Speaking Center Ready to Help with Variety of Speaking Concerns

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Speaking about speaking Donnetrice Barbee, new director of the Speaking Center, says, "Speaking is natural, but it takes skill to do it well." She can help with everything from choosing a topic for oral presentation to handling pre-speech nervousness. Photo by Fred LeBlanc.

Barbee is new to Mount Holyoke this fall, but has taught communications at Howard University--where she earned a master's degree in the field--and at James Madison University. She and her trained student assistants can help in a variety of ways: managing speech anxiety, selecting a topic for oral presentation, organizing thoughts, presenting research findings, being persuasive, using correct grammar, structuring an argument, making clear and concise points, rehearsing delivery, staying within time limits, and tailoring a speech to a particular audience.

Barbee says, "We can't get rid of nerves, but we can help you manage your nervousness and still do well." And even those for whom talking comes easily can benefit from the Center, she adds. "Speaking is natural, but it takes skill to do it well. Just because words come out of your mouth doesn't mean that you're being clear, understood, or effective in your speech." For those already relatively comfortable with public speaking, the Center offers ways to sharpen a presentation.

Handling nerves and building speaking confidence takes practice. Yet students who would never turn in a written first draft sometimes think nothing of giving an oral presentation that they haven't rehearsed. Everyone improves with practice, Barbee reminds. One key tool--videotaping--intimidates some people who fear seeing how they come across. "But nine times out of ten, the person isn't the bumbling idiot she thinks she is," Barbee says. "Looking critically at a video of yourself can really help improve your presentation."

In addition to helping individuals, Barbee also works with entire classes that require oral presentations. In addition, speaking mentors are assigned to help students in two speaking-intensive courses.

Speaking assistants are available by appointment Monday through Thursday, 5-9 pm, Thursday, 10 am-noon, and Friday, 2-4 pm. Students can get help with oral work in all academic subjects, and the center's services are also available to MHC faculty and staff at no charge.