5 Questions: Stephanie Freeman

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Professor Stephanie Freeman is an adjunct professor of public speaking at Brigham Young University. She has taught at her alma mater of BYU for the past 22 years.

Q: After years of teaching, is it hard for you to watch other speakers and not critique them?

Maybe initially, years ago. I critique probably 2,000 speeches a year now. My work is my work, and when I listen to student speeches I’m looking for very specific things to help them improve. And when I’m not working, I love just listening and not critiquing. But most people are sincere and they really care, so it’s easy to let the critiquing go. If they try to connect with me and I’m not at work, it’s easy for me to let go and enjoy what they have to teach me.

I warn my students in class that they will start observing everybody’s speeches and start picking them apart. It’s inevitable, they’re going to do it — they’re going to count the “ums” and critique the work like they should. But if they put their heart in the right place, they’ll also recognize that there’s an incredible message there for them. We as listeners are equally responsible with the speaker to contribute to that learning process.

Q: What made you pursue speech?

Initially, going into speech was something that I never dreamed about or wanted to do. Like most people I was fairly shy and speaking in front of people was a challenge for me. I became involved in speech through forensics, DECA and other clubs that forced me to speak and present.  I was shocked at how well I did at regional, state and national events.  As I reflect back, even though I wasn’t confident in my abilities at that time, I had good examples and mentors: My brother, Ron was a debator and speaker, and my dad was a motivational presenter in the hospitality industry. He had me reading Zig Zigglar books. The extracurricular activities, work experiences, awards and scholarships led me in the direction of majoring in Speech and Rhetoric at BYU. Teaching speech was a natural result of the mentors and faculty that encouraged me. Because of their examples I began to see that this is where I could make a difference in the lives of others.

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Professor Stephanie Freeman with her family.
Q: What is the best tip you have for those who are nervous about speaking in public, but who won’t be able to take your course?

Everybody is going to have to speak, we all have to give speeches. Even if you can’t take the course, there’s a lot of information you can learn online. I think it’s our responsibility to learn what it is that we need to do to be better at communicating.

I have had people ask me on the stand say, ‘Oh, do you have any tips for me?’ At that point it’s seconds before the meeting is starting, so I say, ‘Well, seek for the Spirit.’ But, if they have a little bit of time and they ask me, the first thing I tell them is forget yourself. It’s all about your sincerity and your love for your listener. Speaking is not self-centered, it’s audience-centered. Another thing they need to do is believe in the message that they share; they need to deliver with conviction.  Even if your message just helps one person, you’re going to make a difference so focus on that sharing.

Q: Is it hard to balance work and home, also while homeschooling your children?

I’ve never missed a day teaching in 22 years, except for twice and it was to have two of my children. Teaching is really a big priority to me. This is really a blessing for me because it was just the right type of work in which I was able to be a good wife and mother and still be able to go out and feel like I’m helping other and using my talents.

Q: What keeps you coming back to teach year after year? 

The class is very unique. One of the things I really, really like about the class is how much I learn when I’m teaching. It may sound a little selfish in that I love to go to class because I’m learning from my students. The students actually choose their own topics, and I teach both on campus as well as online, so I have students from all around the world. Each student brings a really unique set of eyes and thought processes and circumstances to the class.

I’ll have students who are in nursing so I’ll learn a little bit more about healthcare. Or I’ll have students who have a unique family recipe, so I’ll learn something new to do in my kitchen, which is great. I have quite a few students in the military. One speech that stands out in my mind was an individual who takes care of Air Force One, and he taught me all that goes into that. I remember being completely fascinated. There’s a lot that I gain from my students, and my students gain from each other because they listen and learn from each other. We all walk away with something incredible.

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