Picture of students using computers in the library

Sand Shark Speaking: Public Communication

February 02, 2014

There comes a time in our lives where we begin to realize just how powerful words are. These combined symbols, combined sounds-- orchestrating meaning that extend, propel, sink into our bodies and minds: by vehicles of sight, sound, and even touch, welcome us to a grand moment: a moment of an educational experience.

Truly in that moment we are lead forth  to ideas, thoughts, questions, imaginings, truths, self-inquiries and world discoveries, hopes and dreams, knowledge and power, growth and ambition, and new understandings.

Yet how often is it that we leave these words resting in our journals, locked away into a stowing place for our unshared thoughts? How often is it that we much prefer to communicate beneath the radar, that we settle for “the no risk involved and less promising” levels of a spoken and heard communication?

Why is it we have become a growing population that texts or emails or instant messages conversations, rather than picking up the phone or walking down the hall to communicate?

Is it truly the so often argued cases of: laziness? the convenience factor? politeness?

--OR  has it predominantly been the silent pulse we feel dispersing through our veins, punching our insides, caging our movement, and locking away our voices? I am describing a sort of “doubting”, birthed from a handful of consuming apprehensions and haunting timidities:

Do we doubt our words? Do we think our ways of communicating in the flesh are not good enough? Are we apprehensive we will be rejected or unheard? Have we found ourselves unworthy to take the floor and speak loud and clear and with passion? Have we become timid to discover the power of our voices, the power of communication?

When we communicate in person, we are placing our entire selves out there:

  • Appearance
  • Posture
  • Nerves
  • Gestures
  • Tone
  • Volume
  • Clarity
  • Knowledge
  • Emotion
  • Organizations of our thoughts
  • …And so much more: presented, framed in the museum of a moment, and on the line-at risk.

--There may be no easy way to cover just how vulnerable we are, and it is no wonder there is fear in public speaking. After nearly 20 years of having experience in theater and on stage the phrase “public speaking” makes my own stomach still knot. --But is it ever something we are supposed to feel “la-dee-da” about? Does anyone ever have a mundane “welp! back to it- let’s get this silly thing done with and move the heck on” attitude- and if we do, are we utilizing the full capacity and reaching into the incredible depth of communication? Into the ever flowing cycle of speaking to the public listener and being heard and listening back…? Or is the nonchalant –“matter of fact” behavior simply another way some brains cope with the deep rooted fears of public communication: this cruelly named “daunting task”.

When we think of a public communication class, what type of professor do we imagine? The lady from the magic school bus that is uncomfortably out going for not being a cartoon? Perhaps a Harry Potter character? OR maybe simply a little old man, with a droning voice, spectacles, a clipboard, pocket protectors, a funny smell, and overactive salivary glands that rain on you if you get to close? When you give your speech does this little old man you imagine have a whistle or an irritatingly loud buzzer from an old Gestures game? -- and does he sound it off at your every error to persecute you? - -meetDr. Borton--kidding! and thank goodness.--In fact, although some students may transform Dr. Borton into this nightmare of a professor (a consequence of their bone shattering fear of public speaking perhaps) Dr. Borton is far from this.

I think it is pretty fair to say any first day of class can be a little “over starched”, this is to say it can be stiff, a little uncomfortable… okay so it’s sometimes definitely just flat out awkward. Yet! First days seem far from having a “bring ya down” effect on Dr. Borton. He energetically asked our names and where we were each from, despite a semi-impervious energy in the air. And truthfully I think it defrosted us a bit, sort of broke into the fortress of our resistance and had us chuckling and smiling.

One of my peers even went so far as to place Dr. Borton himself on the chopping block. Requesting Dr. Borton to give a self-introductory 2-3 minute speech… AND the best part was Dr. Borton accepted the challenge and rocked it.

My favorite experience of this first week of class with Dr. Borton for myself was watching public speeches made by some very incredible public speakers. Dr. Borton selected three profoundly remarkable speeches to share with us. While I am burning with desire to tell you all three, I have chosen one to share and expand upon what I learned in it. I wish to keep sacred the culmination of the shared speeches that span the first few days of his classes. The magic of watching these speeches with Dr. Borton and the class is an experience that is meant to have an unveiling: to leave you in a sort of all-consuming “gasp!” state.

The first speech, you may have guessed as being Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and if you did, you were right, and rightly so.

I chose to reveal this speech for several reasons. As we enter into Black History Month "a celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history" you may remember another very special day took place about only two weeks ago. That was MLK Day. A day of remembrance and celebration of what one man’s voice did to unite, what one man’s leadership did to free, and what one man’s dream did to awaken: for the greater good, for all people of our nation. I also chose this speech (aside from a deep intuition you would guess it as one of the three) to say that: never has a teacher played me this speech. If you were surprised so was I in searching my memory for hearing this speech in school once before. And so for the first time amongst peers, in a classroom, I witnessed Martin Luther King speak to my nation, my dreams, and my future...

Even soaking in a segment of Martin Luther King’s captured words, spoken on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, you are overcome with a profound wonderment. Taking into account the risk, taking into account the expansive magnitude of what these words carry in meaning, both then and (at the time) the unknown now, taking into account these vocalized thoughts emitted into the air and echoed throughout -as seeds each implanted with care and attentiveness: is taking into account just some of the complexities of this moment. A moment that this man, Martin Luther King took, a moment this man lived in, breathed in, stood in, a moment he placed his entirety at stake, a moment he fulfilled, and a moment he changed the so many courses of history.

Martin Luther King reveals a fascinating truth: being that equality is a struggle that will be met with unity. He unites us together in a dream.

Sometimes we hear it said that to speak, that to perform or present, is best done from the heart, from being expressive of your truest thoughts and deepest feelings and going with it. Yet the truths in this are skewed as so often we take this “be natural” summary as meaning “wing it”, “muster it up in the moment”, or “it’ll just come, don’t worry, trust your instincts!”. While although it is often good to trust your instincts, it is not often good to "wing it" or "muster it up". Martin Luther King’s speech has technique: clearly organized, personalized, knowledgeable, the technique further lives in repetition, expressive volumes and tones -serving the words, words that have listened and respond to the receiving audiences, it supplies our ears and hearts with ground to walk on, and understand, and absorb. Technique is a gift the speaker utilizes so his or her passion may be heard, so the speaker and listener are united in an engagement of the moment, and it supports and gives way so the natural flow of thought can flourish.

It is technique (the secret ingredient) that we are learning in Dr. Borton’s class. A technique of communication. It is not simply a matter of having technique as a speaker, but also as a listener, cumulatively it is the technique of a strong communicator. My class and I are embarking with Dr. Borton on an adventure that will combat our nervous ticks, awkward pauses, tendencies to rapid speaking, stumbling, fears and doubts, ‘antsy pants’ movement, and so much more. It also remains an adventure that will serve the voices of ourselves that have been hoisted away with still so much to say. I am confident in, and have had the honor already to witness, the uniting of this class. Although equality for all may still live on as a struggle, in room 277 of the Hargray Building at USCB, Dr. Borton has assured us of the equality of our voices- our voices each have an equal value and right to be heard.

Yours Truly: Speaking Sand Shark,

                                                      Erin Dailey