Featured   |   News

Word power

Some 19 first-​​year female stu­dents in a public-​​speaking course have been charged with telling an imag­i­nary girl that she must change the sound of her irri­tating laugh. The game has but two cru­cial rules: Stu­dents must not hes­i­tate to speak when called upon and may only use mono­syl­labic words to form gram­mat­i­cally cor­rect sentences.

Greg Goodale, an assis­tant pro­fessor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion studies in the Col­lege of Arts, Media, and Design, pre­sides over the com­pe­ti­tion in 206 Lake Hall and is often quick to elim­i­nate par­tic­i­pants from con­tention for failure to comply with the rules. “Bad grammar,” he shouts over a din of laughter. “You’re out.”

The exer­cise is designed to build self-​​confidence, a befit­ting lesson for a class focused on inspiring women through the power of speech. Goodale summed up the goal of the course, saying, “It’s impor­tant to believe that you can change the world and then go out and doing it.”

The course has a service-​​learning com­po­nent. In late October, the stu­dents vis­ited Girls’ LEAP, a Dorchester-​​based non­profit empow­er­ment and aware­ness pro­gram for girls aged 8–18. They intro­duced the program’s par­tic­i­pants to public-​​speaking strate­gies like Monroe’s moti­vated sequence, a five-​​step tech­nique for orga­nizing a per­sua­sive speech, and stressed the impor­tance of eye con­tact, enun­ci­a­tion, and vocal pro­jec­tion. Girls in the pro­gram put those public-​​speaking strate­gies to good use later in the year, holding speak-​​outs at schools and civic orga­ni­za­tions in the community.

Maria Sofia Soto, a first-​​year com­mu­ni­ca­tions studies major from the Dominican Republic, felt a strong kin­ship with girls in the pro­gram, some of whom had hailed from her home­land. “It’s encour­aging for them to see a girl from the Dominican Republic who is going to col­lege,” she said.

Soto dis­cussed the service-​​learning expe­ri­ence just days before she was sched­uled to deliver an eight-​​minute speech without the aid of note cards. She char­ac­ter­ized the assign­ment as “chal­lenging” and “ter­ri­fying,” but nonethe­less looked for­ward to the task.

“This is my favorite class,” she said, “and pro­fessor Goodale believes in us and enhances our potential.”

Isabella Kirsch, a first-​​year com­mu­ni­ca­tion studies major from New York, agreed with Soto’s assess­ment of the course. “I wake up and want to go to class,” she said. “It’s so inter­ac­tive and inspiring.”

According to Kirsch, the most dif­fi­cult activity in the public-​​speaking course is the so-​​called “tor­ture game.” In hers, she had to deliver a con­cise argu­ment in favor of turning tennis into a main­stream sport while staring at other stu­dents in the class without blinking.

The game, she said, has improved her self-​​confidence and debating skills. “It teaches you how to fight for some­thing you are pas­sionate about.”