How do you define Learning and what enables you to make meaning of new knowledge?

Tiffany Toor, Lead Speaking Center Coach


“Anything that you learn becomes your wealth, a wealth that cannot be taken away from you; whether you learn it in a building called school or in the school of life. To learn something new is a timeless pleasure and a valuable treasure. And not all things that you learn are taught to you, but many things that you learn you realize you have taught yourself.” –C. JoyBell C.


I use this quote to define learning as a system of personally growing and developing. Learning, much like growth and development, is a very personalized process and although we learn in various ways from various different people, we also learn from ourselves. Most importantly, through learning from ourselves, we learn about ourselves.


As a Speaking Center Coach, I find it very important to constantly learn from myself. Each and every coaching session provides me with the opportunity to think about what went well and what can be improved. In other words, I always reflect on which aspects of the session were valuable to the student, as well as what was not as effective. Through doing this, I learn about what I should continue doing in my coaching sessions and what I should try to change about my coaching style, which becomes a valuable tool for every subsequent appointment.


Additionally, this method of reflecting on what went well and what can be improved after every appointment is something I try to extend to each of the students I coach. I notice that one of the most common concerns of students is the anxiety they feel regarding public speaking. When it comes to tackling the apprehension of public speaking, one of the most useful techniques is to use self-reflection to learn more about yourself. By learning about your individual speaking style, the task of giving a public speech becomes far more comfortable since you already know what works well for you and what does not. This leads to an overall increase in confidence as a speaker.


To break down the concept of learning more about yourself as a means to reduce public speaking anxiety, try to keep in mind the following tip the next time you prepare for a speech: Practice actively!


To actively practice a speech means to stand up and say your speech out loud, preferably with someone watching you. At the end of running through the speech, ask yourself what content of the speech you feel you know, and what content of the speech you need to work on learning more. By mastering the content of your speech you instantly become less nervous to share your ideas in front of an audience, because the better you know your content, the easier it is to explain it to someone else.


Additionally, you can ask someone to watch you as you practice and point out any distracting mannerisms you may have had while presenting. You can then apply that knowledge in future speeches. For example, it was once pointed out to me that I would always play with my hair while presenting a speech. By learning what distracting mannerism I have, it allowed me to find ways to correct it. After learning this about myself, I make sure to always have my hair tied up any time I am giving a speech. Similarly, use active practicing to learn about yourself and then apply that knowledge to ensure you feel more confident going into your speech.


In conclusion, learning about yourself is one of the best ways to tackle public speaking anxiety. By knowing what works well for you and what does not, leads to feeling more confident at the time of your speech. Ultimately, the more confident you feel, the more confident you will present yourself and come across as.


How do you define Learning and what enables you to make meaning of new knowledge?

Jessica Arbitman, Peer-Led Team Learning Assistant Coordinator


Learning is the process by which an individual acquires knowledge. However, learning and knowledge can take on many forms.  Learning might look like reading a book and storing facts in your memory bank to utilize later, but it may also look like rolling dough for the first time, or playing a chord on the guitar for the first time—keep in mind that these are just a few examples! Therefore, knowledge can be defined as not only the gain of factual/textual information obtained from reading a text, but also mastery of a skill by means of practice. It hence follows that making meaning of new knowledge can take on many forms as well.

As a chemistry major, the process of learning often entailed a lot of problem-solving to ensure that I can solve numerical problems. To make meaning of the knowledge, I was to be able to apply the underlying concepts in a lab. Similarly, for a student studying rhetoric, he or she might first learn rhetorical devices and then make meaning of them by employing them in their rhetorical analyses. All in all, being able to apply what you’ve learned to something in real life is one way to make meaning of knowledge. However, there is no correct way to learn and no correct way to make meaning of knowledge. It’s something that is unique to every learner and it’s something that every learner discovers through the process of learning.

How do you define Learning and what enables you to make meaning of new knowledge?

Hanrui Zhang, Lead Speaking Center Coach

To me, the definition of learning is the process of receiving and responding to feedback. Any online search for the purpose of feedback will close with something along the lines of “to improve the system it gets fed back into.” As a bilingual coach, student, and older sibling, feedback has been a central focus of how I’ve both taught others and learned things in life.

In my experience, learning is a synthesis of feedback. Learning is taking the feedback and making a conscious note to actively work towards using that feedback as fuel for positive improvement. As a sort of self-sufficient feedback system, before I sleep every night, I ask myself to type out or vocalize 3 positive actions I did during the day, and 3 actions I could have performed differently in to improve the day.

