Sweaty palms, shaky voice, blurred vision. This is the experience of students who have not been taught the skills necessary for public speaking. Every year students are assigned presentations in order to fulfill state education standards. However, there needs to be a stronger emphasis on a more robust curriculum to surpass the current standards in order to improve verbal communication skills.
Although public speaking is a portion of the school curriculum, interpersonal skills and becoming an effective public speaker are crucial for attaining jobs and maintaining relationships in the future. Having confidence in one’s ability to speak differentiates an individual from the rest of the crowd, as public speaking is a skill that every individual will need to use at some point in his or her life.
“I think there should be more emphasis on public speaking in class simply because no matter what career a person enters, they will need [that skill] in life,” senior Jonathan Mackris said. “It’s a skill that is used in nearly every career, especially in job interviews. Being able to speak well and fluently in front of an audience big or small can really help people go far in life.”
According to a survey taken by Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College, 60 percent of employers say that job applicants lack the necessary communication and interpersonal skills. Interviews with employers, presentations in front of customers and designating tasks are all actions that require public speaking skills in order to efficiently deliver a message.
Beyond the workplace, public speaking is applicable in life including giving a toast at a wedding or speaking about a friend who has passed away. If one is able to communicate with others through public speaking, one can better convey an opinion to a small group of people or an individual person. Practicing public speaking skills allows for a speaker to become comfortable with speaking in various situations and eases one’s anxiety and nervousness as one speaks in front of a group of people.
Senior Camila Vasquez is a member of the Palo Alto High School speech team and practices these skills at various tournaments. She believes that the benefits of public speaking go beyond participating in speaking in school and on the team.
“I don’t [just] think learning these skills can be applicable and useful,” Vasquez said. “I know that they can. In almost any profession that I can think of, public speaking plays some small role. Even an interview, while not actually public speaking, requires the poise and confidence needed to make a good speech. Knowing how to speak makes people confident in their everyday life. Almost any situation is public speaking on various levels. And being able to communicate with your peers usually is a good thing.”
Mackris has taken theater throughout high school, which has allowed him to develop his skills and increase his self-confidence in public speaking.
“Theater [has] been really helpful for me,” Mackris said. “I rarely get nervous for presentations anymore, and memorizing things is no longer a problem. It also helps build charisma because the more comfortable you are speaking in front of an audience, the easier it is to become more personable and entertaining while speaking.”
Not only does public speaking influence one’s verbal and nonverbal communication skills, but it also affects one’s ability to use emotion to persuade others and convey a certain perspective.
“Without question, Paly students would benefit from more training in public speaking,” performing arts teacher Kathleen Woods said. “Training in public speaking specifically, as well as training in theater, helps students develop a skill set to succeed in prepared presentations as well as interviewing, speaking persuasively both in the classroom and on the job and thinking on their feet in challenging situations.”
Throughout Wood’s years teaching, she has noted reflections of previous students and observed students applying public speaking skills beyond the classroom
“Many students are not receiving adequate experience or training in this area,” Woods said. “As with any discipline, there is a toolbox of skills that can be taught and learned and presentation skills are useful throughout a person’s life. Over the years, students have consistently shared with me how the skills they learn in theater [and] speech class help them present themselves with more confidence and ease in public speaking situations.”
A portion of public speaking includes thoroughly understanding the information given, applying it and expressing a specific interpretation to others.
“Other than just public speaking, the big thing is memorizing,” Mackris said. “In theater you spend a lot of time memorizing big chunks of text that you pretty much need to know word for word, or close enough. That skill has been so, so helpful in school, I really can’t stress it enough.”
Theater is a class that allows students to improve upon their public speaking skills. Student should not be limited to just theater as an option in order to improve these skills. Instead, there should be a class that is dedicated to allowing students to improve upon their verbal communication abilities and allows students to gain the appropriate confidence needed in order to equip students with a skill set that prepares them for the future.