Public speaking center pilot program opens in PCL

Cassandra Jaramillo

One of the most common fears is glossophobia, better known as the fear of public speaking. To help students struggling with speech anxiety, the University recently launched a pilot program. 

The Sanger Learning Center and School of Undergraduate Studies partnered with UT Libraries to start the University’s first public speaking center, which opened at the beginning of this month on the first floor of the Perry-Casteñada Library. Within the last year, the PCL has expanded its learning commons in STEM, research, writing and now public speaking. This semester, the center is in a pilot phase to determine how much demand there is for its services.

Michelle Jewell, director of the Sanger Learning Center, said the center has focused on math and sciences but saw there was a need for support in public speaking as well. Jewell said she saw some students who could improve their professional communication skills. 

“This isn’t a service that exists at many universities and was never available at UT before,” Jewell said. “It was an obvious need.”

Students can sign up for free one-hour sessions to get one-on-one speech feedback for individual or group presentations. Peer consultants said for students presenting in a group, it’s best to block off two hours. Temporarily, students are asked to visit the PCL to sign up while the center’s online booking system is still in development.  

Sharmin Sharif, business graduate student and speech consultant, said as a fellow peer, she hopes students don’t feel as nervous about their speeches.

“With peer coaching, students will probably feel more comfortable because it’s not a professor or a teaching assistant, so it’s less intimidating,” Sharif said. 

Communication studies graduate student Brad Haggadone has taught several sections of a professional communication class. Haggadone said about 1,500 students from all disciplines take the class each semester.

“I think public speaking is just really scary for a lot of students, and that’s the single biggest obstacle,” Haggadone said. “Getting over those nerves while you’re up speaking is a lot of pressure.” 

Haggadone said while some people are naturally good speakers, the preparation and organization that’s involved in speech writing is just as important as the performance of the speech.

“I think public speaking is interesting because half of it is the performance aspect of it,” Haggadone said. “It’s pretty similar to athletics. You have to physically perform. But the other half of it — the preparation phase — can really make or break a speech. You have to organize it well and know your audience.” 

Ash Sonawane, speech consultant in the center, said students can make the best use of the center by getting feedback beginning with the preparation stage. 

Jewell said she encourages students to practice as much as possible and to use the center that’s available to them on campus.

“Don’t let the classroom be the first place you give a presentation — let us be your first audience,” Jewell said.