Published 02/24/10

Students to put their oratory skills to the test

February 24, 2010

When Jacqueline Belknap ’13 (Smithfield, RI) speaks in front of a crowd, she employs the calming technique of imagining she is having a conversation with just one person.

“Normally when you are talking with a colleague, professor, or peer, you are engaged and relaxed,” she says. “Why should it be any different when you are speaking to a larger group of people?”

Students were invited to try this method – or others they have mastered – by participating in the first Public Speaking Colloquium sponsored by the Communications Department, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Bryant Toastmasters.

Belknap used her strategy during the fall semester elevator pitch competition when she found herself presenting an idea to a panel of distinguished judges and a packed Stepan Grand Hall. She ended up walking away with the prize for the best pitch, and she developed a skill that will be widely used throughout the rest of her Bryant experience and wherever her professional pursuits may lead.

“When you are able to speak in front of a large audience, you become more recognized and respected by others,” she says. “After tackling the challenge of public speaking, I feel as if any obstacle can be overcome.”

Preparation breeds confidence

Anthony Nader ’12 (Milton, MA) says his favorite part of speaking in front of a crowd is looking out into an audience that understands and agrees with your message. Like Belknap, he won a campuswide e-pitch as a first-year student and, most recently, he has made several presentations through his work with the Sophomore Year Business Cohort Program.

“It is a pretty amazing feeling when you are alone presenting to a crowd and you can see smiles and heads nodding as you make your points,” says Nader.

Joelle Sopariwala ’12 (Old Saybrook, CT) believes the key to engaging an audience is preparation. Active in theatre since the sixth grade, she has had many opportunities to speak in front of a crowd, including multiple roles with the Bryant Players theatre troupe and as a member of the Students in Free Enterprise presentation team that was ranked in the top 16 of more than 700 chapters around the nation.

“I find that the best way for me to overcome my nerves is by practicing over and over again in front of as many people as I can,” says Sopariwala. She jokes that her friends can recite her lines with her as a performance gets closer.

“All of the rehearsing ensures I am fully prepared when it comes time to do the real thing,” she says. “I just pretend that I am with my friends.”  

Pat Helmas ’11 (Norwood, MA), who captured the “Crowd Favorite” award during an e-pitch competition, imagines that everyone in the audience is his best friend. “This way you don’t have to worry about what anybody thinks,” he says. “Then it is up to you to deliver your message and have as much fun as possible.”

Another e-pitch winner and SIFE presentation team participant, Matt Veves ’10 (Hudson, NH), says the key to calming his nerves is not worrying about slipping up. “Everyone makes mistakes – even the best public speakers,” he says. “If you make a mistake, just think of it as an opportunity to engage in self-deprecating humor to keep the crowd’s attention.”

Cool as a cucumber

Speakers who display confidence and poise will have an audience eating out of the palms of their hands, says Krissy Aucoin ’10 (Greenville, RI). She has performed in 13 shows with the Bryant Players, won an e-pitch competition, and delivered countless class presentations.

“When people see someone with confidence, they are more interested in what you are saying, and they believe you really know what you are talking about,” she says.

It is especially important to maintain this confidence when a performance or presentation doesn’t go exactly as planned. Playing the role of maid in a production last year, Aucoin slipped head-over-heels when trying to clean up a spill. Without a moment’s hesitation, she went on like nothing went wrong.

“I think that was the first time I realized how fun improvisation was, and how great it was to interact with other characters on stage in front of a live audience,” she says.

Ultimately, Susan Baran, lecturer in the Communication Department, believes sharpening public speaking skills is important because it is an ability that can lead to professional success in any career.

Baran has 15 years experience as on-air talent and a producer for TV stations and production companies in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and Hartford.

“Any students,” says Baran, “who are outstanding public speakers will undoubtedly dictate their own professional success and achieve virtually any position they set their minds to.”