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Elbert Hubbard: An American Original - WNED | PBS

For Educators

On the Lecture Circuit: Entertainment and Enlightenment


In the past, public lectures were a popular form of entertainment. Topics ranged from current events to travel to social commentary. Both Elbert and Alice Hubbard earned money by appearing on the lecture circuit. Elbert was especially in demand after his essay "A Message to Garcia" became a best-selling publication. The Hubbards also arranged to bring many prominent guest lecturers to the Roycroft and to the community at large. Students will explore the public lecture as a form of entertainment and enlightenment. They will learn about modern counterparts to the public lecture, and will explore techniques used by speakers, including salesmen like Elbert Hubbard, to reach their audiences.


Students will:
  • Articulate ways the public lecture format has evolved over time
  • Describe techniques speakers use to effectively communicate their messages
  • Define "sales pitch," and give an example of one
  • Deliver a short speech on a topic of their choice

Necessary Materials

  • Video and/or audio clips of famous speeches
  • Internet connectivity

Relevant National Standards
NL-ENG.K-12.8, NL-ENG.K-12.5, NL-ENG.K-12.4

Teaching Procedure

  • Discuss the various meanings of the word "lecture." Present background information about lectures as past forms of entertainment and enlightenment.

    Possible discussion questions:
    - How has the format of the public lecture evolved and changed over time?
    - What are some modern counterparts to the public lecture? (television, talk radio, podcasts, stand-up comedy, political satirists)
    - How have people's listening skills evolved and changed over time? (channel surfing, TiVo, YouTube, etc.)
  • Listen or watch a famous speech. (see Online Resources below) What are some presentation techniques used by the speaker to engage listeners? (humor, personal interest stories, body language, voice, facial expressions, etc.)
  • Write and deliver a short speech about one of the following: a travel destination, a modern day hero, a favorite book or movie, a hobby, a current event or social issue. Use some of the suggested Web resources to explore public speaking tips and criteria. Speeches may be delivered live or via podcast/vidcast.


  • Presentation of speech

Extension Activities:

  • Discuss the meaning of "sales pitch" and find some examples. Working in teams students create and deliver a sales pitch for a real or imaginary product.
  • Listen to excerpts of famous campaign speeches. Discuss. Have the students write a stirring campaign speech as if they are running for class president. Then have them write a campaign speech as if the candidate is their best friend. Compare/contrast the two speeches.

Online Resources:

Read Write Think activity and public speaking criteria:

American Rhetoric Top 100 Speeches:

Great Speeches Collection:

Public Speaking activities (Mark Twain program):

Writing a Political Speech:

National High School Public Speaking Competition:

Suggested Vocabulary: lecture, lecture circuit, sales pitch, satire/satirist

Supplemental Material:

Cohen, Michael A. Live from the Campaign Trail: The Greatest Presidential Speeches of the Twentieth Century and How They Shaped Modern America. New York: Walker & Company, 2008. Print.

Dowis, Richard. The Lost Art of the Great Speech: How to Write One - How to Deliver It. New York: Fine Communication, 2004. Print.

Greatest Speeches of All Time. Dir. Bob Wikstrom. SpeechWorks, 2007. Film.

Greene, Richard. Words That Shook the World: 100 Years of Unforgettable Speeches and Events. New York: Prentice-Hall Press, 2002. Print.

Safire, William, et al. Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004. Print.

Speeches in World History. New York: Facts on File, 2009.

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Funding for Elbert Hubbard: An American Original provided by The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation
Elbert Hubbard: An American Original is a production of WNED-TV