Public Speaking – Why Are We So Scared?

I really enjoy public speaking.  I never realised I was actually in the minority in feeling this way until I was well into middle age.  I just assumed that everyone enjoyed sharing their opinions as much as I did!  As I became aware of how many adults fear standing up and speaking in front of others, I looked back over my experiences and tried to pinpoint why I did not fear it.  Thinking back, I realised that growing up in other countries and school systems where standing up in front of the class to speak was a regular occurrence, public speaking was the norm and not something to be feared.  
 
I had cause to think about this issue again recently when one London school, as part of their assessment process for entry into year three, asked prospective students to prepare a one minute talk on a subject of their choice to deliver in front of a group.  The shock and dismay this caused among parents surprised me.  While the general consensus was that this was too much pressure to place on such young children, I saw it as a great opportunity.
 
So why don’t we embrace public speaking in the UK and make it a normal part of every child’s day? Certainly, some secondary schools are placing a greater emphasis on activities such as debate to improve oracy skills.  Other programmes do reach down into primary age groups.  Of note is First Lego League, a STEM programme that I had the privilege of being involved in for many years.  Presenting the team’s ideas to judges is an integral part of this competition.  As a coach, I had the joy of watching shy children who felt they would be unable to stand up and speak become confident speakers, proud to share their ideas.  
 
However, while there are some excellent initiatives such as First LEGO League out there, not all children will have access to these types of programmes and nor should they have to take part in them to be able to develop these skills.  Focusing instead on developing oracy skills in all students from an early age so that they never have a chance to fear public speaking is a much more effective strategy.  
 
Public speaking is all about finding one’s voice and having the confidence to share it.  As an adult that feels this confidence, I can easily model and encourage this in children.  However, if you are an educator that fears public speaking, you may well avoid asking your students to find their voice as you imagine they share the same fears.  Instead, I urge you to find daily activities in your setting that encourage, normalise and give voice to your students, helping them to develop a life skill that will empower them where ever their future takes them. 

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