Education Column: The Value of Public Speaking
By Zane Khader
Your name is called.
You must step up to the stage and do what they have all done before you. Only now, the stage seems so far away, and the roar of the audience creates a deafening chorus that shakes your brain and shocks your heart. As you take your steps, the world seems to fall underneath you, and your legs feel as though they cannot support the weight of your body. You seem oddly self-conscious (even though you felt perfectly fine just a second ago), and you feel your windpipe slowly constricting. You finally approach the podium and meet the threatening gaze of the crowd. Their smiles seem more like scowls now, and their eyes look menacing and evil. You must do what you have always feared doing: speaking. But, not just any kind of speaking: public speaking.
I think we’ve all been in a situation more or less like the one I described. I have had the pleasure of being able to engage in public speaking activities throughout my time in Greenwich Public Schools, starting in fifth grade when I gave a speech to my class as part of a contest to receive a community service award. My early exposure, and every subsequent exposure, to public speaking is what has allowed me to walk into large rooms filled with people relatively unphased and to give compelling speeches that have (hopefully) conveyed a message with passion. But, if I had not started practicing public speaking early on, I would be considerably lousy at it.
Consider the student who has not engaged in any of these extracurriculars (the majority of students). How would they have improved at public speaking? Through presentation opportunities offered via their academic classes. Unfortunately, it is the standard to see teachers grade a student based on the information they are presenting as opposed to how compelling of a speaker they are or how thought-provoking and entertaining their presentation is. I find tremendous fault with this method of grading. If a student, when speaking, cannot draw in their audience and convince them why the subject matter is important, then the point of giving a presentation in the first place is pointless; they could simply write an essay or make an infographic. The most important part of a presentation should be in the delivery. In my opinion, the lack of emphasis on public speaking is exactly why 74% of all people allegedly have a fear of it.
Let’s consider some of the benefits to public speaking as a skill. Great communicators exude confidence when speaking and that, in turn, establishes them as natural leaders and allows them to dominate their social environment in order to reach higher levels of success. In fact, confidence is listed by Forbes (among other sources) as one of the most desirable traits a company employee can have. Speaking of its impact in the workplace, good communication skills tend to increase the average income of a person by 10% and the probability of a promotion by 15%. The world is progressing towards more emotionally-detached methods of communication as our daily interactions become more and more digitized. As people click onto and away from media sources, the need for engaging content is tremendously high; communicators must be engaging when speaking in order to draw in potential customers and business partners. The way we interact with each other is changing, and it is paramount that we stay on pace.
Staying on pace means actively investing time into our own self-development in order to become better speakers. One of the things I like to do every so often is to have a prewritten phrase (for instance, “the dog was mad, so I said hi”) and try to come up with as many different ways to articulate that sentence as possible; listening to famous speeches from movies helps get the process rolling. This sort of activity can be done while driving, walking, and even showering. The key is to practice articulating phrases passionately when no one is watching so that you can provide that level of passion when everyone is watching. In regards to getting over the butterflies that come with speaking to large groups of people, increased exposure and personal confidence is the best way to go about it. This might seem conceited, but just before I begin a speech, I like to subconsciously convince myself into believing that I am the best speaker in the room giving one of the greatest speeches ever written, and it actually works to calm my nerves and focus my passion.
The next time you give a speech, instead of thinking about how scared you are, think of how powerful everyone’s attention on you makes you feel. With enough time and effort, you will become that amazing speaker you’ve always admired.
Zane Khader is a current senior (GHS ’20) at Greenwich High School who serves as the school’s student body president. For three years prior, Zane served as his grade’s class president, and he has been a part of the leadership of more than a dozen different clubs at the high school.