Communication is key

By Michelle Chung ’20

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At Hamilton College, students are expected to “think, write and speak with clarity, understanding and precision,” a sentiment expressed explicitly in the College’s catalogue and exemplified by the strong emphasis on writing and speaking from the academic faculty. As a result, it is no surprise that Hamilton students have shown the same desire to be better communicators both on paper and aloud, as seen in one of the many organizations dedicated to emphasizing public speaking: TEDx Hamilton. The Oral Communication Center, a major resource for students to learn how to speak effectively, and TEDx Hamilton recently coordinated a “TED and Tex-Mex” event on Oct 26 emphasizing the importance of strong communication skills. 

At the event, over 60 students on campus gathered for a viewing of the TED talk “How to spot a liar” by certified fraud examiner Pamela Meyer, who focused on the varying ticks and gestures that liars use when interacting with others. The video was chosen by the OCC fitting with the theme for TEDx Hamilton this year, which is “Against the Grain.” 

Tutors from the OCC spoke with students in small groups after the viewing not only to debrief on the varying ways that people can spot liars, but also to further the discussion on how people can be more truthful and influential through their tone of voice, physical posture and choice of language. 

“TEDx’s most recent viewing was an opportunity for the Hamilton community to not only be reminded of all the amazing TED talks that are available, but also engage in a discussion about truth and lies in our day-to-day life,” commented TEDx Hamilton President Amiya Brown ’19. “It [also] provided a glimpse into the valuable training that the OCC offers in helping students to become better communicators.” 

From individual and group tutoring consultations, workshops and seminars, and events with outside speakers, students can work on a variety of speaking assignments, such as debates, group presentations, oral exams, interviews and more. 

“The overall mission is to support and promote oral communication across the curriculum and beyond the curriculum—not just what happens in the classroom,” explained Oral Communication Center Director Amy Gaffney. “One of the great things about Hamilton is its focus on being able to present yourself well, whether it be as a community citizen (such as those who speak at a school board meeting) or in a professional setting (such as making a pitch to a potential client) or simply in order to be empathetic. Hamilton has recognized that writing and speaking cut across so many aspects of our lives that it shouldn’t just be relegated to one class or one activity. It really does affect us every day and in a variety of ways.” 

When coordinating with TEDx Hamilton, Gaffney saw the event as a way to better “help students understand the fundamentals of communication. The video was about lying, but the discussion largely centered on what some of the speaker’s ideas said about broader communication concepts, such as the words that you choose and non-verbals such as keeping eye contact and smiling.” 

In the future, TEDx hopes to further their emphasis on effective public speaking by bringing four public speakers from across the country from varying fields to campus, in February at the largest TEDx hamilton event of the year. The topics of their talks will all be related to going “Against the Grain,” or against the expectations of society in an innovative and unique way. 

Similarly, the OCC is planning to host multiple events in the spring such as a public speaking competition with cash prizes and other workshops promoting strong communication skills. The OCC is also a major resource open for all students to make appointments with throughout the year. 

Especially because there are so many experiences that require effective, strong communication skills, it is important for students to take advantage of the resources around them which improve their ways of speaking and listening with others. The OCC, alongside the Writing Center and organizations such as TEDx Hamilton that emphasize communication, can guide students in their real-world experiences beyond their time at Hamilton. 

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