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!


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