Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, affects approximately three-quarters of the population1. Nevertheless, the Oral Communication Center’s eighth annual Public Speaking Competition draws students from all class years, disciplines and extracurriculars. Even if you aren’t glossophobic, you might still get a little nervous before speaking to crowds. Some of Hamilton’s former winners and current participants generously reveal their tactics and motivations for competing.
The students’ reasons for registering for the competition varied from seeking public speaking experience, to providing information, to persuading, to self-challenging, and, in current participant Charley Allegar’s ’15 case, simply thinking “the experience will be fun.”
Regardless of his or her motivations, each participant agreed that to give an effective speech, one must be interested in the subject matter. Hunter Green ’16, one of last year’s McKinney Prize recipients, gave a speech titled, “Solitary Confinement: An American Epidemic,” that was meant to expose “the atrocities of the prison system” and change “at least one person’s mindset on solitary confinement.”
In researching, writing, and rehearsing his speech Green found that it was easier to memorize and present because his topic “fell in line with [his] passion.” Similarly, Hristina Mangelova ’16, a current competitor, decided to present on something she “enjoys talking about in every day life.” Dan Lichtenauer ’14, another of last year’s McKinney Prize winners, added that he finds it easiest to present information as if you were having a casual conversation with friends.
Despite the hours of practice and preparation, most participants still get nervous before and during their speeches. Lichtenauer practiced several times every day for a week and a half leading up to the competition, yet was still struck by nerves. Mangelova fights her nerves by taking deep, calming breaths, a technique also suggested by Lichtenauer.
Sandy Rao ’15, last year’s Warren Wright Prize recipient, has competed in several competitions, at both the high school and collegiate levels, and has additional speaking experience through her involvement in the Debate and Mock Trial teams. Still, Rao gets nervous before taking the stage. She takes a different approach to calming herself down by “remembering [she’s] only on stage for less than 10 minutes,” then playfully added, “hopefully too short a time to make any memorable mistakes.” Conversely, Green does not get nervous, saying “if you put in the work necessary before the speech, you should always be in control.”
Participants agreed that repeatedly rehearsing their speech is integral to a smooth delivery. By practicing aloud, Mangelova feels that “your mouth remembers the words even if your brain forgets them at some point.” This is an especially important step for her because her native language is Bulgarian. A competent public speaker in her mother tongue, Mangelova hopes that the competition will help her “gain the same confidence and proficiency” in English.
Rao practices aloud as well, but only memorizes her main ideas and transitions, preferring to have flexibility while on stage. This tactic is quite effective, but requires knowing the information well enough to be able and “explain it in various ways,” as she points out.
The Oral Communication Center (OCC), which hosts the event, also provides resources for students preparing speeches and presentations. Mangelova said that the OCC “was especially useful in the beginning when [she] didn’t know how to structure a speech.” Lichtenauer added that organization “is essential if you want people to follow your argument.” Rao particularly appreciated her OCC tutor for pointing out subconscious mannerisms, which can detract from the message of the speech when undirected. Rao has now joined the OCC team, tutoring at the Center herself.
Rao, Lichtenauer and Mengelova also cited Professor Jim Helmer’s Oral Communication course, “The Rhetorical Act,” as training for their presentations. Helmer’s mix of public speaking theory, practice presentations and multimedia examples provide a strong foundation for students attempting to become better public speakers.
The preliminary rounds of year’s competition took place February 15 and February 17, and the final round will take place on March 8 in the Chapel.
1 National Institute of Mental Health