STORY BY LINDSAY FIEGLE
Last spring, Drake’s Coordinator of Public Speaking, Joan McAlister launched Drake’s Speaking Center, a tutoring program that helps with the organization, preparation and delivery of speeches or presentations.
Located in the lower level of Cowles library, the Speaking Center has two componets: a tutoring service and a separate Speaking Studio that is open to Drake students, faculty and staff who want to practice or record presentations.
The Speaking Center began as an experiment in Howard Hall in fall 2013 with only the resources of the rhetoric, media and social change program.
By spring break last year, the pilot project grew in combination with Cowles Library staff and Drake Technology Services to be the program it is today.
“We decided a collaboration could work very well to serve the needs of students, faculty and staff,” McAlister said.
These needs are apparent, given that unlike many universities, Drake’s general education curriculum doesn’t require a Area of Inquiry class on oral communication.
One of McAlister’s primary goals when starting the Speaking Center was to provide a resource for students expected to know how to effectively communicate and present without ever having been taught.
“Instructors can’t assume students have public presentation skills,” said McAlister, who advocates use of the program for professors of any subject who intend to grade students on their public speaking.
“Faculty that want to see students develop but can’t teach skills in class because of other content or size restraints should send students to the Speaking Center for assistance.”
This is not to say that students go merely because they are required to.
Many students attend in an attempt to get help overcoming fears. McAlister said nerves are one of the center’s main focuses.
“I’m an actress and I don’t get nervous about performing, but public speaking terrifies me,” said first-year theatre major Shelby Jensen. “I want to get better at talking to people as myself instead of a character.”
The program’s tutors recognize why speech anxiety and common apprehension happen and help students figure out how to work with them, in addition to helping compose and prepare speeches.
“We have great technology, and we’re all very well trained,” John Noble, one of the three tutors currently employed by the center, said.
Noble, a sophomore double majoring in religion and rhetoric, media and social change was recruited by McAlister, his adviser.
To become a tutor, Noble took speech pedagogy last semester, an invite-only class of two students. In this class, he studied everything from speaking methods and tutorial practices to analyzing assignments.
The methods utilized by the tutors are proving effective, though students are still discovering the Speaking Center.
“Our data shows we could have more people, but the percentage of people who have positive feedback and good experiences is really, really high,” McAlister said.
Despite the success, the future of the program is unknown.
Last year, the rhetoric program used funds intended to promote public speaking to get the center started.
Now that it has expanded, they must find other resources.
As the only official tutoring program not funded, the Speaking Center has sent a request through the Provost’s Office that will hopefully be granted soon.
“We want to see these resources used, otherwise they’ll be reallocated,” McAlister said.
To take advantage of the Speaking Center’s resources, students, faculty and staff can visit library.drake.edu/speaking to schedule an appointment with a tutor, or to reserve time in the Speaking Studio.