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Speaking Center re-opened, coaches in public speaking

By Lindsay Lorenz
On October 6, 2009

10/06/09 - As a component of many University of Rhode Island classes, students are sometimes required to make speeches or give presentations. For some, even a simple assignment can cause serious stress.Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Winnie Brownell, said for students struggling with anxiety about public speaking or just wanting to improve their skills, practicing with a tutor might help solve the problem.

"They're more afraid of giving the eulogy than being in the casket," Brownell said.

Brownell founded URI's Speaking Center in 1983, as a place where students can go to for advice, practice and feedback on speeches they are writing. In 1991, when she became an associate dean, Brownell said she could no longer devote the time necessary to the center.

For the last decade, the Speaking Center has been out of commission. Thanks to a $5,000 grant from the URI Foundation and an additional $1,000 from the university's Harrington School of Communication and Media, the center is up and running again.

Adam Roth, a communications studies professor who manages the department's largest class, Communication Fundamentals, has spent the past few months gearing up to re-establish the center. Though the center recently re-opened this semester, he's already noticing a demand for its services.

"Just like the Writing Center helps students with writing, the Speaking Center helps students with speeches and presentations," he said.

The center helps students through the entire process of public speaking, from brainstorming ideas, to actually presenting.

Students who come to the center first meet with a peer tutor, Roth said. Together, the student and the tutor look over the student's assignment and come to an agreement on what it requires.

From there, the pair develops ideas and key points to touch on during the presentation. An outline of the speech is created and after it's perfected, students present their speeches.

One of the most common techniques the center uses is to record students speaking using a digital camcorder. Brownell said she used the same technique when the center originally opened decades before.

"We started it on a very modest level," she said. "These were the old days, the days of the first video cameras."

Though the decade has changed, this time-tested technique has not. The center's grants provided funding for modern recording equipment, a TV to watch the material on, as well as professional furniture such as conference tables and podiums, to make the practice as realistic as possible.

After recording the speech, the student and a peer tutor review the footage together and decide which areas need improvement.

"The higher they move up the ladder, the more likely it is they'll have to give a presentation," Brownell said. "[Public speaking] is a very critical skill set."

"It's a really good resource for [students] and we look forward to seeing a lot of students here," Roth said.

Roth said faculty members can also take advantage of the service.

Anyone interested in the Speaking Center can schedule appointments from the center's Web site or drop by the office.

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