New communication center aims to ease public speaking apprehension

Andrew Linnabary

On countless national surveys, Americans’ fear of public speaking has eclipsed their fear of death, communication professor Richard Armstrong said. 

“They’d rather die than give a speech,” Armstrong said. “I don’t know where that comes from. 

“Studies show that 60 to 75 percent of Americans have communication apprehension,” he said. “It can range from fear of being on display and being picked apart by people in the audience, to not being able to get your message across well, to physiological reactions.” 

To help combat this fear of public speaking, Armstrong has developed the Elliott School of Communication’s Center for Excellence in Oral Communication. The Center, located in Elliott 221, opened Tuesday.

The Center, comparable to a writing lab with an emphasis on oral presentation, is available for use by any student on campus, Armstrong said. 

Students’ first step at the Center is doing a personal assessment exam of their public anxiety level.

“This will determine their level of communication apprehension right now,” Armstrong said. “It’s a nationally validated exam.” 

The graduate teaching assistants who staff the Center will then work with the student, analyzing their speeches and presentations and working with them to improve their weaknesses, Armstrong said. 

The Center also has a video camera to record speeches for further analysis and books on public speaking for students to check out, Armstrong said. 

Armstrong said he sees the Center as a potential retention resource, and anticipates the Center being used by a wide range of students. 

“A lot of international students have never given a public speech,” Armstrong said. “We have two sections of (Communication 111) that are just for international students. They will be referred to here if they have major issues with giving speeches.”

Armstrong said he began working on the Center in November and just recently reached completion. The furniture, computer, lectern, signage and other equipment cost around $7,000, Armstrong said. 

“It was funded from the royalties of the (Communication 111) handbook, nothing out of the state or Elliott budget,” Armstrong said. 

WSU’s Center is one of 70 nationally, Armstrong said. 

“We’re kind of in the first wave, you might say,” Armstrong said. “We’re pretty excited about it.”

On his 37th year of being a professor and teaching public speaking, Armstrong said he has lost any fear of public presentation.

“It’s just second nature to me,” Armstrong said. “But a lot of people are fearful of it. So we thought we’d address those needs.”