This paper examines basic public speaking students' perceptions forensic competitor credibility based on normative factors present within the forensic community. Anecdotal and experiential evidence provided this researcher with reason to believe that the unwritten rules and normative expectations of forensics were so far-removed from what students were used to seeing in their classrooms and in the media, that they could have a negative impact on a competitor's ethos, from the basic public speaking students' perspective. This research was performed in an attempt to determine whether these anecdotal and experiential assumptions were accurate and also to gain insight into the how students were conceptualizing ethos in public speaking. Students were recruited from Communication Studies 100 & 102 classrooms to participate in focus groups, in which they were shown three persuasive speaking national finalists from the 2013 American Forensics Association national tournament. Students were then asked a series of discussion questions based on the normative expectations connected to persuasive speaking (i.e. business-professional attire, formal posture/gestures, language use, topic choice, memorization, and speech structure) to determine whether these normative factors had an effect on how students perceived the competitors' credibility (ethos). Students' responses were analyzed to determine that the normative expectations, except in the areas of memorization and nonverbal communication (i.e. posture and gesturing), were found to positively impact a competitor's credibility. However, further inductive critical discourse analysis revealed three intriguing themes regarding the students' conceptualization of ethos: professionalism as assumed competence, high credibility/low identification, and gendered expectations of appropriateness. These findings indicate numerous critical implications regarding how teaching and coaching practices alike may perpetuate capitalistic assumptions of professionalism, power, and the meaning of success.


James P. Dimock

Committee Member

Christopher Brown

Committee Member

Kirsti Cole

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Fine Arts (MFA)


Arts and Humanities

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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