Public Speaking: Overcoming Your Fears

By Nate George

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To many, just thinking about public speaking can send shivers down their spine. Nervousness, anxiety, and downright fear are certainly not foreign concepts to a student with an upcoming speech. We’re here to help, though! With just a few tips and tricks, you’ll have the confidence you need to knock your speech out of the park.

The first, and admittedly most essential, component of preparing for a public speech is easing your nervousness. I know, I know, easier said than done. However, a nervous speaker is an unsure speaker, and this apprehension is easily recognized by the audience. Sure, you can picture the audience in their underwear, but I would be more nervous speaking to a naked crowd than a fully clothed one. The key to becoming comfortable speaking in public is to become comfortable with your presentation material. Write out your speech. Read your speech, then read it again. And read it another time. Read your speech until you don’t simply remember the information, but you know it. Your presentation will come off as confident and knowledgeable if it is apparent that you are not simply reading words off of a paper. Plus, your sense of nervousness should wane as you realize that you aren’t simply memorizing the words but are learning the information.

In order to develop confidence with your speech, practice reciting it in locations that are full of distractions. Wait…what? Yes, practicing your speech in your dorm with the door closed is an easy way to memorize it, but you are doing only that–memorizing. Practice reciting your speech in a bustling environment. The cafeteria, a room full of friends, or a fraternity party would all be effective (some more than others). That way, instead of relying on memorization to deliver your speech, you will instead know how to respond to distractions or mishaps with knowledge (and not panic your way through empty words written on a wrinkled note card).

In addition, many students faced with a class presentation suffer from a condition titled “land-locked sea sickness.” This disease is characterized by a steady rocking back and forth with hands jammed deep in the pockets. Unless your speech is taking place on a Deadliest Catch crab boat, this posture is detrimental to the success of your presentation. Instead, stand up straight, keep your hands by your sides or resting on the podium, and appear energized and happy to be there (even if you aren’t). Don’t be afraid to move around the room, either! Making calculated steps across your presentation area can help keep your audience engaged and add an element of confidence and poise to your presentation. However, make sure to avoid aimlessly pacing all over the room, which will convey nervousness and uncertainty.

In short, stand tall, know what you’re talking about, and leave your nerves at the door!

 

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Own Your Words: Avoiding Hedging in Academic Writing

By Harris Armstrong

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Many scholars who produce research refrain from making absolute claims and engage in a practice referred to as “hedging.” So, what is hedging and why should you avoid it? In academic writing, hedging is the use of non-definitive or cautious language to make claims. One should avoid hedging in excess because it will weaken the argument and reduce its clarity. The three most commonly used hedging techniques are: 1. qualifiers, 2. passive voice, and 3. apologetic quotation marks.

  1. Qualifiers (or modifiers, such as supposed, arguably, possibility, and appear) are used to limit the meaning of other words. They are vague and noncommittal, and, while there are appropriate times to use these qualifiers and others like them, the problem lies with using them in excess. Expressing too much doubt can make an argument weak and ineffective.
    1. To avoid hedging in writing limit the use of qualifiers.
  2. Sentences written in passive voice focus on what or whom is receiving a particular action (see our blog on passive versus active voice). An example of the passive voice would be: “The results of the experiment were reported by Smith and Cohen.” However, it is possible to construct a noncommittal form of passive voice within a sentence when the individual performing a particular task remains unnamed: “The results of the experiment appear to demonstrate…” Noncommittal passive voice is considered a form of hedging because it allows authors to remain ambiguous about the identity of the agent of the action.
    1. Presenting results in active voice will improve clarity and accountability for the reader.
  3. Apologetic quotation marks are typically used to express irony or to establish that a word or expression is not the author’s and/or is not a common usage of the word. For example: “While some consider Marx’s ‘critique’ of capitalism to be accurate, history has demonstrated the resilience of this particular economic system.” The word “critique” is placed in quotation marks to mock Marx’s argument and suggest it is illegitimate. This allows the author to guide the reader in a particular direction rather than assuming the reader will make an objective assessment of their own.
    1. Since this form of hedging may be perceived as insulting, it should be used sparingly or not at all.

While this is hardly the final word on hedging in academic writing, I hope that this brief introduction has been useful. The best way to avoid hedging in writing is to make clear, definitive statements.

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Shakira Was Right: The Importance of Body Language

By Zoey Rosen

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Communication in the classroom and in the Writing Center is important, and body language is an often overlooked aspect of this communication. How we present ourselves is crucial to successful communication between you, your professors, and your writing consultant.

