The Speaking Fellows Movie

Watch this new video about the Speaking Fellows Program, created by our very own Speaking Fellow staff!


“The Fight of Public Speaking” by Claire Bouchard

The following post was written by Claire Bouchard, Speaking Fellow (BC ’15).

What could pubic speaking and martial arts possibly have in common? One is a sport that focuses on precision and concentration in order to deliver the best and most deadly hit as efficiently as possible, and the other is a mode of communication that focuses on connection with the audience and the skill with which one can deliver their message.

How does the martial arts world connect with the realm of public speaking? They are both performances. As a member of the national United States karate team and a speaking fellow of Barnard College this performance aspect is well known to me. When you’re standing in front of the judges overseas, about to perform a kata (form) in order to represent your country, your adrenaline starts running. All eyes are on you, time slows down, and you feel the pressure to begin. You take a deep breath, relax all of your muscles, and the game begins. You work through your kata; using full moves that you make sure are defined and take your time. Public speaking is not all that different from this set-up.  You enter the spotlight, all eyes turn in your direction, the chatter of the waiting room slowly dies away, and time slows down. You take a deep breath, relax your demeanor and the game begins. You start speaking through your outline, pausing when necessary, using your ability to maneuver between silence and language and deliver your speech.

Both kata and public speaking require the one performing the action to have a strong understanding of themselves and how to present themselves. The performances allow athletes and speakers to present certain aspects of their personality, in kata your ability to focus and in public speaking your ability to connect.

Performances are always a part of our lives; they are an opportunity to present yourself in a fashion that you approve.

Become a Fellow: Information Sessions This Week!

Interested in becoming a Writing or Speaking Fellow?*  Want to learn more about the programs before applying?  Come to our information sessions this week!

Friday, 3/8
217 Barnard Hall

Thursday, 3/7
217 Barnard Hall

At each session, Writing or Speaking Fellows will be present to answer any questions you might have about what it’s like to be a Fellow.  The administrators will also be there to answer any questions about the application process and training courses.

*Please note that only Barnard College 1st-Years and Sophomores are eligible to apply.  Download a Writing Fellow application here (due Tuesday, March 26th at 5:00PM) and a Speaking Fellow application here (due Friday, March 29th at 12:00pm).

Active listening as a rhetorical choice: The discursive implications of “bad” and “good” listening

We know that body language usually communicates more than what you say, and identifying these physical queues is something we’ve been socialized to identify our entire lives.  We know that yawning, for instance, often comes across as boredom.  We know how to express good listening skills by maintaining eye contact and sitting upright instead of slumping down in our chairs and doodling in notebook margins.  In class discussions, professors have to be particularly apt at reading students’ body language.  They have to sense when a student is trying to jump into the class discussion but can’t quite get a word in.  They have to know the difference between diligent note-taking and avoidance of eye contact.  They have to know an “aha” moment from a complacent nod.

However, how much can we really control in these exchanges, whether it be on the part of the speaker or the listener?  How can we hold ourselves accountable for the messages we intend to communicate and those we don’t?

An important caveat to this question is that the speaker and the listener are both interpreting and communicating at the same time.  What we say, how we respond (verbally or silently), and the body language that accompanies both, all create a collaborative “text” for both the speaker and listener to interpret.  In this sense, “active listening” doesn’t just describe the actions we take to reassure the speaker that we are listening, but rather, characterizes the act of listening as a response, or a choice, that impacts the exchange in powerful ways.

While we can’t completely control how others’ interpret our ideas, we can leave less room for more egregious misinterpretations (particularly in the absence of words, such as when we are listening) by harnessing the power of the physical internally.  As previous posts have described, our body language changes the way we think.  Psychologists such as Amy Cuddy have been doing years of research that demonstrates just how powerful the link between body language and identity is.  As her TED Talk shows, striking what Cuddy calls a “power pose” — sitting up straight, lifting your arms in the air, doing jumping jacks, or simply uncrossing your legs to fill up more space — lowers cortisol (the stress hormone) and increases testosterone (the dominance hormone, which is usually the precursor to more assertive, confrontational behavior).  Slumping down in your chair, then, does more than send a message to the speaker that you’re bored or disinterested — it actually lowers the likelihood that you can be interested and engaged.

The infographic below (created by suggests, too, that small physical changes make a big difference.  But, what about moments when we don’t want to listen?  When is listening “badly,” consciously or unconsciously, a form of resistance, and what discursive impacts does that resistance illicit?

Body Language Infographic