The Power of Public Speaking

            Over the past few decades educators, politicians, and the titans of business in the United States have put an ever increasing focus on the STEM skills: science, technology, engineering, and math.  These skills are incredibly important in a world in which technology plays a larger and larger role in the lives of most people each year.  The days of faceless factory workers toiling on assembly lines is more and more becoming a relic of history.  Instead, highly educated workers sporting the formerly odd ensemble of a button-up dress shirt and a hard-hat are conducting an orchestra of articulated robots assembling everything from cars to cameras in factories throughout the United States and around the world.

            While schools from the elementary level to graduate school focus more and more attention on the STEM skills, the study of the humanities seems to languish.  Numerous commentators across the internet and academia have bemoaned the worsening of writing skills among students of all ages.  In the last decade, several universities have shuttered their English, history, or sociology departments, which has led to wide spread concern regarding the negative impact eliminating these studies may have on society.

            Beyond the worries that educators, students, and parents have regarding the de-emphasis on writing in education, communication skills in general receive less and less attention from schools and in the job market.  The flaw in this is that communication skills are as important as they have ever been.  Regardless of whether an individual is working in a warehouse or in an executive office, workers are expected to be able to read in order to understand what they need to accomplish.  Just as importantly, workers must be able to write in order to share information.  While the days of interoffice memos may be a relic of nostalgic television shows such as Mad Men, email and text messages have taken up the slack.

            The forgotten skill in this brave new world is public speaking.  Verbal communication is as important as it has ever been.  With so many people staring at screens all day long, whether for leisure, at work, or in school, direct human communication is a powerful tool for cutting through the noise of the digital world.  Parents and educators have noticed that with the sharp increase in text and photo messaging, many younger students do not have any experience with voice communication, whether over a phone or in front of an audience.

            A student does not need to have aspirations for becoming a politician, television personality, or CEO to find public speaking skills beneficial.  Whether a student aspires to a career in education, business, the sciences, or the arts, they will most likely find themselves in a position of addressing a class full of students, a meeting full of colleagues, a conference full of peers, or an audience of varying size.  Just as a sergeant must address troops or a foreman must address workers, there are too many jobs, careers, and positions that require interpersonal communication for students to avoid speaking in public.

            Even if a person can avoid public speaking, the ability to communicate one on one is equally important.  Every person can imagine finding themselves communicating directly with other people, whether in a job position, as a customer, or in a social situation.  Mastering public speaking skills can allow individuals to overcome anxiety, feel prepared for unexpected communication situations, and achieve goals both simple and sublime.

            Even at a younger age, many students find themselves in situations in which they must speak in public.  Class presentations once thought old-fashioned, have made a comeback, and students from Kindergarten to senior year are expected to give presentations as part of the multitude of options for successfully completing long-term assignments.  Whether students enjoy the option of delivering an oral presentation or dread it, they need to be prepared.

            An even more important concern for students is being prepared for interviews.  Whether students are interviewing in person or via internet video, students must be prepared for both college interviews and job interviews.  The ability to remain calm in the face of pressure while thinking quickly in the moment can mean the difference between the pain of rejection and the joy of getting a job or achieving acceptance to the school or program of choice.

            There are many schools and extracurricular programs that can teach students public speaking skills, and each may have their own tools and techniques.  Finding a program that is right for your student can take time and effort, but is often worth the search.  The important thing to remember is that there is help available for parents and students who want to improve their skills.

            The most important factor in a successful public speaking program is often the most overlooked: personalization.  There are countless YouTube videos that claim to provide tips and techniques for improving public speaking skills.  There are seminars and group presentations that students can attend hosted by self-proclaimed gurus of interpersonal communication.  The most effective programs, however, are those in which a teacher works with a small group to help individual students build their communication skills in a respectful and supportive environment.  With appropriate support and individualized feedback, any student can be ready for the oral presentations and interviews in his or her future.