As a student, you spend a good amount of time listening in class. The body language you use during lecture can often be the same body language you use during a writing consultation. There are many ways we can talk (differing volumes, tones, and cadences), and there are many types of actions we can do that all mean different things. Writing consultants and professors are perceptive. While they’re talking to you, they’re paying attention to how you’re sitting and what your facial expressions are. Here are some examples of what different actions can convey:

Examples of Attentive Body Language:

  • Leaning forward
  • Having eye contact with the person speaking
  • Having an “open” posture (arms uncrossed)
  • Sitting upright and still
  • Avoiding distractions

Examples of Disinterested Body Language:

  • Looking away from the speaker
  • Being “closed off” (folded arms over chest, slumping into chair)
  • Speaking with/distracting others around you
  • Repeatedly checking the time on the clock
  • Blank, glazed-over stare

You want to show that you are engaged in a class or in a consultation. Attentive body language positively shows that you want to be there and are paying attention. By showing behaviors that read as disinterested, you are distancing yourself from the situation and devaluing the time and effort that your professor or writing consultant have put into you.

However, you can accidentally convey negative emotions through body language. Our faces cannot often mask the internal monologues of our thoughts and feelings. Even if your body shows that you are present in the discussion, your face can betray you. Here are some examples of conflicting facial cues:

Examples of Facial Expressions in Conflict:

  • Enjoying the lecture (smiling; happy) while sitting with arms crossed (angry, disinterested)
  • Thinking about something sad (frowning) while otherwise having open body language (engaged)
  • Furrowing your forehead (stressed out) while lounging (relaxed)
  • Blank face (bored or sleepy) while arms are uncrossed (open posture)

How you sit, where you look, and what your face says all matter. By showing attentive body language with a positive attitude, you are effectively set up to succeed. Remember to put forth your best behaviors in any academic situation—Shakira’s hips don’t lie, but your face might.

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Keep Your Brain Intact: Five Ways to Reduce Stress During Finals

By Bailey M. Gamberg

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It’s December. You’re stressed. You’re freaking out. You’re madly calculating what the absolute minimum grade you have to get on your final is. You’re clutching at your hair in frustration at a table in the KC. You’re lying in bed trying to recall vocabulary terms and equations before you fall asleep. Eventually, the stress feels nearly impossible to overcome.

One of the best ways to increase your studying efficiency is to take necessary, relaxing breaks. Most students just open up a social media tab on their laptop or start texting a friend to take a “break” from their work. Although these technological habits can distract you from studying for the time being, they are not the most effective ways to handle the stress. Instead, here are five other options that will take ten-minutes or less.

  1. Eat a healthy snack. Either munch on something that you brought along with you or head over to the coffee shop nearby. While coffee may be your immediate go-to, most locations offer healthy options such as fruit parfaits, granola bars, protein packs, etc. Choosing a healthy snack will provide nutrients for your body and give you more brain power.
  2. Listen to peaceful sounds. Although most people are fans of rock, EDM, pop, and other modern genres of music, sometimes listening to Classical can be extremely calming and focusing. Soothing tunes without lyrics can aid in the relaxation process. For people who really can’t stand Classical music, another stress-reducing option is to Google relaxing sounds, such as a light rainstorm, wind and birds in the forest, or waves on the shoreline.
  3. Look at things that make you happy. Go through that old photo album of your spring break trip or type “cute baby animals” into a search engine. Go ahead and smile at pictures of your friends laughing or a lion cub yawning. These will help serve a reminder that there is light ahead… one week after Dead Day.
  4. Take a light nap. 10-minute power naps can be the most beneficial type of nap in order to improve cognitive performance; however, most people find themselves unable to stick to just 10 minutes. If you believe that you have enough willpower to keep going after being rudely awoken by your alarm, then go ahead and reap the benefits of a short nap.
  5. Perform deep-breathing exercises. One of the most effective slow breathing exercises is the 4-7-8 strategy, which includes inhaling for 4 seconds, holding it in for 7 seconds, then slowly exhaling for 8 seconds. Begin by breathing in through your nose and then breathing out through your mouth. When breathing deeply, try to focus on your core muscles and think about breathing into your stomach rather than your lungs.

Most of all, remind yourself that although finals are important, they are not the pinnacle of your life. You are not a number. You are not the number of credits you’ve taken, the amount of stress weight you’ve gained, or your semester GPA. Just try and stay as calm as possible because your mental health will always be more important than any test grade.

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The End of NaNoWriMo2016

By Ash Thoms

Today is the 30th of November, which means National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has come to a close. Very early this morning I finished my last sentence, copied all of my text, and put it into NaNoWriMo’s verification system.

I wrote 50,403 words. I was declared as a winner of NaNoWriMo.

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It took a few minutes for this to set in. Even while writing this blog, I still can’t believe I completed this project. I have previously attempted NaNoWriMo, but I never had the drive or inspiration to write 50,000 words.

I touched on little life-lessons I learned throughout this project with my other blog posts, but there’s one life-lesson that isn’t so little that I have yet to touch on.

I am a writer.

