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Eckerd College students learn to stand and deliver in Winter Term communication course

By Tom Zucco
Published January 25, 2024
Categories: Academics, Communication, Community Engagement, Students

Local author and TV personality Dr. BBQ shares his message about developing confidence with a communication class. Photo: Penh Alicandro ’22

Laura Hudson Pollom, Ph.D., explains that it was like bringing together all the ingredients for a fabulous dinner. Pollom, visiting assistant professor of communication at Eckerd College, had taught communication in just about every form—interpersonal, nonverbal, business, intercultural and others—for 18 years at Concordia University Chicago before she arrived at Eckerd last August.

I always wanted to take key parts of those courses and combine them,” she says. “And I always wanted to teach a Winter Term course. So it seemed like Toasting, Roasting and Boasting would be a perfect fit.”

The course—which is part of the College’s 2024 Winter Term, Jan. 3–26—is sort of a greatest hits version of Pollom’s previous work. “It’s a compilation of different elements from different communication courses I’ve taught in the past,” she explains. “It’s about how to present yourself with confidence and speak with charisma.”

If there is a common thread through this, it’s food. Pollom asked her 13 students to create a three- to five-minute toast—to a hypothetical couple getting married, for instance—and present it in front of one another at Pia’s Trattoria restaurant in nearby Gulfport. The students also are asked to design their own respectful roasts, which will be presented at a bonfire on campus that includes hotdogs and s’mores.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Laura Hudson Pollom

“Roasting,” Pollom adds, “will be done artfully. I talk to the students about how to do comedy and special occasion speeches the right way.”

The boasting portion of the course, Pollom says, “is about presenting, and how to win a room over. And about elevator pitches. What would they say if they had one minute to ride an elevator with the boss of their ultimate dream job? You just have to take that first step to talk to them. And not keep your eyes down on your phone.”

Throughout the term, Pollom worked with the Eckerd College Career Center and Nicole Manuel ’98, the College’s Creative Arts Collegium coordinator and collection manager, to create a grand finale on the final day of class. Students will be seated at a formal networking lunch with professionals, selected by the Center, who work in areas that the students expressed an interest in.

“It boils down to giving students the tools to gain the confidence to speak on their feet,” adds Pollom, who will teach fundamentals of communication and nonverbal communication classes at Eckerd in the Spring 2024 semester.

That message of developing confidence was underscored on a recent Wednesday morning when Ray Lampe, local author and TV personality known as Dr. BBQ, addressed the class. “To be comfortable talking to a room full of people, just begin,” he said. “You probably have better stories than you realize.”

Jackson Tunheim, a junior marine science student from Port Angeles, Washington, says he wants to use the course to “help to make science more accessible to the general public. I’d like to help the public understand things they should be caring about. Like sea turtles mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish.

“One of the things we were encouraged to do is make eye contact with one person in the room and then try to extrapolate that out,” he adds. “The course also gives us a wide range of public speaking opportunities that will help us find our niche.”

Jadyn Bierman got a pleasant surprise when she took Pollom’s Fundamentals of Oral Communication course last fall. “I was really afraid of public speaking,” explains Jadyn, a junior communication and environmental studies student from Neosho, Wisconsin. “But being in her class … there was a magnetic vibe. She made everybody so comfortable. I thought I would dread that class, but it turned out to be the one class I looked forward to the most.”

That’s why Jadyn signed up for Toasting, Roasting and Boasting. “It will help me with everything from family events to the workplace,” she says. “Just knowing I feel confident enough to take charge and effectively speak to a large group of people.”

Jadyn adds that she and many of her peers missed key opportunities to hone their communication skills because of the pandemic. “I was a senior in high school in 2020, and so many projects we had were presentation heavy. But we had to do it via Zoom. It wasn’t the same experience.

“That’s why a class like this is so valuable.”