Speaking Lab aids speech and assuages stage fright

Danny Reinan, Staff Writer

It is common for people to fear public speaking. While writers who are submitting written assignments do not have to worry about being put on the spot, stumbling over their words or losing their train of thought mid-sentence, oral presenters face those worries with every assignment. While writers have plenty of time to fixate on the minutiae of their word choice and edit until their piece is just right, public speakers will normally only get a single chance to capture their audience and get a point across. Perhaps the most daunting element of public speaking is what many people see when they stand before an audience a sea of eyes, watching them and judging their every move. It’s completely understandable that public speaking, especially in academic settings, is seen as something so nerve-racking. However, it doesn’t have to be that way which is where the Augsburg Speaking Lab comes in.

The student tutors at the Augsburg Speaking Lab work to help speakers overcome these obstacles and construct the best speeches possible. They do so by utilizing a variety of methods which they tailor to the needs of the student who seeks tutoring. For example, if a student is struggling with a shaky voice and closed-off body language, a tutor might help them practice breathing exercises. If a student is speaking too quickly or too slowly, a tutor might help them deliberately practice each line to ensure that they are moving at a consistent pace throughout. John DeWitt, one of the tutors at the Speaking Lab who has been working there since the beginning of the year, often works with students on the clarity of their language. “I have watched countless speeches, outside and inside the Speaking Lab, and the one thing that I work with people is fleshing the information out,” he said. “If you can make complex information clear and easy for your audience to understand, then you have a good speech.” DeWitt also helps students to conquer their fear of public speaking. “Some consider public speaking to be the biggest fear among Americans, above death. My advice for someone who is nervous about publicly speaking is that your audience is always rooting for you. No one goes into a presentation hoping for the speaker to fail.”

Speaking Lab tutors don’t only work with students who are practicing finalized speeches. Just as with the Writing Lab, students can bring in ideas, outlines or incomplete speeches and receive advice on how to move forward with them. This was described to me by Sarah Van Sickle, a Speaking Lab tutor who has been working since the beginning of the Spring semester. “One of the most common problems that I have seen speakers have so far this semester is them struggling on where to start with their speeches,” she explained. “Sometimes the speakers who come in to the Lab find it helpful to simply have someone to talk through their different ideas with, so they can decipher what works and what doesn’t for their speech.”

Kristen Chamberlain, an associate professor in communication studies, has been the faculty head of the Speaking Lab for 11 years. In that time, she’s noticed that many students who dread public speaking seem to think of it less as a lifelong skill to build upon and more like something that they need to “survive” when tasked with an oral presentation. “Public speaking facilitates the transfer of information,” she said. “Conveying ideas effectively is something that translates to many other areas, such as writing.” Chamberlain wants students to know that public speaking is becoming more valued in both academia and the rest of the world, and thus, that it’s becoming something more important to be consistently practiced. “More and more, employers are looking at public speaking as an important skill for incoming hires to have,” she explained. “Come to the Lab to prepare for that oral presentation you have, but keep coming to the Lab after that. It’s just like any other skill. It takes time, and it takes practice.” The Speaking Lab exists as a space where students can build skills that they can carry with them far into the future through communication with help from observant, thoughtful and empathetic tutors.

The Augsburg Speaking Lab is located in Foss 171C, and it is open from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 1:40 p.m. to 3:40 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. Appointments with the Speaking Lab can be scheduled in advance by emailing speakinglab@augsburg.edu.

This article was originally published in the Feb. 15, 2019 issue.