Why Speaking Fellows

by Alejandra Figueroa, Speaking Fellow ’16

A Speaking Fellow inspired me long before I even enrolled at Barnard College. Her name was Tabia Santos. When she got up to speak, the whole room was silent. Her words mesmerized us because everything—from her posture to her gestures to the way she projected her voice and enunciated every syllable—reflected confidence. As a 17-year-old, all I thought was: “Wow, I’d love to be like her.” That’s when I wanted to be a Speaking Fellow.

As a senior, I look back and am glad that I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone to apply to be a Speaking Fellow. Not only do I feel that my speaking skills have developed greatly, but I have seen the effects of my speaking support on my peers. Public speaking requires a great degree of confidence—or at least the air of confidence. It is not easy to stand up in front of a crowd. The skills and experiences that I have gained as a Speaking Fellow are invaluable, and becoming a Speaking Fellow is probably one of the best decisions I made during my college career. If you are a Barnard student considering becoming a Fellow, do not hesitate to apply. Become comfortable with the uncomfortable.






Public Speaking Tips from Adele

by Alejandra Figueroa, Speaking Fellow ’16

By now, many of you have probably viewed Adele’s new music video for “Hello.” If you haven’t, you must. Many of you might also be wondering how you could draw public speaking lessons from Adele. Bear with me…

Content Matters

  • If you watch Adele’s “Hello” music video, there are no pyrotechnics. She doesn’t require backup dancers. She relies on her talent. This is the first tip we can take from her. Rely on what you have to say instead of showing off your Power Point and Prezi skills. As much as a compelling visual enhances your presentation, a visual is intended to ENHANCE and not REPLACE your presentation. Your content matters.

    Stylistically, Adele makes eye contact with the camera. This might seem like a small action, but eye contact draws an audience in, so make eye contact with those in the room throughout your presentation. This is also helpful during interviews. Last but not least, we have Adele’s powerful and beautiful voice throughout the music video, which is what caused the video to go viral. Yet another tip from Adele is understanding the power of your voice. As Speaking Fellows, we discuss the importance of style. Projecting your voice and making sure you are heard, while using natural gestures, is also crucial and can “make it or break it” for that speech or presentation to deliver in class.

Be Natural

  • The biggest lesson from Adele is to be yourself and be natural. One of the reasons Adele is so popular is because she relies on her raw talent rather than the pyrotechnics and special effects so many other artists use. Allow your personality to show in a setting you have to speak. Feel free to use humor or present interesting facts. If something isn’t in your script but you feel it adds to what you have to say, go ahead and say it. While practice is important, there is a fine line between being prepared and sounding rehearsed. To be impromptu is as helpful as to be prepared.

It’s what you make of it

Is this how we should feel about Public Speaking?

I came across this online the other day and couldn’t resist the urge to write about it because I get the sense that this is how people feel about speaking in public. It’s a misconception that I, as a Speaking Fellow, would like to attempt to disprove. What is rhetoric? I like to think of rhetoric as ever-present and all-encompassing because it applies to our interactions on a daily basis. Whether it be speaking to a friend, a professor, a family member, etc., rhetoric is a part of those interactions. Rhetoric doesn’t even have to involve speaking. Both verbal and non-verbal interactions are encompassed by rhetoric (think of body language!)

Public Speaking is FUN– if you are passionate about your topic, or if you work hard to make it fun and interactive. Make use of the fact that you can use your tone, your gestures, your space, your stories, your anecdotes, and visuals! It is as dynamic as you make it and it’s your chance to share a piece of your persona– be humorous, make jokes. These are some of the ways through which we can overcome misconceptions about public speaking.I guarantee that using the elements you have to your advantage will yield noticeable results.

My Brother’s Keeper

We have all been moved at some point in time by a powerful speech encouraging us to take action. Part of the art of rhetoric is the ability to inform, persuade, move, and rouse people to act, a fact that the Speaking Fellows embrace and continually seek to promote. Rhetoric is deeply embedded into our daily lives.

Political affiliations aside, Barack Obama is a fantastic example of an inspiring and moving speaker. One of the many examples in which he has embodied the power of rhetoric both content and delivery-wise is during his speech regarding the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which seeks to create opportunities for boys and young men of color. If you have not watched this speech, I encourage you to watch it.

The My Brother’s Keeper #NewDayMovement at Columbia University exemplifies the power of spoken word when it comes to inspiring others to take action: “We hope that this video provides insight into our roles as men of color for our university, for its prospective students and for any others who are interested in the educational advancement of a young man. In addition, if our project inspires other students and colleges everywhere, we encourage them to also work to showcase how their men of color are excelling within their own community. Join the #NewDayMovement.” This video showcases the accomplishments of men of color on campus; breaking educational barriers, and going above and beyond their academic commitments and embracing their passions as dancers, tutors, mentors, and volunteers. I encourage you to watch this video and share it.

I hope that these initiatives will serve as a form of encouragement on Barnard’s campus. Women of color are doing great things for the community. Showcasing their talents and their accomplishments via social media outlets would also inspire other women of color across the nation to continue to strive for their goals. Using social media platforms as a way to spread a message, in this case about educational advancement, is just one example of how a speech can create action.

This initiative represents how rhetoric comes to life. I hope that this example serves to inspire those who have at one point been moved and inspired by spoken word to take a form of positive action. Rhetoric is powerful.

The TED Commandments

The TED Commandments

The TED Commandments –10 great speaking tips to keep in mind before and during delivery. Practice your speech, but always make sure to be yourself—you don’t want to sound too rehearsed. Don’t read off of a Power Point slide. Create a very brief outline with your major points and elaborate from there. Keep it simple. Establish a connection with your audience; engage their interest by using the tools available to you (which are many). You have visuals, your gestures, your eye contact, your tone, your pitch, etc. 

Most importantly: BE YOU!


Killer Fillers and Disqualifying Qualifiers

First, watch this video. What is your initial reaction? Thanks to the Speaking Fellows, mine was “don’t judge a book by its cover,” or in this case “don’t judge the girl by the way she speaks.” Content aside, the amount of fillers and qualifiers she uses in 49 seconds is unbelievable. What are fillers and qualifiers? Fillers are our typical “uhm,” or “like,” whereas qualifiers include phrases such as “this may be irrelevant but…” or “this may be wrong.”

My training as a Speaking Fellow taught me this. Fillers and qualifiers are extremely habitual and everyone uses them. Everyone. The next time that you catch yourself using one of these, you might become flustered because they are extremely difficult to eliminate. One golden rule that Speaking Fellows learn is that the first step in helping to reduce the amount of fillers and qualifiers we use is to become wary of them. This will help increase our awareness of how we say what we want to say.

If you forget what you want to say next, do not use “uhm,” or “like” to fill the silence. Take a deep breath. If you find yourself at a loss for words, silence is golden. You may feel awkward, but it’s okay to take a few moments to gather your thoughts (and yourself).  As for qualifiers, or as one Speaking Fellow calls them, “disqualifying qualifiers,” they only serve to reduce or eliminate a speaker’s credibility. They do not reflect confidence. These can also be decreased through practice. When speaking to others, be more assertive. Never think that what you have to say is irrelevant, or even worse, not intelligent. Everyone has a different perspective.