Scared of Public Speaking?

Ria Angelica Laxa ’21 knows just how you feel

By EVAN ELLIOT Posted Thu, 04/25/2019 - 08:11

If the thought of speaking in public makes your palms sweat and your knees shake, you could probably use a speaking coach. Someone eloquent and confident, with swagger to spare.

Thing is, Ria Angelica Laxa ’21 is kind of shy, and her speaking career began in total failure.

When Laxa was in the fourth grade at Sacred Heart Academy in Redlands, California, she stood up in church and did a reading in front of the whole school. “When I looked up and saw all those eyes looking at me, I freaked out,” she said. She sped through the reading and then ran out of the church crying.

Two years later, she joined the student council and attended a “leadership camp.” There, surrounded by extroverts, she hoped to go unseen and unheard. But a camp counselor noticed her and said, “We’ll get you talking by the end of the week.”

"My counselor helped me realize that I didn’t have to be afraid,” Laxa said. “You miss out if you don’t talk. And I learned that a leader can be soft-spoken and still have a voice."

Call her coach

Today, as a coach in USF’s Speaking Center, Laxa does for fellow students what that camp counselor did for her. She helps undergraduate and graduate students with speeches, presentations, and elevator pitches.

"Ria is awesome,” said Sarah Sarte, a first-year nursing major. “She’s helped me to plan, write, and deliver better speeches, and she gives great advice on the proper tone and on words that make the most impact."

But Laxa didn’t just waltz into her position as a speaking coach. First she took a rhetoric class in which her professor, Jacquelyn Horton, helped her discover that she could enjoy public speaking instead of just survive it. 

Horton, the director of the speaking center, invited Laxa to intern at the center in the spring semester of her first year. Last fall, after a semester of training with a student speaking coach, Laxa became a coach herself.

“When I first meet tutees in the center, they almost always say, ‘I hate public speaking,’” Laxa said. “I say, ‘I know how you feel. I never saw myself doing this. But now it’s a huge part of who I am.’”

The eloquence advantage

Last month, Laxa and three other USF students traveled with Horton to a conference at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, to speak about USF’s public speaking internship program.

In teaching other students how to speak, the interns and coaches at USF help change the world through improved public discourse, Laxa said. They also gain an edge in the job market.

“You might think that public speaking is not the most useful skill for me to have as a biology major and a pre-med student, but doctors need to communicate with their patients and with each other,” she said.

Laxa said that her favorite thing about working in the speaking center is watching her tutees grow. “It took me years to learn how to speak in public. It takes them one semester.”