Mayor to RIT students: Effective public speaking helps make change

Rochester’s mayor tells public speaking class how to combat nervousness

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A. Sue Weisler

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren talks with students in Barry Strauber’s public speaking class Monday in the College of Liberal Arts. She said social media will never be as effective as face-to-face conversation.

She may be the mayor of the third-largest city in New York, but Lovely Warren still gets nervous speaking in public.

“You’ll always get nervous. But over time, you get used to it,” she told students Monday at Rochester Institute of Technology, where she was guest in two public speaking classes taught by Barry Strauber.

Strauber, a visiting lecturer in the School of Communication at RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, asked Warren to visit his classes to help his students understand the potential power public speaking has.

“In order for anything important to happen, an idea needs to be transferred from one person to many. Public speaking is one of the great ways to get your thoughts across and make a difference,” Strauber said. “Every speaking opportunity is an opportunity to grow in leadership and influence.”

Warren told the students to become involved in their passions, and if they want to see change in their communities, they need to get involved.

“Sitting on the sidelines is not an option,” she said. “We are living in interesting times. How do you make sure your voices are heard? You have to get involved. There are a lot of decisions that will be going on in the next few years that will affect you.”

Warren told students to be themselves and let their personalities shine through by talking about personal experiences or subjects they are familiar with.

“Everybody has a story to tell,” she said. “Whether you want to share that story is up to you. But nobody has your story. The thing to do is be able to articulate your experiences that led to who you are.”

She said it’s important to believe what you are saying, because “people recognize when you are being phony.” They should also pay attention to their body language and facial expressions, she said.

“When I get annoyed, one of the things I try to do is smile,” Warren said.

Warren was asked how she keeps calm before a big speech or debate. She replied that she listens to gospel music. “It gets me in a frame of mind when I tell myself I can do this.”

She’s talked at political rallies and conferences attended by thousands of people, but one of the most difficult times she has had to speak publically was following a drive-by shooting that left three dead in Rochester.

“You’re trying to calm the community, and a lot of people were very emotional,” she said. “You want to be able to say the right things to the victims’ families, being sympathetic towards the victims while at the same time being firm about those who committed the crime.”

When asked about the rise of social media, Warren said has its purpose, but it will never take away the impact of a face-to-face meeting.

“Ninety percent of networking is not about what you know, but who you know, and have connected face-to-face with,” she said.

Sarah Marsden, a first-year physician assistant major from Manlius, N.Y., said public speaking is a wonderful skill to possess.

“Although I may never get over my fear of public speaking, I shouldn’t let that stop me from expressing my thoughts to a crowd of people,” she said.

Charell Davis, a second-year individualized study student from New York City, said he learned from Warren that you need to find a way to reach the entire audience even if the age groups and interests are varied.

“You can do that by asking questions or having the audience ask you questions,” he said.