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Fear public speaking? Nationally recognized St. Petersburg College professor can help

Published Apr. 14, 2012

SEMINOLE — Tony Smith is a communications professor at St. Petersburg College who loves teaching speech. And apparently, a lot of students love his classes: This week the Princeton Review included Smith in a new book, The Best 300 Professors.

In the book, which aims to provide "the definitive list of standout professors at colleges across America," Smith was one of 10 Florida professors listed, and the only one from a Tampa Bay institution. Students provided input for the book, and the authors followed up with research of their own.

Smith, 37, who has taught at the college's Seminole campus since 2004, spoke with the Tampa Bay Times. Here are edited excerpts:

How did you learn the news?

I received an email from the Princeton Review basically notifying me somewhere around December … it was a great day. I was really excited, very happy, and I felt like a kid again at Christmas.

When people come to your class, are they scared of public speaking?

Most of them are. If they're not outright scared, you can tell they're not comfortable with it. … It's kind of a challenge to actually try to get them into the mind-set of why should they care.

Why should they care about public speaking?

I think they should care because it's something that most people are probably going to have to experience at some time in their life. Even if they're not planning on pursuing a career that involves it, well, the interview requires speaking skills. They might have to give a public speech at a wedding reception. Worst-case scenario, at a eulogy.

When you're teaching a class, do you ever feel like you can see the lightbulbs going on over students' heads?

Sometimes I do get that feeling … a student (recently) said, "Well, I got a job, I just got this new job I had applied for" and was really excited about that. So we related that then to communications skills as far as helping with employment and doing a job interview and things like that. When they see what's in it for them or they actually hear accounts of people using communications skills for good, then you can see it clicking. And that makes me feel good because I figure it makes them feel good too.

So public speaking is one of those things you need but you don't realize you need it?

That's exactly right.

Have you ever had a moment of stage fright yourself?

I think it was elementary school, I remember giving a book report and I just bombed it. I knew what I was talking about, but it was the whole public speaking thing. My nerves got to me. Even though that's been decades ago, that still sticks in my head. And to this day I kind of try to use that to remember what it was like for me in that situation and then I can kind of empathize more.

A lot of times these college lists recognize elite universities. Did it mean something to you to represent St. Pete College and be singled out for this?

It did. I love St. Pete College, and I think they should be on the top of most lists from my own experience.

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