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Why We Still Need Public Speaking

Jordan Catapano

We are glutted with a flood of communication technology. From television, radio, mp3s, blogs, iPhones, Facebook, Twitter, and all other forms of electronic communication, we literally have an unceasing connection to the rest of the world. As good, modern educators, we seek to incorporate many of these mediums into our classrooms. Plus, we have the traditional communication technology systems as well: Books, chalk, small groups, and pen and paper. Even if we were to focus on teaching a few of these kinds of communication mediums, we would run out of time.

But there is one type of communication growing more and more absent from our curriculums. This particular skill – public speaking – has been marginalized to the periphery of many schools’ curriculums. While oratory was considered one of the greatest essentials in the Greek and Roman cultures, today’s modern era is bedazzled by the glut of information and communication technology and fails to recognize the enormous advantages public speaking can provide.

Very few students actually enjoy getting up in front of their classmates, checking if their flies are zipped, and sharing a speech with them. And very few students see the skills public speaking can endow them with. After all, isn’t that something only politicians or tour guides need? Isn’t public speaking the type of thing we don’t need any more since we have so much technology?

The answer to both questions is an unapologetic “No.” The truth is that public speaking is a skill that is different from the other types of communication we teach in our classes, and it is still highly relevant.

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How Public Speaking is Different

There are seven main categories of verbal communication that we tend to teach: Written (essays, magazines, etc.), electronic (emails, blogs, etc.), intrapersonal (thoughts, dreams, etc.), interpersonal (one-on-one communication), small group communication, entertainment (theatre, music, etc.), and public speaking.

Much of our efforts are put toward written, small group, and interpersonal communication, with a growing focus on electronic communication. However, if our goal as educators is to teach the whole student and equip them with experiences that train them how to communicate well with any given medium, then public speaking certainly requires attention.

One of the aspects of public communication that makes it such a practical skill to master is that it combines thoughtful writing with talented social interaction. It is both a piece of writing and a piece of performance. This demands that students take a wide array of information under consideration when writing, practicing and executing their speech.

Speeches, unlike other forms of communication, are live. They are speaking directly, in person, to their audience. And that audience is large. This additionally creates a situation where students have enormous opportunity to touch the hearts and lives of people right in front of them. What an awesome responsibility! Most homework students do is extremely private, shared only between them and the teacher. They go home and secretly do their homework, they return to school and submit their work to the teacher, the teacher goes home and grades the work privately and then quietly slides it back to the student. Speeches circumvent all of these student-to-teacher communications and instead allow students to personally, publically transmit their messages to one another.

Between the writing, the practice, the performance, and the connection made to listeners, public speaking demands a careful consideration of these skills. While students may focus on these skills independently through different types of instruction throughout the year, public speaking is one of the few areas that can successfully expose students to all of these simultaneously.

Public Speaking is Still Relevant

I often tell students that I feel bad for them if the first time they give their speech is in front of their classmates while being graded. Instead, I tell them, they should practice their speech multiple times at home. This way, when they do perform their speech at school, they would already be comfortable with giving it from the practice they’ve had.

This perspective applies to real life as well. I feel bad for students who have not had an opportunity to “practice” speeches in school. If the first time they give a speech is in a moment in their adult life when it really counts, then they are at a serious disadvantage. Speeches in school are, for one thing, a form of practice where students can grow more comfortable with the task prior to performing it “for real” as adults.

However, most students argue that they’re not going to be in careers where they need to publically speak. And they’re right. I also can’t teach them public speaking on the basis that they’ll all be best men/maids of honor in weddings or eulogists at loved ones’ funerals. There’s got to be more to public speaking than actually public speaking.

And there is. If you look at the specific skills that it teaches, public speaking holds a lot of merit for helping students get acquainted with the essentials of any live-communication setting. Will students need to stand up in front of mass audiences often? Probably not. But will they need to speak comfortably and confidently in front of others? Absolutely.

Public speaking is not just about preparing to speak to the masses. It’s about focusing on the communication essentials that often get overlooked. Eye contact, tone, volume, speed, inflection, gestures, and nervous tendencies are all part of the performance package. When students conscientiously practice how to control these factors of their communication, they will be more prone to leverage these components to their advantage in the future. And even just giving speeches a few times throughout a year does wonders for decreasing student nervousness and anxiety.

With the training and experience they obtain in high school, students will become more powerful communicators in all aspects of live communication. Whether they’re in front of a few hundred, a few dozen, or even just one or two people, they can apply the same set of communication skills to exhibit comfort and confidence.

When you combine the performance aspects of speeches with additional writing and rehearsal components, you have a powerful confluence of ingredients for instructing what truly effective communication is. Even though public speaking absolutely takes away from time spent learning about other important communication fields, it is absolutely essential that students obtain experience with it.

Do you think teaching public speaking is important? Or is it an outdated skill that should not hog attention the curriculum? Share your thoughts below in the comments!

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