Most people would rather go to the dentist than speak in public. Robert Gynn, professor of speech and theater, makes the process a lot less painful than filling a cavity.
Speech is my favorite subject to teach because it has so many real-world applications. Polished speaking and presentation skills – coupled with the ability to write well – can take students a long way toward success in any profession.
But most students – most people, in fact – are deeply anxious about presenting in front of an audience. My goal is to make the experience less stressful, and to that end I have a variety of tricks and tips up my sleeve to help students feel more comfortable. For example, I often tell my class to put things in the proper perspective: in the grand scheme of things, after all, “it’s just a speech.” I encourage them to repeat this “mantra” to themselves over and over again – which is fun for the students and has a very positive effect.
One of the things I’m most proud of is co-founding Oakton’s Speaker Showcase, which grooms some of our most exceptional speakers. Since 2008, outstanding students nominated by their speech teachers have auditioned for me each fall and spring. I narrow the field to about a dozen finalists – and then we begin the hard work. We fine tune each presentation and I provide very specific feedback far beyond what these students would receive in a regular speech class. I might tell them where to insert a dramatic pause, when to emphasize their words, or how to use nonverbal cues to clearly communicate an important idea. In December and May, these students “showcase” their speeches on a special Speaker Showcase evening – and it is truly a transformative experience.
When I’m not in the classroom, you’ll probably find me running. Some people meditate, I run. I enjoy participating in 10Ks, half-marathons, marathons – I’ve even competed in two Chicago Marathons. My best time was 4:30, and I’m pretty proud of that because it’s a tough course. But participating in a long race is not so different from giving a first-rate, top-notch presentation – it takes sharp focus, determined persistence, and an emphasis on mind over matter.
Professor of Speech and Theater