Have speech anxiety? FAU’s Speaking Center is here to help

The Speaking Center is a resource available for all students, faculty and staff to sharpen their communication skills.


Nicholas Windfelder

“Owlsley’s Six P’s,” a guide for overcoming public speaking anxiety. Among these six, the speech center has many more useful tips and tricks to help overcome public speaking.

Elisabeth Gaffney, Staff Writer

Speech anxiety feels like being strapped to a chair whilst looking at an open door — the opportunity is right there, but fear can tighten its grip at any time.

The Speaking Center at Florida Atlantic University provides the community with tips and tricks to stop that fear from taking control.

Located above General Classroom South on the second floor of the Breezeway, a handwritten sign reading “Welcome to the Speaking Center!” greets anyone who comes to the door. The office is warm and inviting, with a large window letting the sun light up the entire room.

A coffee station is tucked away in the corner; two chairs hug a small table that houses a Keurig, cups and an Owl-shaped coffee capsule holder displaying assorted Cambio coffee pods — because staying awake when giving a speech is important.

There are three computers along the wall that anyone is free to use. Above the computers are bulletin boards that serve the purpose of education. One board gives an overview of Monroe’s Motivated Sequence, “The Psychology of Persuasion,” while the other explains the Toulmin Model of Argument, a style of debate that breaks down arguments into six different claims. These charts provide a resource for people struggling with call to action and argumentative presenting.

“I like to think that we’re welcoming,” said Cynthia Carrico, the director of the Speaking Center. “It’s important for me as an educator to have an open door policy.”

Students majoring in communication studies aren’t the only ones who can take advantage of what the center offers. In the two years since it opened, the Speaking Center has served undergraduate research programs, presented at conferences, helped professors with lecture tips and more. 

“We range the gamut of different skillsets that we work on,” said Carrico.

People mainly seek help with speech delivery, but the center also helps with speech content and organization. A presentation requires more than simply putting information on slides; it needs presenter notes, visuals and interactive activities for audiences. The center also helps with brainstorming and outlines. 

The Speaking Center opened in the Fall 2020 semester during the COVID-19 pandemic, when social distancing was at its peak. Since FAU reopened its campus, sessions are available in-person and online.

Since the start of the Fall 2022 semester, 85 students have stopped by the center for assistance, half for help with speech delivery and the other half for content organization.

Both walk-in and virtual one-on-one appointments can be made with any of the seven speech consultants, all working to get a master’s degree from the School of Communication and Media Studies. 

In one month, an average of 50 students make an appointment with a consultant, according to Carrico.

Each consultant specializes in a different skill, from outlining and presentation aids to delivery tactics.

Wil Carr, a second-year consultant, specializes in English, philosophy and film studies. He started working at the Speaking Center in Fall 2021.

“I actually found a really supportive and welcoming environment, and was able to make my position here [with] something that did excite me,” Carr said. “There was a lot of freedom to do things and pursue interests that align with my own skills.”

Carr helps research, create workshops and aids with presentations. Last year, he did a workshop with campus tour guides about how to adjust to an audience and reflect on their values as faces of the school. He also recently worked with a Leadership Studies instructor to help get ideas for a workshop in one of their classes.

Marcy Wilder, FAU alumna and speech consultant specializing in film studies, theatre and presentation aids, joined the Speaking Center during the Fall 2022 semester. 

One of the techniques Wilder employs when in a consultation is using the office space to her advantage. If someone were to look at the corner of the room, for example, how does that make them feel? What if they were in a therapist’s office—would they speak more openly and with more emotion? She uses her theatre background to help her clients understand their delivery style can change based on the environment that they are in.

“Working here is a new experience for me,” Wilder said. “I just had my first consultation on Monday [Oct. 3] and it’s really affirming to help people become more confident in their speaking.”

Confidence is one of the biggest things the Speaking Center strives to instill in their trainees, giving them a space to make mistakes and learn from them in a supportive, non-judgemental environment. Speech consultants provide positive feedback every time students give their speech, making sure they feel even more sure of their ability to communicate ideas clearly by the end of each session. Practice makes improvement, and improvement fosters confidence.

There is a podium in the office where people can practice giving speeches and presentations. Across from it is a whiteboard that reads “Owlsley’s Six P’s: Overcoming public speaking anxiety.”

Carr remembered one student, who was so enthusiastic about the topic of her speech, that she let her nerves get in the way of effectively delivering the information.

“By the time we left, not only was there significant improvement in her delivery, but she was excited to talk about it,” Carr said.

Carrico, on the other hand, recalled a girl who had been so harmed by teachers in the past that her fears stopped her from improving.

“Her clarity in delivering her speech had improved by the fourth time she did it, and that’s all thanks to our amazing speech consultants,” Carrico said.

Whether it’s content organization or speech delivery, there is always room for improvement and a consultant who can help.

The Speaking Center is open Monday through Friday in the Center for Teaching and Learning and virtually on Saturday. Hours can be found on their website or Instagram

Asking for and accepting help can sometimes be just as nerve-wracking as speaking in front of a crowd. 

“As with any kind of apprehension, it only takes one step to become successful,” Carrico said. “What’s holding you back?”

Elisabeth Gaffney is a staff writer for the University Press. For more information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or DM her @elisabethgaff