Helmer and Rosenfield Discuss Speech Anxiety at Conference

Jim Helmer
Jim Helmer

Can practicing speeches in Second Life reduce speech anxiety in real life? Jim Helmer, Oral Communication Center coordinator, and Carl Rosenfield, instructional technology specialist, addressed that question in a presentation at the National Association of Communication Centers annual conference at DePauw University on March 12. Helmer and Rosenfield reported on a pilot project conducted in Helmer’s ORCOM 100 class to explore the potential of using the 3-D virtual world of Second Life as a “space” for students to practice oral presentations. A key question was whether practicing in Second Life might help apprehensive students feel more comfortable when they faced their real-world audience.

Although time constraints limited the ways in which avatars and the Second Life environment could be used, the exercise produced some interesting results. Mean scores of students’ levels of public speaking anxiety, as measured at the beginning and end of the course using McCroskey’s (1970) Personal Report of Public Speaking Anxiety, declined by 18 percent, representing a shift from “moderate” public speaking anxiety to “low.” From just this one group’s experience, of course, it is not clear how much of this decline, if any, is attributable to the use of Second Life.

Students’ reviews of the Second Life experience were mixed. “I just felt like I was talking to myself,” one said. “I couldn’t be conversational without rambling.” Another said “It built a bad habit of reading the presentation, since I didn’t have to use eye contact during it.” On the other hand, one student commented, “It helped me to practice my…presentation and to better memorize it.” Another observed, “I think I understood what it would be like for someone to listen to your speech without the benefit of [your] using body language.”

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