Practice makes perfect – University Speaking Center provides free assistance for students

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Standing in front of the class to deliver a speech can be anxiety-inducing for many students. Presenters know everyone’s eyes are trained on them, waiting to hear their message, and they worry about making a mistake.

For those students concerned with perfecting their oral communication skills, free assistance is available at the University Speaking Center, located in Atkins Library, Room G33.

Debbie Baker, a senior lecturer in communication studies, founded the new center last year, and later this month, she and center consultants will attend a national conference to discuss the launch and evolution of this burgeoning resource.

“The University Speaking Center is an opportunity to provide outreach and support to other disciplines across campus,” said Baker. “Public speaking assignments are part of virtually every discipline, so support is needed for our students. Having a dedicated facility where students can feel safe to practice oral presentations in a nonjudgmental environment and work on specific challenges is an imperative.”

In developing the center, Baker relied upon her graduate mentor at UNC Greensboro and other speaking center directors at colleges and universities – they advocated taking a “field of dreams” approach, meaning to build it and students will come.

And Baker discovered that to be true. Currently, the University Speaking Center has one graduate and two undergraduate students who serve as consultants to assist their fellow 49ers. For this spring semester, the consultants could accommodate 19 half-hour sessions each week.

Miranda Rouse, a graduate assistant in communication studies, is a peer consultant. She noted that as a consultant, she is a resource to help students on any number of topics, such as speech outlines, delivery, organization and content development, visual aids or managing speaking anxiety.

“It is a very conversational process, in a relaxed environment, for a stress-free experience,” said Rouse. “We begin by assessing each client’s needs and what outcomes they would like to experience. Following the session, we email them notes, observations and suggestions.”

Tiera Gibson, a communication studies major who transferred from UNC Greensboro, also is a peer consultant for the University Speaking Center. She said her goals were to help alleviate speech anxiety, support others to improve their speaking abilities, teach techniques on how to become a more effective communicator and build the self-confidence of student speakers across campus.

For Baker, who completed a bachelor’s degree in education with a minor in communication studies from the University, the journey to create the center has been one of managing a myriad of details. She traces the genesis to her work as a Faculty Fellow for the Communication Across the Curriculum Initiative. The majority of University students are unable to enroll in public speaking classes, given that those courses are filled by communication studies majors.

She noted faculty were being encouraged to develop more oral communication components for assignments without support for students.

“As an alumna, I believe our undergraduate and graduate students are ambassadors for the University, and how they communicate is a reflection upon us all,” said Baker. “It is my duty and passion to assist them to be better ambassadors. The center is a valuable resource that fosters students’ opportunities to grow as communicators.”

During the past year, Baker and University Speaking Center consultants have held workshops for faculty and students; they’ve worked with commencement speakers through the Dean of Students Office and others through the University Career Center, Prospect for Success and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life to name a few.

At the upcoming conference of the National Association of Communication Centers, Baker, Rouse and Gibson will give a presentation on UNC Charlotte’s progress in developing a University Speaking Center.

“Thus far, we’ve grown exponentially, but the challenge is how to manage that growth,” Baker noted. “We don’t want to turn students away, as ultimately, this center is for the students. My dream is that the University Speaking Center will follow the trail blazed by the Writing Resources Center. Sam Watson, one of my professors, helped establish the center, which grew out of the English Department. I envision the University Speaking Center eventually will get to that same stature.”


Photo: (left to right) Debbie Kilby Baker, Miranda Rouse and Tiera Gibson will be attending the National Association of Communication Centers conference to talk about developing a University Speaking Center.