If you asked a large number of people that question, the most common answer might surprise you. Not a car accident or a health problem. The most common answer, as recorded in numerous surveys in a range of countries over many years, is – “speaking in public”! What really scares many people more than anything else is the thought of having to stand up and address a group. And the reason? Psychologists say that it’s because we all have a deep fear of embarrassing ourselves, of looking foolish in front of others. After all, who wants to look inadequate or appear not to be coping in front of other people?
This raises an interesting point because speaking in front of a group is exactly what most of us have to do at various times in our lives. Presenting an oral assessment task at school, making a speech at a friend’s party or wedding, accepting an award, making a business presentation as part of our work – for almost all of us, there will be times when we have to overcome our nerves and get to our feet to speak.
So, how do we overcome this fear of speaking? How do we develop the confidence to speak in public?
As with almost everything else in life, to become confident at something you have to do two things. First, learn the techniques involved. Find out how to do it. In the case of public speaking or debating, this involves learning about basic techniques like voice projection, stance, using notes and eye contact, as well as how to structure a well-written speech. Second, practise! You don’t become a good swimmer by learning the techniques without putting in some time in the pool. In the same way, you don’t become confident at speaking if you don’t take opportunities to speak to groups. The more you do it, the better you will become, the more your confidence will build and the more your fear of speaking will begin to diminish.
Our schools offer all students the chance to develop their speaking skills. Every school offers debating and public speaking opportunities as well as requiring students to prepare and deliver spoken assessment tasks. Teachers prepare students for this; take the chances offered and have a go. Parents, you may like to assist in – and learn from – your children’s experiences. And you may well be surprised by how easy it can become with just a bit of practice.
Photo: St Pius X High School debaters Jasmine Brown, Summer Harrison and Olga Scorer and teacher Greg Struck. Late last year the team won the Year 7 NSW Catholic Schools Debating Association state title.