“How many of you have difficulty with public speaking?”
This was the question Professor Rosemary Rys asked on the first day of my COM 230 Techniques of Speaking class. Although I never considered myself as being an introvert, I had always faced anxiety when speaking in front of a crowd, whether it was large or small, so my answer was quite simple: I do. Yet, I found myself with my hands unraised because I did not want the professor to call on me. Even though it is not overwhelming, the fear of being put in the spotlight was strong enough to make me avoid answering a question that was quite relevant to me.
When the time came for me to deliver my first speech, I remember that fear being much stronger. I had to pick out a famous speech of my choice — a simple enough task — and then had to stand in front of the classroom to read it. I was nervous to give a speech in front of total strangers, who would undoubtedly have their eyes on me. As I walked up, my heart rate increased, my cheeks became hot, and even my hands were a little shaky.
Eventually, I learned to conquer this fear. As the weeks flew by, I gave countless speeches —nearly one every week — and each was a little more creative and personal than the previous one as I became more familiar with my classmates. My heart was no longer racing, my fingers were steady and my voice was clear. I gradually lowered my use of filler words until my speeches were free of them, and I have undoubtedly come out as a more confident speaker than before taking COM 230.
This is not to say that my journey was a lone effort. With each step, I had the guidance of Professor Rys, an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Communication, who has 32 years of teaching experience under her belt. Rys received her bachelor’s in marketing management from the Wharton Business School and eventually went on to receive her master’s in public relations from Rowan University. To her, public relations is another form of communication; it involves promoting companies, writing news releases, organizing events and much more.
From the diverse pool of eleven communication courses Rys teaches, COM 230 is a workshop course with consistent practice talks, impromptu speeches and formal speeches that provide a strong foundation for students to build on their public speaking skills. As students let their creativity loose with these speeches, professors help them with consistent feedback to hone their speaking skills. This is what the course helped me accomplish, and it holds the potential to do the same for students willing to embrace it.
Something key for a course as concentrated on public speaking as COM 230 is the students being comfortable with one another. When asked about her thoughts on this, Rys replied, “Most people who don’t do public speaking are afraid of it, or at least they think they are. If I get them comfortable with each other, they will be comfortable speaking in front of each other.”
Her main strategy is using public speaking games such as two truths and a lie and story starters, which allow students to become familiar with each other. Naturally, this also increases their confidence levels, encouraging them to blossom during their speeches, a similar experience to mine. Soon enough, the classroom becomes filled with over twenty “cheerleaders” when students get up to give their speeches.
It is fair to say that the benefits that come with exposing yourself to this environment and becoming a confident speaker far outweigh any hesitancy students may have initially. Not only do they leave as articulate speakers, but their confidence also carries over to other settings: “If you go to a biology class, and you have to present, you’re confident because those people from this class are still in your head,” claims Rys. This is something I can attest to; while I may have been nervous about giving a speech ten weeks ago, this is no longer the case after my exposure to this course. My presentations are much smoother now, devoid of the “um’s” and “ah’s” that used to obscure my words.
Throughout the course, students can expect to receive constructive criticism from their professor to fine-tune their speeches. The flaws are usually easy fixes; students may speak too fast and rush their words, or maybe they don’t use enough hand gestures to make the audience feel like they’re interacting. Rys, in particular, tackles these by encouraging students to slow down, pace themselves, walk slowly while speaking and, ultimately, by giving personalized written feedback using her trusty rubric, which has helped me overcome my own shortcomings. Though each professor may bring a different course format and method of feedback to the table, the course objectives remain firm and students will undoubtedly walk out as better speakers.
Importantly, the course’s benefits extend beyond a classroom setting as having proper communication skills is essential in the real world. According to Rys, who has a very diversified career experience, “CEOs often look for people who are good speakers and good writers because they’re the ones who are going to get that grant written to bring more funding for the company…or do a speech that’s so moving that everybody wants to sign up for their program.”
No matter what employers are looking for, great speakers are sought because effective communication is a skill demanded across all professions. Employers will notice its presence on resumes and during interviews, and this can give an edge to students who have taken the course.
To students who are unsure about taking COM 230 at Drexel, Rys says, “Just do it. It’ll be worth your time.”
I couldn’t agree more. Enrolling in COM 230 can allow students to expose themselves to an environment filled with challenge and resilience, where they can adapt and grow. Rys also encourages students to consider joining Drexel Speaks, a student organization devoted to improving public speaking skills, where she serves as the Faculty Advisor and extends her guidance beyond the course curriculum. It goes without saying that the relevance of well-polished speaking skills doesn’t come with predefined moments; they are essential in countless aspects of life.