they can use, or if they have ideas for variations on this technique...
  • it might be fun to take a great speaker, like Malcolm X, and play one of his speeches having people use the People's Microphone, using Malcolm's language...
  • I have also used this to read a poem collectively -- joker starts out with a "Mic Check!" then reads a stanza or line from a poem that everyone has in their hands, or on the board. Joker chooses next person, who "mic checks" then reads another bit of her choosing. And so on.
  • One of the most interesting things about this technique is that to speak well, you have to organize your thoughts into short, simple, pieces. You also become aware of how you are heard; if you are unclear or don't stop at appropriate points, the people's mic breaks down or gets "muddy." To speak well, you must also be listened to well.
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