Public speaking is a source of anxiety for many students. But with The Speaking Center at JHBC, it doesn’t have to be that way.

“Everyone gets nervous. You get nervous because you care,” said Julie Taylor, Cal State San Bernardino associate professor of communication studies in the College of Arts and Letters (CAL), and co-founder of The Speaking Center in CSUSB’s Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration (JHBC).

“The point of The Speaking Center is to help students practice their public speaking skills, hone their oral presentation skills, and to become more comfortable in public speaking moments overall,” Taylor said.

The Speaking Center, which opened in winter 2020, not only helps with delivering the speech itself, but also assists with idea generation, content development, organization of a presentation, quality sourcing and content, and small group consultation. The center also helps with speaking anxiety and provides strategies to cope and manage speaking apprehension.

This service has proven to be valuable among CSUSB students as more than 120 appointments were scheduled in the first quarter the center opened. And despite moving to a virtual format the following spring quarter due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the center still drew more than 200.

“With everything going on, in the spring, we were a little bit nervous we would see a dip in attendance, but we didn’t,” said Taylor. “The numbers actually went up.” And as the word of the new center continues to spread, the fall semester is seeing an increase as well, with more than 400 appointments.

The continual growth is no surprise when looking at its student feedback. The Speaking Center received optimal reviews for its inaugural winter and spring quarter (the center did not operate in summer). Ninety-nine percent of students said they found the appointment helpful; 94 percent felt their writing/speaking/interviewing has improved; 95 percent said they feel more confident about their writing/speaking/interviewing; 98 percent said they would return for help on other presentations; and 98 percent said they would recommend The Speaking Center to other students.

Additionally, 15 percent of students visited the center more than once in winter, which then doubled to 30 percent in spring.

“I’m really hoping that people continue to see the value of The Speaking Center – the value that it not only offers students, but that it offers faculty and our extended community because we are preparing better, more well-rounded students in important ways,” Taylor said.

In addition to helping students, The Speaking Center gives faculty the opportunity to provide students one-on-one presentation skill practice that they otherwise wouldn’t have time for in the classroom. According to Taylor, faculty want to be able to provide more one-on-one time, but it is time consuming, and spending 30-45 minutes per student isn’t feasible when they have hundreds of students.

“So that’s what this space is supposed to allow: one-on-one time so that we can really think about students’ skills and students’ growth, not only in that class for that presentation, but the skills that they need when they start going on the job market,” Taylor said.

So how did this new and successful on-campus center come about?

The idea emerged in 2016 with an interdisciplinary conversation between members from the College of Arts and Letters and the Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration.

“The idea was to create a cross-college collaboration in which graduate students from CAL would train as speaking consultants and work with students from the JHBC to improve all aspects of their public speaking skills,” said Matthew Habich, lecturer of management who, along with Taylor, helped pilot and launch the center.

“It wouldn’t be possible without the support of Mike Stull,” Taylor said. “He was the one who really pioneered the initiative.”

At the time, Stull was chair of the management department in the JHBC, where he supported the initiative and made sure to provide initial funding from the department budget to support the center’s development.

“I’m just really appreciative for people who believed in the interdisciplinary and creativity of this vision because it demands resources in places where resources are usually scarce,” Taylor said.

“Communication skills are critical for students to be successful in their careers, and having a co-curricular program/initiative such as The Speaking Center that provides additional support and opportunities to develop a key skill is vital,” said Stull, professor of entrepreneurship, director of the School of Entrepreneurship, and program director of the Inland Empire Center for Entrepreneurship. “Students need to become an effective oral communicator in both formal and informal ways before leaving the university.”

Stull introduced Taylor to Habich, and the duo piloted a program in spring 2018 for Habich’s students in his Management 350 Administrative Communications class. The management students met with Taylor for one-on-one or group consultations.

“That was the beginning of this vision that we had, figuring out what this looked like and how students are responding to it, and immediately, we got such positive feedback from students,” Taylor said.

“Sixty students from my Management 350, Administrative Communications, classes attended coaching sessions run by Dr. Taylor – and the results exceeded our expectations,” Habich said. “As an instructor, I was struck by the vastly improved presentation skills that I witnessed in my classroom.”

According to Habich, feedback from students at the end of the quarter was overwhelmingly positive. One student said that the program is “a great resource for students,” and another said it “made me feel much more comfortable and confident.”

After the successful pilot program, they were able to move forward with The Speaking Center with Taylor and Habich as co-directors, along with Maggie Boyraz and Ying Cheng, both assistant professors of management who also helped develop the pilot program and center. Out of the four co-directors, there is one acting director at a time, in which Taylor has served as the first acting director since the center’s opening.

“It’s a team effort,” Taylor said. “This wouldn’t be possible without an outstanding team of co-directors and consultants.”

The Speaking Center opened with three consultants – CSUSB graduate students and alumni from the communication studies and business department who worked directly with the students. With its growing demand, the center now has five communication studies graduate students as of the fall 2020 semester.

Habich also credits the success of the center to Lawrence Rose, dean of the Jack H. Brown College, and Rueyling Chuang, dean of the College of Arts and Letters.

“This innovative and valuable project is a wonderful example of what can happen when leaders like Dean Rose and Dean Chuang collaborate across colleges for the benefit of all their students,” Habich said.  

As for the future of The Speaking Center, Taylor hopes to grow its services by offering other skillsets that allow individuals to enhance their careers, such as how to write an agenda or conduct a meeting. She also hopes to eventually extend its services to the local community and help start-up companies in the Inland Empire. Public speaking skills benefit everyone, so her overall goal is to reach and help as many people as possible.

“In moments of public speaking, that’s often people’s first experience with you and it can say a lot about your confidence, your approachability and your knowledge,” Taylor said. “When done well, it’s important. Because as someone with a communication background, our language, our rhetoric has the ability to persuade and influence change and innovate. We should take care in what we’re saying and how we’re saying it, especially if we can have influence over others.”

Visit The Speaking Center website for more information about its services.