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Word power

Some 19 first-year female students in a public-speaking course have been charged with telling an imaginary girl that she must change the sound of her irritating laugh. The game has but two crucial rules: Students must not hesitate to speak when called upon and may only use monosyllabic words to form grammatically correct sentences.

Greg Goodale, an assistant professor of communication studies in the College of Arts, Media, and Design, presides over the competition in 206 Lake Hall and is often quick to eliminate participants from contention for failure to comply with the rules. “Bad grammar,” he shouts over a din of laughter. “You’re out.”

The exercise is designed to build self-confidence, a befitting lesson for a class focused on inspiring women through the power of speech. Goodale summed up the goal of the course, saying, “It’s important to believe that you can change the world and then go out and doing it.”

The course has a service-learning component. In late October, the students visited Girls’ LEAP, a Dorchester-based nonprofit empowerment and awareness program for girls aged 8–18. They introduced the program’s participants to public-speaking strategies like Monroe’s motivated sequence, a five-step technique for organizing a persuasive speech, and stressed the importance of eye contact, enunciation, and vocal projection. Girls in the program put those public-speaking strategies to good use later in the year, holding speak-outs at schools and civic organizations in the community.

Maria Sofia Soto, a first-year communications studies major from the Dominican Republic, felt a strong kinship with girls in the program, some of whom had hailed from her homeland. “It’s encouraging for them to see a girl from the Dominican Republic who is going to college,” she said.

Soto discussed the service-learning experience just days before she was scheduled to deliver an eight-minute speech without the aid of note cards. She characterized the assignment as “challenging” and “terrifying,” but nonetheless looked forward to the task.

“This is my favorite class,” she said, “and professor Goodale believes in us and enhances our potential.”

Isabella Kirsch, a first-year communication studies major from New York, agreed with Soto’s assessment of the course. “I wake up and want to go to class,” she said. “It’s so interactive and inspiring.”

According to Kirsch, the most difficult activity in the public-speaking course is the so-called “torture game.” In hers, she had to deliver a concise argument in favor of turning tennis into a mainstream sport while staring at other students in the class without blinking.

The game, she said, has improved her self-confidence and debating skills. “It teaches you how to fight for something you are passionate about.”