When Ruey Hu ’13 received evaluations of his molecular-biology research last summer, he was pleased to see that his work was up to par. But something was lacking in his presentation.

“Many students, including myself, are not aware of the idiosyncrasies in our speach,” Hu said, such as using word fillers like “um” and “ah” and forgetting to make eye contact. 

He resolved to improve his public speaking, but didn’t want to do it alone. So he started Speak with Style, a group of students committed to improving their “presentation, pitching, and interview skills,” according to the group’s website. Guest speakers such as President Tilghman’s speechwriter, John Weeren, have provided valuable tips.

The group emphasizes that “no prior experience is necessary” — and is one of the few Princeton organizations that truly means it. Participants range from leaders of the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, the historic debate club, to public-speaking novices. Co-founder Mengyi Xu ’14, whose native language is Mandarin, said she always has been self-conscious about her speech.

“If I have a good idea, I want to be able to express it the same way I have in my mind,” Xu said. “But sometimes verbal communication can get in the way.”

More experienced speakers said they view Speak with Style as an opportunity to practice their public speaking. Pranav Gokhale ’15, who was active in high school debate, said one of the most valuable exercises was when members delivered speeches by Winston Churchill and Rush Limbaugh with pens in their mouths, a drill to make them focus on pronunciation. 

Several students said they would appreciate public speaking as a University course. ENG 230: Public Speaking was last offered in the fall of 2010. 

Justin Ziegler ’16 said Speak with Style’s appeal lies in practicing speech in different situations. He cited a study by Stanford psychology professor Thomas Harrell that “verbal fluency” — the ability to communicate well in a wide range of situations — is more strongly correlated with a college graduate’s success than the GPA.

“It’s not just getting up in front of a large group of people,” Ziegler said. “Your ability to speak in all sorts of circumstances, in a cocktail party, with friends, in interviews ... that’s what Speak with Style is dedicated to.”