UT Students Connect with Audience at New Speaking Center

Published: Oct 14, 2010
 A large room full of faces staring back at Amanda Irwin ’12 waiting for her to command their attention with a speech does anything but make her nervous.

“I love public speaking,” said Irwin, a government and world affairs major. “I love addressing a crowd.”

Natasha Kipper ’12, an electronic media art and technology major, has been speaking in public in one form or another for most of her life. She is completely comfortable with the stage.

“It’s an adrenaline rush,” Kipper said. “It’s a performance just like any other, and you feel better about yourself when it’s over.”

Kipper and Irwin are just two of the seven tutors who are helping establish the new Speaking Center on campus. It’s a free service to students (as well as faculty and staff) to help them improve their speech-making techniques and learn how to deliver meaningful messages to their audiences. From getting over the butterflies, to creating an outline and giving a strong delivery, the center’s tutors can help people from start to finish.

“Public speaking is an essential skill, and that’s why we want to help people get better,” said Todd Reasonover ’13. “Everyone needs to communicate. Not everyone connects. We want to help people connect.”

Because she was so comfortable in front of a crowd, Irwin had no idea how anxious it could make some people. Not until she was enrolled in a class last year that required a group presentation did she see how nervous her teammates were about speaking in front of the class.

“I’d never known the depth of anxiety some people feel,” Irwin said. “I get the butterflies, everyone does, but I didn’t realize how much it could affect people.”

This is why Irwin joined the Speaking Center as a tutor, as did all the others – to help their peers relieve anxiety and to enjoy a task often seen as overwhelming.

Kelly Zino ’13 wanted to be a tutor because she thought it’d help her professionally – she’s an elementary education major who wants to perfect her teaching, as well as her presentation, skills. Reasonover, a government and world affairs major, liked the chance tutoring gave him to be involved on campus, to help him refine his own speaking skills and to mentor.

“The hardest thing is being able to connect with your audience, but in order to do that it just takes practice,” Reasonover said. “Sometimes it takes just a little encouragement and the motivation to take the first step.”

Ann Marie Coats, an instructor of speech at UT, started the Speaking Center late this summer as a pilot project with the help of the Department of Speech, Theater and Dance in the College of Arts and Letters to engage students in public speaking, a skill required in most undergraduate and graduate classes though rarely taught in the classroom. With this year’s new requirement for all Gateways students to make an oral presentation, the need for Coats’ services grew.

“I started this as a pilot project, and great things have fallen into place,” Coats said. “It’s very encouraging.”

With the help of the Academic Center for Excellence and the Baccalaureate Experience she hired five tutors and found two volunteers who formed a speech club. Though there is no physical center on campus yet, Coats has arranged for time at the library and the Academic Center for Excellence.

Every Monday and Friday between now and Nov. 19 students can come to the library AV Room 1 from 2 to 4 p.m. for small group workshops with peer tutors.

Kipper, a finalist in last year’s speech contest, will offer private tutoring every Monday and Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m. and every Tuesday and Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Academic Center for Excellence. Students can walk in for the first available opening, or e-mail nkipper@spartans.ut.edu for an appointment.

Faculty, staff and students can arrange private sessions with Coats. The annual Speech Contest for UT students will be held Oct. 21 in Riverside, room 107, at 7:30 p.m. The grand prize is $150. Interested students should contact Coats at acoats@ut.edu.


Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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