“Come see the show! I guarantee you will never see a more awkward creature in all your life!” Everyone gathers around the side show, watching, waiting. What will this animal do that is claimed to be so embarrassing? The animal shuffles out onto the stage, all eyes on it. Gazing out into the crowd, the animal realizes that everyone is staring at him, waiting for him to make a move. This realization strikes him, turning his face red and clogging his throat. He flips through the papers in front of him, trying not to look ahead at his family, friends, or even strangers. All the encouragement given back stage has evaporated. Finally, he begins to speak, “Graduating Class of 2005, congratulations.” Never in all of his life has he felt so uncomfortable performing such a seemingly natural act. However, public speaking is a completely different animal than everyday speech.
Having to get up in front of a crowd, no matter its size, is intimidating. Very rarely does someone possess the natural ability to stand up, give an entire presentation, and sit back down without even breaking a sweat. This skill is critical in every level of higher education and in every career field. The corporate jungle demands not only that one is able to speak, but that one speaks well and with confidence. Often, a speaking act, an interview, will be used to judge the true ability of a job candidate.
Despite the importance of this skill, it is not stressed in grade school curriculum. Long division, the capital of Georgia (both the state and the country), and the first five books of the Bible were all drilled into my head throughout the first eight years of my schooling. Yet, never once in my high school or college years did I benefit from this information as much as I would have if my teacher had spent that time teaching me how to prepare a speech and deliver it. I was always afraid to speak in front of large groups and dreaded the days I had to present some two minute presentation to my class of thirty students. Imagine how I felt when my principle asked me to address my eighth grade graduating class, their families and friends, and the entire school faculty. I felt just like an animal on display, with everyone waiting for me to mess up and stumble over a word. I made it through my speech, but never wanted to deliver another speech again.
Unfortunately, my dream would not come true; high school held even more presentations and speeches. Thankfully there were classes that helped students like me overcome the fear of public speaking. These allowed me to gain confidence in my ability to speak, which in turn transferred confidence to my life and personality. So when my high school principle asked me to give a speech as I had four years earlier, I was much more willing and able to do so. My skills had evolved and now I felt like the main attraction, with everyone waiting eagerly for my next word.
If grade schools offered classes similar to those I had in high school, more students would enter high school ready to speak confidently. This confidence would help them speak up more in class and among their peers. It would prepare them for future education, when participation or class presentations make up a large portion of the final grade. Teaching students how to hone the skill of public speaking is, in the long run, a much more beneficial topic than multiplication tables. The students may not see the effects when they begin, but the results of years of practice will appear when they are pushed out onto the stage of life with the world as a crowd and only a few note cards in their hand.