UT should make public speaking more of a priority

Abby Springs

Sweaty palms. Nervous stuttering. Your heart beating out of your chest as you look at the students staring back at you. Maybe you can try imagining them in their underwear?

Most of us have been there — roughly 73% of the population experiences public speaking anxiety. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. UT should train all students, across all disciplines, in verbal communication.

Mian Jia, a graduate student in communication studies, teaches a communications course that covers topics like elevator pitches, informative speeches and impromptu presentations. 

“One of the things that’s most important is how you sell your ideas and how you communicate with others,” Jia said. “How you communicate with others is very important in … pretty much every case and
every setting.”

All jobs require communication skills. Faustina Mora, a health promotions junior, works in the military. She said verbal communication training would have prepared her for her military career.

“I got thrown into briefings with colonels and high ranking people right off the bat,” said Mora. “I was not at all prepared for it … the anxiety is ridiculous.”

Mora currently takes Mian Jia’s communications course. As a result, Mora said she is more comfortable with her public speaking. She now knows different ways of structuring her speeches that improve her technique.

“I think if I would have had that skill beforehand, starting my military career would have been a lot easier,” Mora said. 

Students don’t have to feel the anxiety Mora did. There is a way to ensure all students receive verbal communications training — through the flags program.

Like many other schools, UT has a core curriculum. However, the flags program, unique to UT, is a set of topics all students learn by taking courses that fulfill UT requirements. Students can see which courses carry flags when they register for classes. 

Those topics include writing, cultural diversity in the United States, ethics, global cultures, independent inquiry and quantitative reasoning.

“Our goal is always to improve the learning experience that students have and to better prepare them for going into the workforce, going into their careers and going into graduate programs,” said Jeanette Herman, the assistant dean for the Center for School of Undergraduate Studies. 

The center’s website cites an employer survey that ranks the skills employers value. 

“According to a recent survey … when employers hire new graduates and describe the best preparation for career success, they place a priority on skills like written communication, ethical decision making and critical thinking,” according to the website.

The current flag system covers these skills. However, the employers in the survey rank oral communication as the most important skill, above any of the other mentioned.

In contrast, “the ability to work with numbers” and “the ability to analyze and solve problems with people from different backgrounds and cultures,” both covered by the quantitative reasoning and cultural diversity flags respectively, are last on the list. 

That’s not to say those skills aren’t important. However, verbal communications is clearly just as essential as any of the other skills in the flag program.

Herman said to establish a new flag, the provost office and the deans of the colleges would need to be on board with the idea. UT would also need the monetary and staff resources. While these are significant challenges, teachers, students and employers all agree verbal communications is an essential skill in the workplace.

UT needs to fill in the gap. While some majors at UT have communications courses as part of their degree requirements, many students, such as certain STEM majors, never take a communications class at all. 

Establishing a verbal communications flag would ensure all students, across all disciplines, receive training in speaking and presenting. You’ll never have to imagine the audience in their underwear again.

Springs is a government freshman from Dallas.