I am a writer because I write. Writing feels like breathing to me. It is the one surefire way that I know how to express myself. However, I was cautious of proclaiming myself as a writer because I was worried I wasn’t good enough, thoughtful enough, or driven enough to be considered a writer.

The truth is, I am. Anyone who writes is a writer.

It took me a month of sleepless nights, over-caffeinating, and cancelling social engagements to feel comfortable with saying those words out loud. Let me save you the trouble: if you write, you’re a writer.

When we engage in other activities, there’s hardly ever as much hesitation to identify ourselves as participants in that hobby. If you are enrolled in school, you’re a student. If you play a sport, you’re an athlete. But writing feels so close to identity that proclaiming yourself to be a writer feels like proclaiming something else entirely.

For me, it felt like I was proclaiming a false identity. Yes, I write, but that didn’t make me a writer. I thought writers had to be deeply involved in some sort of creative writing pursuit. I know now that isn’t true. I was a writer when I began this project, just as I am now, because writing is one of my hobbies. Writing is something that makes me feel alive and keeps me sane.

I had a story to tell, and it was a story that I had to get out of my head one way or another, so I wrote it. I wrote it because that’s what I know best. I wrote it because I love a challenge, and I wanted to see myself succeed.

I challenged myself to get out of my comfort zone of spoken-word poetry and academic writing. I challenged myself to write something that mattered to me and something I wanted to bring to life.

Right now, I’m not sure if I will do anything with this completed manuscript. Honestly, if I don’t, I’ll still be content with everything I did this month. I learned so much, and I made something that mattered to me—even if it is just for me.

If you want to be a writer, write. Write for you, and let the rest follow. Practice and learn as much as you can; then continue to learn what you didn’t think you could. After all, as Ernest Hemingway once said,

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

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NaNoWriMo 2016 Monday Prompt Set #4

It’s the last Monday of NaNoWriMo! You can do it! We’ve got a final set of prompts for you to use to get through these final days. Try using ideas from these prompts (inspired by The Writer’s Block by Jason Rekulak) to help mold the end of your novel!

  • Check today’s local newspaper for a story that might appear in your novel. How would your main characters react to this story? Is it a story about them? Is it about someone they know or someone they love? Write a scene where the character interacts with this story.
  • Write about an incident that could be used against one of your characters if they were to ever run for political office.
  • Write about a character whose life is governed by Murphy’s Law.
  • Write a scene about your main character’s favorite childhood toy.
  • Write a scene where your main character interacts with the devil. This could be a literal or figurative devil.
  • Your main character sees a phone number written on a restroom wall. Describe what happens when he or she dials it.
  • Your main character receives a meaningful and/or important gift. What does it reveal about the relationship between the gift giver and the main character?
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NaNoWriMo 2016 Monday Prompt Set #3

We’re deep into NaNoWriMo now, and you might be struggling to get meet those daily word goals. Don’t give up! Try using some of these scenarios for inspiration.

Write a paragraph about:

  • A stay-at-home parent with crippling debt
  • A teller of secrets who has regrets
  • A reluctant participant who has a fever
  • A person with a tail who has a problem at the bus station
  • A person of a different size than most people who has obvious plastic surgery
  • An interview with a trespasser
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Nouning Your Characters

By Logan Miller

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When writing (say, for NaNoWriMo), do you find yourself thinking predominantly about narrative? Sure, numerous characters populate that narrative, but maybe your thinking tends to revolve around circumstances, events, conflicts, etc. If it does, I’d bet you also sometimes worry about whether your characters feel whole or whether they have a life beyond the confines of the narrative. If any of this sounds familiar, don’t worry. I do these things, and I’d wager numerous writers at all experience levels would confess to the same.

Shelves and shelves of writing guides suggest writing three dimensional characters who are motivated toward some goal, and the deferral and fulfillment of that goal drives the plot. I would never disagree with this idea, but in unraveling why I so often worry about my characters’ completeness, I’ve recognized the following: in focusing on a central goal, I inexorably subordinate the characters to the narrative, as if nothing they might do or think matters, unless it gets them through the narrative arc I’ve laid out.

I fall into this pattern because I consider plots before characters. Maybe other writers don’t do the same, but this is my personal writerly challenge. I bet we’ve all consumed media where it felt like the characters acted odd for the sake of the plot.

If you’ve worried as I do, the following activity might help. I can’t speak to its initial genesis, but I came to it by way of my friend and instructor Christopher Coake.

  1. Pick a character of yours. I’ll refer to myself as the character here for simplicity.
  2. Pick 25 nouns the character would use to refer to themselves. Mine follow.
Writer Consultant Tutor Perfectionist Snowboarder
Procrastinator Romantic Cynic Realist Reader
Doodler Artist Feminist Marxist Student
Brother Best Friend Dreamer Researcher Drinker
Son Talker Overthinker Gamer Fashionista

In choosing nouns, I’ve focused on who my character is or sees himself to be. Why these nouns? Well, they’ve all defined my character in whole or in part at some point in time. Maybe some of these choices relate to motivation, but I can’t say that yet. All we have is a brief portrait.

