by Oana Ignat (Postdoc Researcher, Michigan AI)

Biweekly Workshops for Improving your Confidence and Creativity  in Partnership with VoiCSEs (lunch provided)

Have you ever struggled to speak your thoughts in meetings, share your research ideas with your advisor, or perform in front of your interviewer? You are not alone, many struggle with a lack of confidence, which keeps them from achieving their full potential.


During group meetings at and outside the University, I noticed that many people, not just me, were too anxious to participate. Often, few individuals tended to dominate discussions, leaving minority students underrepresented. Despite great efforts to attract a diverse group of students from around the world, many still feel underrepresented in conversations and discussions of viewpoints.

Even at Toastmasters, a club dedicated to improving public speaking skills, approximately 90% of participants were male, and they were already skilled in speaking confidently. The phrase “the rich get richer” came to mind, and I felt a strong urge to act. It is essential to have a space where everyone can participate, regardless of their confidence level, and where everyone receives a gentle nudge to step out of their comfort zone.  In collaboration with VoiCSEs, a student organization that supports and advocates for such efforts, we launched this workshop for us, students, to come together to build on our confidence, understand our inhibitions, and exercise our public speaking.

The motivation for this workshop is twofold: I want to improve my confidence and reduce my anxiety, and I noticed my colleagues could benefit from this as well.

I’ve always focused more on technical skills than “soft skills” such as communication and presenting my ideas, where confidence plays a major role. However, when interviewing for jobs, I noticed my anxiety and perfectionism hindered my performance. As any good researcher, I searched for solutions and found Improv Theater to help me get out of my head and Toastmasters to improve my public speaking skills.


The LaUNCH your CONFIDENCE workshop is a biweekly lunchtime event supported by VoiCSEs, open to all CSE students, both graduate and undergraduate. This workshop is designed to help participants develop their public speaking and confidence skills through hands-on activities focusing on reducing social anxiety, impostor syndrome, and perfectionism while encouraging creativity.

These beginner-friendly activities are adapted from Improv theater and Toastmasters, and aimed to take you out of your comfort zone in an enjoyable way. I typically start the workshop with a round-table game of confidence cards or by watching inspiring videos on relevant topics.


> Confidence cards. 

We enjoy using cards from School of Life to break the ice and bring everyone together. Each participant chooses two random cards and shares the one that resonates most with them, explaining why. This ten-minute game encourages meaningful conversation and connection.

> Improv activities. 

Participating in Improv games, such as “Yes, and…” and “Hey waiter!?” can teach one how to listen, be creative, and overcome the fear of making mistakes. These activities are typically done in groups of 2-5 people, who collaborate to create an entertaining and imaginative story using contributions from each participant. The key to success is to listen carefully to your partner’s ideas and build upon them, while also being open to mistakes and not overthinking what you say. Improv promotes a free flow of ideas, and mistakes can even add humor to the game. Check out this video for more on the importance of improv.

> Toastmasters speeches. 

During this activity, participants are given two minutes to deliver an impromptu speech on a random topic, ranging from “What is your favorite fast food” to “What does life mean to you.” The activity promotes quick thinking, improvisation, and public speaking skills. We also learn from watching videos of Toastmasters winners and discussing them, as well as watching TED talks on topics such as improving posture, voice, and calming your nerves. Feedback is provided by one member who will listen carefully to your speech and note things to improve, such as reducing filler words (e.g., um.., like..), using voice intensity, gestures, eye contact, and strategic pauses to engage and connect with the audience.


The workshops have been ongoing since the beginning of May and have attracted CSE graduates and undergraduates and succeeded in popularity and involvement. You do not have to have participated before to join us now!

We meet biweekly in the Beyster building during lunchtime (12:00 – 1:00 p.m.). Sign up here for the exact day and room number, as they might vary based on the host’s availability. Please sign up only if you plan to attend, as we will order lunch for attendees.

VoiCSEs is a new CSE graduate student organization that has evolved from ECSEL+. VoiCSEs aims to build a vibrant and inclusive community through community-collaborative events. VoiCSEs supports members who may want to run leadership events but need support with administration, funding, and organization. Stay tuned to learn more about VoiCSEs!

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