Friday, July 26, 2013

Did I Stutter?

I slept in sheets, for once. I showered and changed, once again, with plenty of time to spare. The weather has been getting cool enough for me to start regretting walking out of Perkins Hall in shorts and a t-shirt. Class started, and we talked a little about different types of leadership, like transformational leadership (which moves people to achieve more than they planned), and followership leadership (which forms the "backbone" of the project, the mass behind the achievement). We talked about our Social Construction of Gender Analysis essays, and I didn’t volunteer my two examples, but Dean Almandrez brought up Disney movies, and I thought that was funny because my examples were both Disney movies. 

I wrote about The Little Mermaid, and analyzed this lyric from "Poor Unfortunate Souls": "They’re not all that impressed with conversation / True gentlemen avoid it when they can / But they dote and swoon and fawn / On a lady who’s withdrawn / It’s she who holds her tongue who gets a man." Then I wrote about Beauty and the Beast, explaining how Belle is defined by her attractiveness (even her name means “beautiful”) and is envied for being pretty, but is considered odd for being smart and liking books, which should be qualities that are valued in women. I wrote that her character is an example of gender norming, because it implies that it’s perfectly all right for a woman to be intelligent, but only if she’s beautiful. 

Before she handed over the floor to our guest speaker, Jennifer, Dean Almandrez told us that we could have lunch or dinner with her to build more of a relationship, which reminded me of Brandeis’s voucher to take your professor to lunch. That seemed like a great opportunity, something I’ll definitely consider doing with a few friends in the class. 

Jennifer started by asking us what we thought was the number one fear, and based on what was written on the board, most of us correctly guessed "public speaking," which was closely followed by "death". This made sense to me, because people have such a strong fear of judgment, which was supported when she said that it takes a person only two minutes to decide whether or not they are receptive to what you are saying. 

We wrote up a huge list of important things in public speaking, and one of the most important, she said, was eye contact. We discussed the three persuasive appeals (ethos, pathos, and logos) and the power of silence in pauses. On the list, she wrote 60%, 30%, and 10%, then asked us to guess which percent represented how much people notice of these three parts of a presentation: visual things (eye contact and what we wear), the way we present what we’re saying (voice, filler words), and what we are actually saying. Would you have been able to guess that I wrote them in the same order?

This is only the first page of the list of important public speaking skills
Jennifer also had written the acronym WIFM on the board, which she later explained meant "What’s in It For Me?" and told us to think about the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for participating in our Action Plan. For example, my Action Plan is about creating a club at my school to have students who like to sing and act perform for people in nursing homes and hospitals. An intrinsic motivation is more specific to each person, so for my Action Plan, an example would be earning volunteer hours, gaining personal satisfaction, and being able to write about the club in college applications. An extrinsic motivation would be reducing depression, making people happy, and helping build bonding in the community. 

When she told us that most of how we’re judged for a speech is visual, we all stressed out a bit, but Jennifer relieved that stress by telling us that audiences forget up to 85% of what they hear within three days of a presentation, so we wouldn’t have to worry as much about our mistakes sticking in our classmates’ heads. 

We were asked to stand up as a group and learn good speaking posture (exactly the same posture I use when I perform my speech in the Debate Team at El Cerrito) then we did some tongue twisters (almost exactly the same ones we use in theater class). Clearly, my acting experience has been working to my advantage. 

Jennifer said that it would help strengthen our speech if we explained why we cared about our subject. She said that emotion (pathos) was very important, and that fear (I guessed correctly in class) and guilt were the two most persuasive emotions to use in a speech. She taught us that there were three main ways to perform a speech: manuscript (memorized), impromptu (not planned in advance), and extemporaneous (unprepared) but with notes, which was the best way to perform a speech, according to Jennifer. 

We took a break, during which I showed exactly how much I’ve been experimenting with new things by trying a green drink from Starbucks (which ended up being a horrible idea) after lunch at the Ratty.

The notes I jotted down before speaking to the class
Then we started performing speeches about either our Action Plans or another subject to practice what we had learned. Now, I love acting and performing, but I’m not very good without a script, so I still had plenty of nerves building as I heard my classmates eloquently explain their Action Plans. We were at least allowed to have notes, so I wrote down a few things about my basic plan in a speech format, with an idea for an introduction story. I also wrote out a concluding line, but other than those notes, I had to take any idea that popped up and run with it.

I went second to last in my group of 12 students, half of the class. I had decided before I entered the room to perform it like I performed my Ellen DeGeneres speech last year: (which means my voice and posture would have certain positive characteristics I had been practicing all year to seem more like Ellen) friendly, open, and fun. I walked into the room pretending to be confident, and even though I did have a few filler words, or "vocal nonfluencies" (um, uh, like, you know), I managed to do pretty well. I didn’t make as much eye contact as I would have liked, and I mumbled to myself that I had been rocking from foot to foot once during my speech (at least I stopped rocking) but I think I did my best. I had been uncomfortable under pressure, and was even shaking a little bit, but  I managed to squeeze out an unplanned joke in my introduction; I had mentioned that I act and sing, but followed with "don’t ask me to sing for you," which my classmates responded well to. Since my Action Plan is about entertaining people in senior homes and hospitals, I ended with the concluding line I had prepared: "Before I leave you, I have one more thing. Think about it—how long would it take for you to get tired of card games?"

Then we answered questions, which I didn’t have very much trouble with, even though I had been most nervous for that part when thinking about my speech during my minute of preparation time. Then we moved on to comments from my classmates, and was happy to find that most were positive. Although I kind of "broke character" to correct my rocking, Jennifer said that it had been a good sign that I was aware of it, and my favorite response was from Faith, who said that my speech had been the only one to make her smile. 

We walked back to Perkins Hall, and I worked on my blog for a while with Elia, Sonya, and Michelle then our ILC cohort went out to dinner at Siena again. I had noticed that I was a little lightheaded in the car, but once we stepped out of the car it became clear that I wasn’t just dizzy. I leaned on Michelle and Sonya while we walked to the restaurant, and while we waited for a table, I caught myself swaying forward and back. Elia told me that I had looked a bit pale, and based on how I was feeling, that was probably pretty accurate. My hands and cheeks tingled a bit after we sat down, but once we started eating the bread, I felt at least a little more stable. We talked with Ms. Neal about our experiences so far, which seemed to be good all around, as well as our plans for when we returned home. Feeling woozy made it a bit hard to focus on the conversation (I’m sorry, Mom, but I admit that I did put my head on the table for a moment even though you’ve been telling me not to for years) but I was able to contribute pretty fairly, and once we got our food, I started feeling much better. 

We drove back to the dorm, which I’ve been calling "home" accidentally with increasing frequency. I suppose that’s a good sign. Even though I like the public speaking aspect of leadership and am pretty familiar with it, my nerves were still something I had to deal with. Still, I’m really glad I volunteered to speak (some of my classmates didn’t give speeches at all), because I ended up getting some valuable practice for when I actually present my Action Plan.

This class continues to show me how flexible it is (I mean, we’ve even done a ropes course and managed to learn something from it). Women and Leadership can do such a wide variety of exercises, it seems incredible to me that they all fit so perfectly into the purpose of the class, and I can’t wait for the next challenge.
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