My senior year in high school I did a senior project and it covered the basics of how to give a presentation. I did well; actually I scored the highest in my class on the rhetoric aspect. However I realized in college how ill-prepared I was when it came to public speaking and that is coming from someone that was majoring in Communication Studies. I then decided to join a student run organization at UNCG called the Speaking Center. I learned a long time ago if you want to get better at something, put yourself in a position to teach others. From there a whole new world of possibilities opened up. Since then a lot of years have come and gone and I am still learning. But here is what I know: I use public speaking every day. Not a day goes by that I’m not tapping into the skill set I began to learn at the Speaking Center.
The importance of public speaking goes beyond giving a speech. It starts and ends with being an effective communicator. Public speaking will play a role in your life both personally and professionally whether you want it to or not. Each day will yield client meetings, internal meetings, interviews, networking, performance reviews, etc. All of these have different audiences and purposes but they hinge on how well I can effectively communicate and articulate my or my client’s thoughts and goals.
There will be a lot of skills you’ll learn in school as you prepare for the next phase, whether you are entering college or the professional world. Public speaking will show up, ready or not. Think about it; we all experienced "Show and Tell" in Kindergarten. It’s been there the whole time. It will not go away anytime soon. If you prepare for it, you will stand out. Though many of us do this every day some don’t take the time to hone it, study it, or learn the art and finesse of it.
My kids are in grammar school at Caldwell Academy. Even at that level, they are beginning the first steps in public speaking and presentation. As I look ahead to how Caldwell prepares our children for the world in the Rhetoric School, I cannot wait to see my children develop this skill. I’m also hoping to impart some wisdom as the magic of being “Dad” begins to fade. But also knowing they will be years ahead of me is a great comfort.
Here are a few things I’ve noticed over the years that public speaking has taught me:
- Feedback – This is your ticket to anywhere. As you learn to take feedback you’ll begin to unravel the skill set to give it as well. This is a powerful way to communicate and one that few possess. Ask for it anytime you get a chance. I was once told “feedback is a gift, but you can choose how to unwrap it.” These words are very true.
- It’s everywhere – You will use this not just professionally but personally. Your relationship with Christ will lead you to opportunities to talk with others about faith. Our purpose is to share the love and hope of Christ in our own lives with others.
- Public speaking anxiety is real – Public speaking comes naturally to some, for me that was not the case. However no matter what you have learned, everyone experiences anxiety. It manifests differently with each person. For some it’s nervous energy, for others it may be excitement. A friend of mine had the latter - he realized that his joy and excitement to speak with others led him to talk too fast and didn’t communicate his joy the way he had intended.
- You’ll never master it – Much like our relationship with Christ, humility is front and center. There will always be room for improvement. You will have a bad experience occasionally, but seize the moment to turn it around by learning something new for the next opportunity.
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6