Public Speaking Skills Lab opens on campus
March 14, 2012Tweet
Whether it’s delivering a speech at a podium, giving a PowerPoint presentation to colleagues or standing up to make a comment at a meeting, public nerves are only natural.
A new Public Speaking Skills Lab has opened on campus to help students not only deal with those anxieties, but become better speakers as well.
“Most people have some kind of butterflies when it comes to public speaking,” said Debora Clinton Callaghan, who oversees the lab and serves as senior associate director of FYE/Emerging Leaders. “It’s about acknowledging that it’s normal and absolutely fine. We talk about those butterflies, getting those butterflies to fly in formation and getting them to work for you instead of against you.”
“Public speaking is something you have to deal with your entire life,” said Tyler Lenga, a graduate assistant at the lab. “Whatever path you choose, you’re going to have times in which you need public-speaking skills. For a lot of students, public speaking is the most feared thing to do. If we can at least get students acclimated to the situations, it’s going to help them in class and as they pursue their careers.”
The lab, which is sponsored through the Division of Student Affairs, opened about three weeks ago in Room 101B of the Chenango Champlain Collegiate Center.
Undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in improving their skills can sign up for a 30-minute session on the lab’s website (http://www.binghamton.edu/public-speaking/). Students then come in and give their presentation in front of the lab’s trained interns. Students will speak “in the closest environment to the classroom as possible,” Lenga said. For example, if a student is working with PowerPoint, a video screen and clicker is provided. A podium is also available for more traditional speeches.
“If students want to just come in and practice impromptu speaking, we’ll give them a topic and see how they come across,” Clinton Callaghan said. “That kind of skill not only helps in front of a room, but also one-on-one and in situations where they have to think on their feet.”
While the student is giving the talk, the intern “coaches” are taking notes and filling out a form that not only assesses the content of the talk, but oral skills and presentation styles such as eye contact, body language and pace. The student and the interns go over the results and a video of the presentation is sent to the student via e-mail.
“They can sit down on their own time, watch the video and maybe notice some things that we didn’t catch here,” Lenga said.
Students can return for more feedback if they choose, Clinton Callaghan said, or borrow books on communication skills. In the future, the lab’s website will become instructional by offering videos on various speaking topics, she added.
The lab features six student interns who prepare for their work by taking weekly, hour-long classes with Clinton Callaghan and Lenga on different aspects of communication and presentation skills.
“One assignment was to reflect on our speeches from last week,” said student intern Jeremy Ostrow, a sophomore who is a finance and psychology double major. “So we watched our own videos and talked about things we picked up and need to improve on. It’s a lot of analysis of what you’ve done and how you can build on that.”
The students also have been trained on how to give constructive criticism and how to fill out the in-depth assessment forms whose categories feature rankings of excellent, good, average, fair and poor.
Clinton Callaghan, Lenga and the student interns have been working hard at marketing, as well, getting the word out through B-Line, Dateline, flyers across campus, and e-mails to department chairs and people who direct student programs.
“We are targeting everybody: undergrads and graduate students,” Lenga said. “Whoever wants to use the lab can come in.”
For Lenga, there is one area that most students struggle with while speaking in public: “filler words” such as “umm,” “ahh” and “you know.”
“The only way to work on it and better it is with practice,” he said. “Train yourself to be aware of it. A lot of students aren’t aware of the fact that they’re doing it because it sounds better to the presenter to insert an ‘umm’ than to accept a quick pause.”
Clinton Callaghan, Lenga and Ostrow all agreed that other areas students struggle with include speaking too quickly, voice projection, knowing where to look and what to do with arms and hands.
Lenga, who is studying public administration, believes that the lab can help students overcome those struggles and make them feel good about their presentations.
“I would like students to leave here with confidence,” he said. “As an undergrad, I would’ve loved the opportunity to come in and practice. I gave a lot of presentations as an undergrad and found myself going to small areas of the library and reciting it to myself. I would’ve liked one-to-one or two-to-one feedback, getting another perspective and then becoming more confident that I could give a better presentation in class.”