Usually, the actions I liked doing consist of something along the lines of “I’m happy I got a nice sweet cup ice cream today.” Despite the more whimsical nature of this specific observation, I still believe I accomplished the point of identifying positive actions. In this case, I’ve found that learning about what made me happy in the day is a crucial step towards building a positive mindset for getting excited about learning more things in general.

For the 3 things I could have done better, I usually take a deep dive into my words and attitudes towards others during the day, and I’ll often evaluate several of my thought processes throughout the day as well. As a Speaking Center Coach, I find this part relatively easy on the days I have work, since there is always a rich treasure trove of interactions during every appointment that I can draw from to assess today’s behavior.

In a more macro lens, identifying 3 positive actions at night help me realize that my studying paid off for a difficult quiz, that my coaching during a session really helped a student feel better about a speech, or that I finally got some ice cream to eat after skipping lunch. In another light, this “feedback” for myself helps push me towards experiencing the feeling that the positive action entailed. Similarly, the 3 areas of improvement that I identify help push me to be more conscious of what made me not perform those actions to the best of my ability. My self-awareness of these improvements I could have made help make meaning of how I felt about those actions.

Another reason why I define learning as feedback is because I have witnessed students who I’ve coached at the Speaking Center learn so much about themselves through my feedback. I strongly believe that a huge part of coaching is being able to provide useful feedback to the student, which in turn motivates the student to improve themselves in that aspect. Whether it be an observation about their pace, eye contact, transitions, style, or posture, every bit of feedback helps students identify and stick to better paths in their learning process.

All in all: to learn, seek feedback. Understand and remember the things you are doing correctly in the learning process and identify the improvements that can be made. When there is a constant system of input and output of those items, the learning process becomes a much more multi-dimensional experience. As a coach, I hope to always provide honest, accurate, and real-time feedback to ensure that everyone learns about public speaking the smart way.




Great Speaker

Jacquelyn Horton, Speaking Center Director

Jacquelyn is the director of the USF Speaking Center and an instructor in the Department of Rhetoric and Language.  She received her Masters of Arts in Communication Studies and Certificate in Composition from San Francisco State University.  She has worked as a public speaking instructor and professional speaking coach for over ten years, teaching university students, community members, and industry leaders to become successful at the challenging task of public address.  Jacquelyn’s greatest joy is preparing peer tutors for their coaching work in the USF Speaking Center.


As a public speaking coach and professor, I am often asked if a person can learn to be a great speaker or if they are just born a talented speaker. My answer is always a resounding, “YES, you can learn how to be a great public speaker!” There is no doubt in my mind with the right teaching, practicing, and commitment to learning, anyone can become a great presenter. Now of course we can all think of a person who has the right temperament and easy charisma that makes them a natural public speaker, but even those “naturally talented” speakers have to study and practice public speaking to be truly great. I see it over and over as a public speaking professor; the confident and talented public speaker relies too much on their natural talent and ends up earning lower grades than the student who studies and practices public speaking.


The first step to learn and prepare to be a successful presenter is to understand your personal speaking anxiety and finds ways to minimize that anxiety. Most people feel nervous when they public speak, but we usually don’t present that anxiety to the audience. Research shows us that the audience does not perceive a speaker to be as nervous as the speaker claims to be. So, even when we feel nervous we are not presenting that to the audience. I believe in fake it till you make it – project confidence until you start to feel it. I promise with a few successful public speaking experiences under your belt, you will start to feel confident and maybe even enjoy it.


The second step is to prepare for your speeches. When we feel anxiety or apprehension about something we tend to put it off and procrastinate. PLEASE stop doing this! if you want to succeed, you have to give yourself the space and time to prepare! Preparing means picking a topic you care about, finding a message you want to share with an audience, something you are passionate about, researching your topic, analyzing the content, organizing it in a way that is accessible for your audience, drafting outlines, and practicing delivery. This is a lot of work and you time to do this, so please don’t let the anxiety cause you to procrastinate.


The third step is to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! You must stand up and speak out loud when you practice. You need others to watch you and provide feedback, you need to think about your content, organization, and delivery. You must leave time to practice. If you think you should practice three times, double that and practice out loud six times. Practicing will help you know where you need to improve your delivery, content, or organization and it will help minimize communication apprehension and maximize confidence.


Many great speakers needed to prepare and learn to become successful at public speaking: Winston Churchill, Steve Jobs, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton, are just a few of the many examples. You to can become a successful and confident public speaker! Come visit us at the Speaking Center we will help you get there!