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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Come To Speak Of It...

Public speaking is often enough of a challenge that most people avoid it at all costs. There have been studies that revealed that delivering a speech to a group of people in public is the biggest fear among respondents to a survey soliciting information on common fears. Just to show you how deep seeded and widespread this fear is, the second highest fear identified among people was the fear of death. That ironic ranking of fears prompted the joke that the ultimate fear would be the responsibility of delivering a eulogy at a funeral.

I can admit that when I was in school I would try every way imaginable to avoid giving oral book reports or participating in formal debates in class. It was only during my first year in college, when a required public speaking class provided me no escape from the task, that I confronted the fearful prospect of presenting a formal speech. Despite incredible anxiety and trepidation I surprised myself with the successful grade I received. Now, there is no doubt many people who wish I would stop speaking. Overcoming my fear of public speaking was empowering to me. In the last two decades I have been invited to speak at many educational conferences at the state and national levels. The largest audience was approximately 3,000 people. I have even made presentations on live television talk shows. It has been a quantum leap from those days that I was dizzy from anxiety at the possibility of speaking in public.

I raise this subject because at this evening's school board meeting we heard reports from representatives of the Elementary Student Council as well as the High School Student Council. These two groups occupy points on the Board of Education agenda at each and every meeting. The speakers provided impressive reports, delivered with clarity and purpose, with crisp voices, eye contact with the audience, and composure and confidence. I envy the head start they have on a very important skill. They are much more advanced than I was at that age. It was interesting to note that the teacher who has volunteered to serve as an advisor for our new Debate Club was also in attendance at the meeting. Both High School Student Council speakers are members of the Debate Club.

Our society values the ability of people who communicate with substance and style. Perhaps this is attributed to the fear most have about public speaking. They admire people who perform a task they consider insurmountable. Regretfully, some people have achieved fame based on the style of their speaking, despite the lack or absence of substance in their speaking.

It's a pleasure to see our learners engaging in developing public speaking skills because it affords them an advantage when it comes to job interviews and other activities where public speaking is expected. Exercising this vital communications skill will expand possibilities for these learners in future endeavors. 

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