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Penn State’s Speaking Center Is Here To Quell Your Public Speaking Fears

Public speaking: Two words that may just send shivers down your spine.

If those two words do, in fact, prompt violent flashbacks or increase your heart rate, read on for you have much to learn.

Having the ability to speak effectively in front of groups of people is an invaluable asset for the advancement through just about any career path. But in a more broad sense, learning to construct an argument, make an emotional appeal, or tell a great story are all skills that can help you in your everyday life.

That’s where the Penn State Speaking Center comes into play.

Here at Penn State, much to the chagrin of a sizable portion of undergraduates, public speaking classes – in one form or another – are practically inescapable. The majority of Penn Staters tend to take CAS 100A, but there are also other forms of CAS 100 for students who deal with certain struggles when it comes to public speaking.

Schreyer Scholars and Paterno Fellows, alternatively, take the Rhetoric and Civic Life sequence, which is a year-long freshman honors course that in many ways is like CAS 100A on steroids – but also with a little bit more group work thrown in there.

The point is, whether you enjoy public speaking or you absolutely despise it with every fiber of your being, you have to take a class testing your spoken communication skills. And that’s where the Speaking Center comes in.

The Speaking Center is a resource for Penn State students – graduate and undergraduate alike – to come in and work on any phase of the speech process. This center is managed by the Communications Arts and Sciences department, and is staffed with student mentors ready to help you make whatever improvements to your speech, no matter how far along you are.

“It was an instructor who realized that students needed some kind of additional support,” director of the Speaking Center Ben Henderson said. “People kept coming back for multiple visits during the pilot program of the Speaking Center.”

Professor Henderson explained that students had access to the Writing Center here on campus, but there was no real resource for students looking to work on their speeches.

The Speaking Center sees 15-40 students come in every week, mostly depending on the time of the semester – when major speech presentation dates approach, like the ‘This I Believe’ speech, students tend to come into the center in higher numbers.

CAS 100 students certainly seem to make up the majority of those who come into the Speaking Center for guidance, but the center sees students from all sorts of classes like business, IST, or engineering come in to improve their work.

“Students come to the Speaking Center because they’re looking for honest feedback that’s not from an authority figure,” Professor Henderson explained. “It’s designed to be an informal peer-to-peer session.”

In the Speaking Center, trained student mentors are the ones offering feedback and help for students. These mentors are nominated for work in the Speaking Center following the completion of a Communications Arts and Science class, usually CAS 100A or the RCL sequence. These students are then placed in an intensive speech-writing class that focuses on speech construction, delivery, and peer mentoring.

“People can come in during any stage of the speech-writing process,” Henderson said. “We want to meet students where they’re at and help them with whatever the next step may be.”

Part of what makes the Speaking Center appealing to repeat visitors is the interaction with other students who have been there and have done it. One of the challenges for the Speaking Center, however, is that it’s not very well known yet. One of Professor Henderson’s goals moving forward is to continue to get the word out about this student resource.

“Certainly we’d like to have people come in from more classes,” Henderson noted. “We’re also looking to help people from sororities, fraternities, and students running campaigns.”

Outside of the general speech help the speaking Center provides, Professor Henderson hopes to reach out to a broader range of students with different public speaking difficulties as the center grows.

“We want to continue to develop resources for students who deal with nervousness and students who have English as a second language,” Henderson said, citing one of his main plans for the future of the Speaking Center.

The Speaking Center is located in 7C Sparks, which is downstairs in a little nook of the building. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on from Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. The mentors are always looking for students to help.

About the Author

Derek Bannister

Derek is a junior majoring in Economics and History. He is legally required to tell you that he's from right outside of Philly. Email Derek compliments and dad-jokes at [email protected]

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