200 Days in the Life of the College

Monday, March 28

At the help center for speakers, success is sweet

By Alexandra Orlov ’13

Sweaty palms, fidgety feet and a rambling mouth: telltale signs of a nervous public speaker. While many people loathe speaking in public, Hamilton’s Oral Communication Center strives to ease students’ anxieties. “We try to keep a well-stocked dish of candy,” smiles Jim Helmer, the OCC coordinator, alluding to a nearby bowlful of colorful sweets and chocolates meant to entice visitors.

Beginning in 2002 as a small endeavor that did not have a regular, dedicated space, the OCC is now ensconced on the second floor of Kirner-Johnson and includes multiple conference rooms equipped with video cameras. “It’s great to see that it’s not just one group of students at Hamilton using the center,” says Kyle Mason ’11, a communication major and an OCC peer tutor. Mason notes that underclassmen and upperclassmen alike have participated in 397 peer conferences during the past year, including individual and group presentations in 18 different disciplines. Even math and studio art students visit the OCC for assistance. Helmer jokes that the center gets “pretty good word of mouth.”

When professors hear of successful oral assignments in other courses, many decide to incorporate oral modes of evaluation into their own. Mason and Helmer emphasize that there’s no grade at stake during peer conferences. Peer tutors provide advice on organization, visual and verbal content, and on delivery. Video cameras allow students to see themselves in action. “We are encouraging and supporting preparation and rehearsal,” Helmer says.

So if the diagnosis is glossophobia (speech anxiety), the OCC has the cure. And some candy.