Students Learn the Art of Public Speaking

August 04, 2009

Aug. 4, 2009 — Glossophobia – the dread of public speaking – is often cited as a top fear of Americans. This summer, students in a public speaking course are overcoming that fear and learning how to communicate effectively.

Instructor Daria Okugawa, a graduate student in the drama department, has structured the class with the students' goals and disciplines in mind.

The class includes engineering, English and education students, who plan to use their public speaking skills for work presentations and teaching. Student-athletes in the class also said they find it useful for addressing the press and motivational speaking.

Fourth-year U.Va. student Lindsey Plogger said she is taking the class because it is a requirement for pharmacy school.

"I've become more and more confident speaking in front of the class," Plogger said.

Okugawa incorporates into the class features of the Alexander technique, a movement system that she has taught for more than 25 years. The students stretch and perform breathing exercises before launching into the day's activities.

Some features of the class are modeled after the Toastmaster's Club. In "table talk," a student tells a short story and poses a question, then invites another student to share a story about the same topic. The game requires quick thinking, as the second student only has the time while walking to the podium to think of a response.

"Every day we perform spontaneously," Okugawa said, adding that participating in these games boosts the students' confidence.

The personal stories shared through these activities have made the class a close-knit group.

"It lets the class get a lot closer to each other," Okugawa said. For one table talk discussion, the class howled with laughter as students shared college pranks they have pulled on other students.

Playing games that force students to move or to speak in different voices boosts students' confidence and makes the task of giving a prepared speech less daunting.

In addition to the daily spontaneous games, students write and give prepared speeches every Friday. In the Toastmaster style, another student serves as the timer and another counts the number of times the speaker says words like "umm" and "like" before receiving feedback from Okugawa.

Second-year U.Va. student Steven Proscia said by learning to reduce the number of "umms" in his speaking and proper breathing technique, his public speaking has improved.

"It's a good tool to have," said Proscia, a member of the U.Va. baseball team.

Okugawa said the class contains many gifted speakers.

"I'm really impressed with how far everyone is coming," Okugawa said. "They're going to inspire a lot of people."

— By Laura Hoffman