Writing Center Expands to Offer Public Speaking Training
Issue   |   Wed, 09/21/2016 - 01:41
Takudzwa Tapfuma '17
A student meets with an advisor during a Writing Center appointment on Sunday, Sept. 18. The center now offers guidance with public speaking.

The college’s Writing Center began to offer guidance and training in public speaking, along with its usual writing-related services, starting earlier this month. Associate of Public Speaking Susan Daniels, who was hired by the college this summer, is providing workshops, ongoing events and one-on-one training with students, faculty and staff at Amherst.

Daniels has already worked with professors, first-year students and students who were giving presentations on summer research in the sciences and humanities.

“I’ve worked with about 60 first-year students so far,” Daniels said. “I taught a class today in Greek Tragedy and I’ve worked with the admissions department already and there were quite a few people in that group. I’m also going to be working with the tour guides in the future.”

So far, Daniels has met with students in groups rather than in one-on-one appointments. She does hold office hours on Thursday, which she said will be most useful for students with presentations that they have been assigned to give for class.

Daniels came to Amherst after working at Mount Holyoke College as a professor of theater and in the Weissman Center for Leadership, where she taught public speaking to students and faculty.

“Like Amherst, Mount Holyoke has a very diverse student population,” Daniels said. “Women from all over the world come there, and to be able to help students whose voices have literally been silenced for a variety of reasons, it’s like I landed in the honey pot. I felt that this is where I’m meant to be and Amherst has given me the opportunity to concentrate all my energies on that, and I am grateful and excited to be working here.”

Daniels said that her previous work in theater transfers over to her work in public speaking.

“I’ve found that the same techniques and skills that actors have been trained to use, to relax and focus and engage with an audience, are the same skills that speakers should be using to bring that speech up from what I call loud reading and turn it into a dynamic performance,” Daniels said.

The idea to add a public speaking component to the Writing Center was shaped during strategic planning for the college, according to Director of the Writing Center and Professor of Philosophy Jyl Gentzler.

“We were noticing that a lot of our students were insecure in the classroom,” Gentzler said. “They had difficulty giving presentations, and the faculty were trying to help students develop those skills, but they themselves didn’t have the expertise to give them the kind of advice they would need in order to succeed in that area. With Susan, we recognized that most of the communication we’re doing is verbal and that we should pay as much attention to it as we do with writing.”

Beginning Tuesday, Sept. 20, Daniels will offer a six-week workshop with one meeting each week. According to Daniels, the classes will focus on improving students’ public speaking and their ability to evaluate each other on how they present, rather than what they present on.

Daniels hopes to create a community at Amherst that is more focused on public speaking and the evaluation of it.

“Even though we might assign an oral presentation, what we’re listening for and looking for is what they are saying, rather than how they are saying it,” Daniels said. “That’s something that will be critical in my success for working with everybody at Amherst. It’s teaching that particular skill on how to evaluate, so that not only will everyone have skills, but we will also go to each other in the community for help because there will be a common language. That’s my vision.”