Expressive Communication Center opens at RIT to help students with public speaking

Up to 50 students a week receive help to prepare and deliver a presentation

Bonnie McCracken Nickels

Katie Scott, a first-year communication major from Scotch Plains, N.J., receives a critique on her talk from Damaré Hanks, a fourth-year advertising and public relations major from Rochester who is a peer consultant at RIT’s Expressive Communication Center.

Roughly one person in four has a fear of public speaking, but the anxiety can be reduced if you know just what to say, how to organize, begin or end.

Rochester Institute of Technology’s Expressive Communication Center, which opened in August, strives to help students better prepare to deliver speeches and presentations.

“Industry workforce reports, university alumni surveys and academic studies have long stressed the importance of strong communication abilities in order for college graduates to excel, and students had approached us about getting more support for giving presentations,” said Kelly Martin, director of RIT’s School of Communication. “We have wanted to support students with communication needs for a long time.”

The center, in room 2550 on the second floor of the Wallace Library, averages 40 to 60 visits a week. Undergraduates and graduate students from all majors can make an appointment for help with individual and group speeches, as well as portfolio, poster and conference presentations.

Peer consultants working at the center are trained to help students with presentation preparation and delivery, including organizing an outline, designing visuals, practicing delivery and managing anxiety. Faculty members are also available to work one-on-one with course instructors from all disciplines on creating and evaluating oral communication assignments.

Students can also have a practice presentation recorded and reviewed by a consultant who can offer advice and let them know if they are fidgeting, reading too much from their script or have too much text on their slides.

The center tries to have at least one person on staff at all times who knows sign language for students who prefer that method of communication.

“This is unique because it supports all colleges at RIT and it’s a collaboration with the School of Communication and the Wallace Library, which provides the space,” Martin said.

The center also hosts workshops throughout the year. The workshops provide interview techniques, best practices for an elevator pitch, ways to do a pitch for a client and managing conflict in a group.

Nicole Weiner, a second-year media arts and technology major from Brookfield, Wis., said she struggled with speech anxiety for years and was scared about seeking help from the center.

“As my anxiety-ridden thoughts filled my brain, my logical side came in saying I should go. What if it’s nice? You have to go try it out,” she said.

Once at the center, Weiner said she instantly felt at ease conversing with the friendly staff who allowed her to cultivate her ideas.

“Every time I came to the center, my experience just improved as the tutors got to know my individual style,” she said.

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