“Good morning, class! How’s everyone doing?” booms Professor Brian Henson’s voice. He leans casually over the podium scanning the room, trying to figure out which student he will pick on today for the rest of class. It is 9 a.m. at a small, cozy satellite campus. At least half of the room files in a minute before class starts. Most students in the room are running off of at least two hours of sleep and three cups of coffee.
The walls of the classroom are bright white and blinding. There is one poster that stands out on the wall that features a horse statue with words on it that are most likely in Spanish. The classroom also features an abandoned smartboard and rows of desks.
In the front of the room stands the slender podium with wheels that is beginning to see better days. Every student gravitates sitting towards the back of the room as far away from the podium as they can get. The feeling of unsettling nerves float in the air like thick invisible veil draped over the room.
He looks every student in the eye with an expectant blank glare, waiting for a response to his crushing question. The only thing he has received so far are tired nods from a few students. “Why are you shaking your heads yes? I asked you how you were doing?” he presses. A reluctant “good” was all that was mustered from the Monday morning crowd.
Public speaking is a pre-requisite course that almost every college student has to take along their college experience. For some, it is a class just like any others. For most others, it is a class that they either put off until their last semester or get it over with right away.
Public speaking has a rough reputation. College is already stressful as is, and taking a course where you have to stand in front of people and talk at length about anything is not on the top of a lot of people’s bucket list.
For the first presentation of the semester, students had to bring in three objects that represented them and describe their importance. It was essentially what you would do in a first-grade show and tell. The only difference was the college students were nervous, they were afraid of messing up, or forgetting something, or this or that.
Remember when you were in first grade and you didn’t care about what you were going to say because you were so excited to share your favorite toy with everybody?
Luckily, it is not a class that you have to be the master of right away. It is a class that welcomes mistakes, since most teachers realize that public speaking makes people nervous. Henson’s lessons start with short presentations such as show and tells or reading children’s books to your classmates that eventually build up to longer presentations with more content.
Effective speaking is about gradually build speaking skills and apply them to your presentation in hopes it improves your efforts. Henson says that the few students he gets who actually like to speak a lot scare him the most, and jokingly warns them that they are not allowed to bring scissors to class.
Henson teaches public speaking at Bucks’ Perkasie campus. He studied marketing and public relations at Hofstra and La Salle University; the latter is where he currently teaches as well. He also spends time teaching at Delaware Valley University. He realized he wanted to be a teacher in graduate school since he likes to talk and work with people. He teaches other courses such as college success and intro to communication.
Henson wants to make the course as painless as possible for students.
“I like to make it a positive experience. This class can serve as a gateway to other college courses,” explained Henson.
He hopes that his students can build enough confidence in their speaking skills to help them later on in college.
While observing the classroom as Henson teaches, most students are attentive. Henson, as do many other teachers, know how to keep students’ attention. He’s loud, he paces, he yells random things sometimes. The class seems to go by fast because you aren’t constantly checking your phone to see when it is over.
Henson has always been more of an outgoing person who doesn’t mind drawing attention to himself. He claims he was always the kid who would not stop talking in school. He likes to interact with his students, for example, if you are making a face during class, he will stop the lesson to ask what is on your mind.
What interests him the most with students is the diverse range of personalities he gets to work with. He has many stories to account for the diversity of students he has worked with, from one student who started singing a Rihanna song while reading a children’s book, to another student who spent their entire speech shaming a brownie recipe.
Outside of Bucks, Henson is a father of a 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter. He has lived in Chalfont for the majority of his life. He enjoys going to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Fair, taking an RV to go camping, and watching The Walking Dead (though he does not think the show is as good as it once was, he is too invested in the series at this point.) Most of his time is devoted to being a teacher and father. He enjoys doing work around the house. He also coaches local youth sports.
Even though the coursework can be intimidating, he tries to be empathetic towards his students. He reminds his students, “Don’t be perfect. There’s no such thing.” He tends to keep the mood in his classes lighthearted so students don’t feel pressed.
When asked if students would have to dress up for his assigned speeches, he said, “It depends. But I’m not going to make you wear a suit to teach me how to change a car tire.”