Students must be made aware of public speaking resources

Tanya Chen

Editor’s note: This column was written before the closure of the UT campus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Its content may or may not reflect the current reality of student life on campus. We believe it is important to share this column to shed light on issues around campus and to honor the work of its author.

According to a survey on American fears, glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is Americans’ most widely shared anxiety — more common than the fear of heights, bugs, drowning or needles.

So, why are we so afraid of public speaking?

Fear of public speaking can often be traced back to social anxiety, and this fear of being socially rejected and ostracized is particularly relevant within the context of contemporary college culture. Similarly, students’ fear of public speaking can be exacerbated within college classes, where graded discussions and presentations are the norm.

The Public Speaking Center is a free resource that helps UT students gain confidence in their public speaking skills by teaching them how to refine their message, create visual aids and deliver their presentation effectively. The center is also a great place for students to receive feedback on presentations they’ve already prepared, as well as address general concerns about stage fright and nerves.

Rachel Jenkins, public speaking and outreach learning specialist for the center, shared that student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive in regards to their services.

“99% of the survey respondents said that consultants’ feedback was helpful, that they communicated in a clear and effective way and that the consultant helped them feel comfortable and at ease,” Jenkins said. “(Students) also said they would recommend our services to a friend.”

The constructive criticism that the Public Speaking Center receives from students, however, always concerns advertising.

“‘I would’ve booked so many more appointments had I known about this sooner’ and ‘I wish more students knew that this was available to them’ are hands down the most popular pieces of feedback that I get,” Jenkins said.

The Public Speaking Center currently tables on Speedway, uses digital displays around campus and communicates with faculty to get word out about their services. These methods have proved ineffective thus far, as many students are still unaware of the valuable resources the center offers.

“My (First-Year Interest Group) mentor mentioned the Sanger Learning Center a lot, but never the Public Speaking Center,” business freshman Ekaterina Raleigh said. “I was working on a case competition earlier this semester, and it would’ve been great if someone could’ve helped my team make the presentation more clear and cohesive.”

The Public Speaking Center is only four years old, so the lack of widespread student knowledge of their services may also be due to the center being a new establishment on a large, decentralized campus.

“It requires a lot of money to spread the word,” Jenkins said. “We could advertise more efficiently if we could include online marketing such as targeted ads on social media. Even having the capacity to print enough materials to canvas all of campus would be helpful.”

In order to receive more funding for program expansion and advertising, the Public Speaking Center has to exhibit demonstrated need through increased student participation, which creates a vicious cycle of administrative inactivity. However, there are alternative options to traditional administrative channels.

Since the Senate of College Councils deals with student academic affairs, they should partner with the Public Speaking Center to help with tabling on Speedway and to raise necessary funds for advertising. Including student testimonials in digital slides and other student-facing platforms could also increase the ads’ effectiveness, as word of mouth is shown to be the most effective form of advertising.

Public speaking is an essential skill that every college student needs to learn how to wield with grace, as it is something that they will carry into their careers beyond graduation. By expanding the Public Speaking Center’s advertising, UT will be empowering students by providing them with the tools they need to effectively communicate their ideas.

Chen is a Plan II and business freshman from Austin.