Life is full of “if only” statements — wishes and regrets in hindsight. Possessing the skills and confidence to present in front of an audience, give a report, or succeed in an interview remains high on the “if only” list of many people.
Nearly every individual, whether student or accomplished professional, tells me that preparation for speaking and presenting in public was never addressed during their regular school curriculum. If that was the case in past decades, we can be sure that the current educational environment, with a stress on standardized testing, will not include time for class presentation, debate or activities devoted to improving speaking skills.
While most educators and certainly adults in professional fields involving personal interaction will endorse the importance of “speaking well,” this skill seems to be treated as a natural given that will develop organically, without explicit instruction or practice in a person’s education and early experience. Perhaps this growth develops spontaneously for some people, the way some are natural athletes, but my experience as a communications coach has generally proven otherwise.
Just as sports teams and athletes have coaches, so too, the majority of public speakers have speaking coaches. Actors utilize drama, voice and accent coaches, while politicians and other public speakers have numerous advisors and “coaches.” Every candidate in a public forum has been assisted by a team that includes a speaking coach. Some gifted orators stand out among the crowd — Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy in recent times. A few are naturally gifted, but most have worked on developing their speaking skills. We applaud the ones who seem to speak particularly well, even if we don’t know exactly how they accomplish this task — and we recognize the ones who don’t, especially in spontaneous situations.
Is there hope that schools will incorporate speaking skills (or what used to be called “elocution”) as a necessary skill within the curriculum? Based on the thrust toward fulfilling a mandate for what are considered “Common Core” requirements, it’s clear that instruction and practice for speaking well will not make it into the lesson plan.
But adolescents and adults can develop strong speaking skills and confidence as communicators by learning the critical principles for clear, well-articulated speech, as well as the tools for verbal expression. Training at an early age as part of the educational curriculum would be the best time to develop these skills but if this isn’t possible, then intervention at any age is the key to developing the strategies and confidence to be an effective speaker.
Check back soon for more articles on effective speaking, speech pathology, writing and executive function skills.