Practicing Public Speaking at CRCI

As part of the Prison Education Program’s ongoing monthly programming at Columbia River Correctional Institution in Portland, students and alumni of the PEP came together with students inside CRCI last Thursday to strengthen their public speaking skills through a fun and practical communication workshop.

The PEP hosts workshops, common readings and other educational enrichment events on the first Thursday of every month at CRCI. Past events have included a discussion of Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning in July and a workshop on essay structure in June.  

At last week’s visit, inside and outside students were interspersed across small groups who first sought to teach each other a skill in five minutes. Some kept it simple with tying shoes, making pasta and drawing circles, while others chose to teach more complicated tasks like making wheatpaste and the steps to eating Peking duck. This activity provided a chance for students to get warmed up in small groups, describing something which they are very comfortable doing.

The next activity urged participants beyond the familiar and potentially past their comfort zones, when facilitator and PEP instructor Katie Dwyer handed out “made up” words to each student. Each participant took a turn defining their word to the audience, while also being urged to be aware of body language, posture, and voice projection. The activity offered a chance for formal public speaking practice, with the humor of defining words like “nedril” and “sassee.”

More serious public speaking wrapped up the evening as participants were asked to provide a minute long argument about an issue of their choice. The only condition of the activity? That the issue must be trivial and of little importance. Participants had an opportunity to put into place the body language and voice projection skills they picked up in the last activity while building convincing rhetorical strategies to argue against the word “bro,” bottled water, and finely chopped olives, among other topics.

In all the event was attended by ten inside students from CRCI, as well as six alumni currently enrolled at UO and two graduated PEP alumni who live in the area Portland. All had the chance to grow in their public speaking confidence and add to their communication toolkits.

The PEP will return to CRCI on September 6 for a common reading of Emily St. John Mandel’s novel Station Eleven, which served as the UO common reading book for the 2015-16 school year.