‘Say it with Style’ workshop eases fear of public speaking

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Speech instructor Justin Blacklock delivers a seminar “Say it with Style”: Effective Delivery Feb. 28 in McAllister. Blacklock shows students a variety of physical and vocal exercises to practice before delivering a speech to be more prepared and ease nerves. Lorena Torres Romero

Michael Martinez, senior marketing communications manager at AT&T Services, will lead the next workshop March 27.

By Katya Harmel


Every seat in Room 203 of McAllister Fine Arts Center was occupied by the start of speech Instructor Justin Blacklock’s lecture Feb. 28, but attendees continued to file in and stood or sat cross-legged on the floor.  

Blacklock introduced himself and began the lesson on effective delivery. The lecture is the third in a series of five workshops on improving public speaking sponsored by the speech program.

“Delivery is what makes impact with an audience,” he said.

The delivery of a speech connects the audience to the speaker and makes an audience remember the message, he said.

He introduced the definition of glossophobia — the fear of public speaking.

He said about 75 percent of Americans experience heightened levels of anxiety with public speaking.

 The dread of public speaking is always listed before the fear of death on the list of Top 10 fears, he said.

Blacklock explained the terror of speaking in front of an audience comes from the speaker picturing the worst-case scenario.

Those afraid of public speaking believe they will mess up before they have begun and think the audience will judge them for it, he said.

“We are empathetic beings,” he said. “The audience is not hoping you screw up.”

He explained the best way to overcome this is through positive visualization — imagining a successful outcome.

“Don’t be your own worst enemy,” he said.

He explained thinking negative thoughts results in nervous behavior, which develops an uneasy response from the audience.

Imagining positive outcomes enforces confidence in the speaker, which results in positive feedback from the audience, he said.

Blacklock suggested using systematic desensitizing, the slow introduction of a phobia to one’s stimulus.

“The more you experience it, the better off you are,” he said.

Taking the opportunity to speak publicly any time the chance arises will help desensitize anxiety, he said.

Blacklock’s final step in overcoming glossophobia was cognitive restructuring — identifying the origin of one’s fear.

He advised the audience to question when the anxiety first began and why. He said to decide whether the reason for the anxiety is rational.

“Identifying when you first felt it will help you move on,” he said.

Blacklock said knowing how to incorporate visual aids, dressing the part and understanding the importance of vocal delivery can help a speaker become successful.

Speakers should avoid “death by PowerPoint” by keeping visual aids clean and simple, he said.

 “The rule of thumb is less is more,” Blacklock said.

He explained having too many pictures or words on a PowerPoint distracts the audience instead of helping them understand the topic.

He advised the audience to only use bullet points and key words when listing things.

“If you put an entire paragraph up there, your audience isn’t listening anymore. ­­­­ They’re reading,” he said. “Don’t overload the audience.”

Blacklock suggested having only five slides when using a visual aid: one for the introduction, three for the main points and one for the conclusion.

Blacklock said note cards are a good thing to have when speaking to keep track of the content and remember what to say next.

The first thing he said to do is practice with the note cards before a presentation to get used to the transition from one card to the next.

He said it is helpful to number the cards to heighten the level of preparedness and boost the feeling of security.

Practicing when it is appropriate to look down at the cards will help the speaker avoid losing their place and losing eye-contact with the audience.

“What happens when you look down?” he said. “Your eyes never come up again. Know when to look down and come back up.”

It is not a good idea to use both sides of a note card; a speaker does not want to be flipping back and forth, he said.

Blacklock suggested to put in extra practice for the introduction and the conclusion of a presentation.

“If the beginning of a presentation and the end of a presentation are strong, the likelihood of the middle points being strong will be much, much greater,” he said.   

When dressing for a presentation, the speaker must consider the occasion, the audience, the topic of the presentation and how the speaker wants to be perceived, he said.

“If you are giving a presentation on how to tie a bow-tie, you probably shouldn’t show up in basketball shorts and a T-shirt,” he said.

Vocal delivery is how to speak so an audience will listen and is an important element when delivering a speech, Blacklock said.

To ensure one’s vocal delivery is effective, he said the speaker should be aware of three things: speed, silence and volume.

First, the rate at which a presenter speaks is important because it affects the audience’s willingness to listen, he said.

Blacklock explained if a speaker is nervous, the speaker tends to talk too fast, and the message does not resonate. A speaker who talks too slow will bore the audience, he said.

“Find a happy medium,” he said.  

Second, Blacklock explained how silence can be used to a speaker’s advantage by pausing before saying something important to create impact.

He said to help the audience remember the message, a speaker should pause before and after saying something.

Third, it is vital for a speaker to know how to project the voice to assert dominance and confidence while presenting. Volume is key, he said.

Blacklock explained knowing how to breathe from the diaphragm will aid a speaker’s volume by giving them more breath to speak with.

He demonstrated to the audience how to find their diaphragm and breathe from it. He said to lie on the floor at home and place a book on the stomach; if the book is moving up and down, the diaphragm is being used.

Gestures must be natural and motivated, he said.

He said not to use the hands in any way the speaker would not naturally use them and to not use the hands unless there is a reason to.

“Have a reason for using your hands,” he said.  

 Don Mathis, who writes for the Rivard Report and is a former reporter for The Ranger, said he saw the announcement for the workshop in The Ranger and decided to attend.

He said Blacklock’s advice about note cards stuck with him.

Mathis explained he enjoys going to comedy slams and poetry readings, but he finds it difficult to memorize content before his performances. He said he will try keeping note cards to help him.

Liberal arts sophomore Chantell Hopkins said she learned valuable skills from the workshop such as how to recover after losing one’s place during a presentation and how to breathe from the diaphragm.

During the workshop, Hopkins, who is enrolled in speech this semester, asked Blacklock how to come back from “being lost” during a presentation.

Blacklock advised maintaining breath control, recognizing the mistake and being OK with silence.

The fourth speech workshop, “Rethink Possible,” is 3-4 p.m. March 27 in McCreless Theater with guest speaker Michael Martinez, senior marketing communications manager at AT&T Services.

The final workshop will be about group conflict 3-4 p.m. April 11 in McCreless Theater with eight speech students enrolled in SPCH 2333, Discussion and Small Group Communication, as guest speakers.

Students in speech classes may get extra credit for attending the workshops.

For more information, contact speech Coordinator Ashley Click at 210-486-0481.


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