Got an engineering senior design project to pitch? Prepping to make a persuasive argument in your public policy class? Or need to explain your business plan to your fellow entrepreneur students over at the business school?
A new campus resource is helping students overcome the anxieties related to public speaking.
The COM Lab is a partnership between UNLV’s communication studies department and Academic Success Center. Although it is housed in the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, it is open to students in any major.
Services include one-on-one sessions with communication coaches who are graduate students. The practice and feedback from the coaches will help students gain confidence for delivering effective public speeches, said Stephanie Willes, a visiting lecturer in communication studies.
“It certainly is a space where you can, in real-time, see students get that experiential learning that is so vital to academic growth,” Willes said.
Overcoming the fears of public speaking can roll over to improving skills in social and professional settings — those same public speaking skills can come in handy during a first date or career networking event. And jobs from healthcare and hospitality to teaching and journalism require a level of expertise in spoken communication.
“With clear and confident communication being one of the top skills employers are looking for in a hiring candidate, it is really helpful for students to have a one-on-one session with a communication coach,” Willes said.
The COM Lab is equipped with Whisper Room, a soundproof booth where students can rehearse their speeches, record themselves and playback their speeches.
The recordings also can provide feedback on nonverbal communication, Willes said.
“When people are nervous, they often have nonverbal expressions in their delivery that they didn't even realize, like rocking back and forth, overusing hand gestures, not making eye contact, or touching their face repeatedly, just to name some of the most frequent things I see in speech recordings,” Willes said.
Samantha Schaffer, a communication studies graduate student, is one of coaches who helps students through the public speaking process.
Schaffer gives pointers on vocalics — like tone, speed, and when to pause in order to deliver a clear and effective message. Students are required to bring their assignments for the coaching session. Coaches can assist with selecting a speech topic, structuring outlines, and finding references.
“I don’t think you can aim for perfection (because) the best speakers will make mistakes,” Schaffer notes. “You may stumble over a word, say ‘um’ or say the word wrong. It’s never going to be perfect, but it’s important to be aware of those weaknesses, and we can help give strategies to overcome those difficulties and hurdles you may experience.”
The public speaking course, Communication 101, is not a requirement for all undergraduate students so the COM Lab is open to all students.
Faculty and staff can also make an appointment to practice in the Whisper Room or get coaching tips.