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Public Speaking Featured at the 38th Annual Voice Foundation Symposium

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The 2009 Voice Foundation Symposium featured a half-day session on the speaking voice, with special emphasis on public speaking. Nancy Pearl Solomon, Research Speech Pathologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, organized and moderated the session, with wonderful advice and guidance by Lucille Rubin, Director of Professionally Speaking in New York City. Solomon began with a challenge to the audience to search for the science behind the art of public speaking. She outlined general approaches that have been taken in speech and voice science, noting that typical speaking, singing, acting, and vocal loading have been well represented in the literature, but topics specific to public speaking have been virtually ignored. To educate and inform the attendees of the Symposium, the Foundation invited speakers to address various aspects of public speaking. Diane DiResta, founder of DiResta Communications, Inc., in NYC, gave a powerful presentation about how to speak confidently. She outlined the 10 most common mistakes made by public speakers and demonstrated how to avoid them. DiResta provided practical tips, flawless demonstrations, and an entertaining start to the morning!

Deborah Rosen, Director of Healthcare Outreach at Temple University Health Care System, addressed the psychology of public speaking. Rosen explained that the fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, is based on the brain's error in judgment that public speaking is a potentially catastrophic event, thus invoking the fight/flight or freeze/faint response. As an existential psychologist, Rosen framed her approach to dealing with this phobia in terms of exploring one's personal meaning related to the event.

Susan Miller, founder of Voicetrainer, LLC, in Washington, DC, and Clinical Associate for the George Washington University Voice Treatment Center in Washington, DC, provided valuable information about ways to assess and advise the public speaker from a variety of perspectives. She introduced an extensive questionnaire that delves into the goals, message, and style of the speaker. Her typical evaluation follows with acoustic and video recordings. As a speech-language pathologist, Miller pays particular attention to enhancing the use of the vocal instrument.

A panel discussion followed, including the podium speakers as well as three invited guest panelists. Panelists were selected to represent various factions of the Voice Foundation membership: Donna Snow from the Theatre Department of Temple University provided the acting coach's view; John Rubin from the Royal National Throat, Nose & Ear Hospital and University College, London, invoked issues of importance from the laryngologist's perspective; and Ronald Scherer, Professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, provided the speech scientist's perspective. Scherer wrapped up the session by presenting a framework from which the scientific voice community might begin to develop programs of inquiry to address the topic of public speaking.

Questions amongst the panelists and from the audience clearly revealed the broad and intense interest in this topic. Lively discussions continued into the coffee break and the lunch hour, and evidence for the effectiveness of the morning's sessions popped up throughout the symposium as scientific presenters reminded themselves to slim down content on their slides, not to look at the slides while addressing the audience, and to pause more effectively. Individual coaching sessions to enhance presentation style at the symposium have been provided by Lucille Rubin and Susan Miller for the past several years, and were especially popular this year. Just another perk of attending and presenting at the Voice Foundation Symposium!

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