How to make public speaking a walk in the bark—er, park

American University's Kogod Center for Business Communications has established a program to help ease students' nerves before giving speeches or presentations.

Students who take part in the program can book time to rehearse their speeches in front of a volunteer audience—of dogs.

The school's Audience Dog Program addresses the roughly 70% of college students who fear public speaking, according to a message on the site's home page. The dogs, who all belong to owners in the area, listen nonjudgmentally to the students' speeches and help calm their nerves before they present to human audiences.

The Audience Dog Program's site reads: "From therapeutic to educational settings, well-trained, intuitive canines have a role to play in promoting wellness and skill-building."

Canines are showing up in offices, hospitals, and schools to serve as therapy animals

The Audience Dog Program draws on research showing the calming effect dogs can have on people. But even if the dogs themselves offered no benefit, the program would still be helpful for students, says Caron Martinez, the director of the Kogod Center. If nothing else, the program provides an uninterrupted chance for students to rehearse their speeches.

Students can book time with the animals for up to 30 minutes and can feed the dogs treats throughout their presentation if they like.

It might sound like an excuse to hang out with furry animals for a few minutes, but Martinez says the program is serious.

Martinez says their students tend to be "efficiency and transactional-minded," which leads her to believe they would not sign up for the program if they did not think practicing their speech to a dog would actually help them.

Devon Wallick, a 22-year-old student who used the program while preparing to make a speech at his master's program commencement, agrees with Martinez.

"It's very much a cost-benefit analysis," says Wallick, adding that the program also helped him make light of the otherwise intimidating process of preparing for a public speech (Bruilliard, Washington Post, 5/17; American University site, accessed 5/19).

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