Remember, you don’t need to feel tied to the number used here; you may need more (or fewer) nouns before you begin to see the outline of a character. With time, I could generate a list of a hundred or more, but I don’t know that I’d need that many.

  1. Now, pick the top five nouns. Mine would probably be:
    1. Consultant
    2. Student
    3. Writer
    4. Talker
    5. Procrastinator

Why those five? My days are largely circumscribed working on schoolwork and at the University Writing Center, but beyond the time commitment, I also identify with the work I do in both venues. My identity as a writer gets edged out primarily because I’ve only been published in smaller venues and because I’ve actively procrastinated on all my creative writing endeavors lately. However, I write for work and school and have numerous projects that I hope (with work) will be accepted for publication. My fourth noun often represents a bigger portion of my time than writing often does, but I place more importance on my writing than on my oration. Finally, I can conceive of the fifth noun in a higher position—it’s a constant challenge—but I like to think that I overcome this identify, once in a while.

What do these nouns tell us about my character? I’m work focused, placing my role there above my role as a student. I have a potentially ambivalent attitude toward being a writer; it’s a comfortable identity, but not a consuming one. Being a talker might be positive, but in this case represents more of a cheeky admission of what I see as a flaw, and procrastination plays such a role in my life that it couldn’t realistically fall lower.

By providing similar justifications for your character’s nouns, you can begin to outline these characters’ competing fears, ambitions, and desires in a way that doesn’t just serve the narrative. Ask yourself, how would this character respond in a situation? Your work identifying your character’s manifold identities can help answer that question.

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Reflections from Week Two of NaNoWriMo 2016

By Ash Thoms

The second week of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has come to a close! At the end of the 14th of November, the word count for each participant should have been 23,333. It is unbelievable to me that we are almost half-way through November, much less half-way through this writing challenge.

While week one was interesting in its own right, week two had its own set of challenges to address and lessons to learn. Here’s a brief overview of what week two of NaNoWriMo has taught me:

  1. Writing a continuous story is really hard.
    • I am, by nature, a poet. I write short, spoken-word poetry. My poems don’t blend together to create a bigger story; they stand on their own and don’t need external information to make sense. What I’m writing for NaNoWriMo has to be fluid. It has to make sense as one whole and not as individual parts. There has to be continuity. While the outline I mentioned last week has been helpful, I also have to make sure my voice remains the same throughout the work. I have to ensure that my ideas flow in the way I originally planned in the outline. So far, NaNoWriMo has been an exercise in writing something other than what I normally write, and this has taught me a lot about the writing I don’t normally engage in.
  2. Motivation is a finicky creature.
    • Writing everyday has been challenging. Some days I don’t feel like writing, or I don’t think my ideas are as good as they could be. Some days sleep just seems way better than spending two hours writing at the end of my day. What has consistently gotten me through to this point is the idea of NaNoWriMo being a challenge. A challenge proposed by my friends, initially, but now it’s a challenge to myself to see if I can do it. I want to disprove the part of me that says “you cannot possibly accomplish this.” That desire is keeping me going, even when my motivation isn’t as strong as I would hope.
  3. I don’t have to write in the middle of the night.
    • I always knew this. It isn’t new information that I have the capability to write in the daytime. I’m writing this in the middle of the afternoon and nothing bad has happened because of it. However, I have always held myself to the belief that I am a more creative and interesting writer when the moon is out and every other human is asleep. In an effort to address my lack of time management skills that I mentioned last week, I started writing in the morning or when I had short periods of free time during the day. My writing has been just as good and just as creative as it is normally when I write at night, disproving my fear that I am only a conditionally good creative writer.

We’re almost halfway there. As of the time that I wrote this blog post, I had written 24,000 words. I have 26,000 left to write this month in order to complete the challenge.

I know I can succeed, and I am excited to do so.

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NaNoWriMo 2016 Monday Prompts Set #2

We’ve got another set of prompts for you today! We’re drawing from The Storymatic® again to help you make it to your daily word goal!

Include in your story:

  • A cook who can’t cook
  • A person in tears
  • A hypochondriac
  • A person who can’t remember an important word
  • A person who can’t wait any longer
  • A person covered in tattoos
  • A person who has been stood up
  • A person who is locked out
  • A tourist
  • A person who knows that future
  • A thief
  • A person who believes in fairies
  • An astronaut
  • A person who refuses to fit in
  • A person with a hidden talent

WRITER’S BLOCK PROMPT: Make one of your characters an animal–what animal did you choose and why? What does your animal character see and experience? Re-write one of your scenes with your character as an animal.

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