Thursday, August 11 2022

Do you have a senior engineering design project to present? Preparing to make a persuasive argument in your public policy class? Or explain your business plan to your fellow business school student entrepreneurs?

A new campus resource is helping students overcome public speaking anxieties.

The COM Lab is a partnership between the Department of Communication Studies at UNLV and the Academic Success Center. Although it is hosted at Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, it is open to students of all majors.

Services include one-on-one sessions with communication coaches who are graduate students. Practice and feedback from coaches will help students gain the confidence to deliver effective public speeches, said Stephanie Willis, guest speaker in communication studies.

“It’s definitely a space where you can, in real time, see students gaining that experiential learning that’s so vital for academic growth,” Willis said.

Overcoming fears of public speaking can transition into improving skills in social and professional settings – these same public speaking skills can come in handy on a first date or professional networking event . And jobs from healthcare and hospitality to teaching and journalism require a level of expertise in oral communication.

“Clear and confident communication being one of the top skills employers look for in a job candidate, it’s really helpful for students to have a one-on-one session with a communication coach,” Willis said.

The COM Lab is equipped with Whisper Room, a soundproof booth where students can rehearse their speeches, record themselves and listen to their speeches.

The recordings can also provide information about nonverbal communication, Willis said.

“When people are nervous, they often have non-verbal expressions in their speech that they don’t even realize, such as rocking back and forth, overusing hand gestures, not making eye contact, or repeatedly touching the face, to name a few common things I see in voice recordings,” Willis said.

Communications graduate student Samantha Schaffer reviews a speech with journalism major Mistie Ragle in UNLV’s new Communications Studies Lab. (UNLV Photo Services/Josh Hawkins)

Samantha Schaffer, a graduate student in communications, is one of the coaches who helps students through the process of public speaking.

Schaffer provides vocalic cues – such as pitch, speed, and when to pause in order to deliver a clear and effective message. Students must bring their homework for the coaching session. Coaches can help select a speaking topic, structure an outline, and find references.

“I don’t think you can aim for perfection (because) the best speakers will make mistakes,” notes Schaffer. “You can trip over a word, say ‘uh’, or mispronounce the word. It will never be perfect, but it’s important to be aware of these weaknesses, and we can help you provide strategies to overcome any difficulties and obstacles you may encounter.

The public speaking course, Communication 101, is not a requirement for all undergraduates, so the COM Lab is open to all students.

Faculty and staff can also schedule an appointment to practice in the Whisper Room or get coaching advice.

Here’s how to schedule your COM Lab appointment.


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