Becoming a Speaking Fellow

A little less than a year ago, I applied to be a Speaking Fellow. Just over a month ago, I officially joined the program as a full-fledged fellow. The process was long and often difficult. Our required semester-long training course challenged much of what I thought I knew about rhetoric. I quickly figured out that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did; but that realization came with incredible benefits. We explored all different types of speech: persuasive, debate, discussion, informative, and casual. Moreover, we talked about the theories that underlie rhetorical skills. We grappled with some really challenging questions. How does gender affect speech? To what degree does rhetoric change with time and culture? Why study rhetoric at all? The resulting discussions and debates raised questions that I continue to ask myself. As amazing as my training experience was, I had some reservations about officially becoming a Speaking Fellow. Had I learned enough? Was I actually ready? What if I wasn’t able to help people improve their speaking skills?
Now that I’m officially a Speaking Fellow, however, I couldn’t be happier. I get to teach others about one of my favorite things: public speaking. What’s more, I’m learning so much. With each session that I lead and observe, I learn something new about my own speaking style and about rhetoric in general. I’ve realized that you have to practice what you preach during sessions; you can’t discourage the use of fillers if your own speech is peppered with “um’s” and “like’s.” Coaching can be scary; sometimes peers ask questions that don’t have clear answers. At first, this was terrifying. How can I help someone if I have no idea how to answer their question? But I’m figuring out that it’s okay to not always have an answer. I’ve learned that, most of the time, being present, listening, and being honest is the best thing that you can do for your peers.
My first one-on-one session was last week. It was incredible; the student made so much progress and I could see her embracing her style of speech. After the session, she said “I feel so much more confident with my speech now.” For me, this really rung true to the mission of the Speaking Fellows program: helping students feel at ease speaking with their unique style. In that moment, I was so proud to be a part of the program. More than ever, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds in store for the program.

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