Last week I worked with a group of high school students that had put together a proposal for a bill they hoped would eventually be presented to city officials here in New York. Unfortunately, public speaking courses aren't available anymore in schools, which I find problematic. I was more than happy to help them prepare their speeches, and to my surprise, they were enthusiastic about getting some pointers. As nervous as they were, they were open to overcoming their fear of speaking in front of a crowd. I was impressed with how quickly they took direction and how passionately they spoke when presenting their ideas for new legislation.
The students' proposal involved using school funding to include life skills in their curriculum. These young adults recognized the need to learn more about handling their finances, time management, stress reduction, and mental health. They also realized the importance of communication and the impression our body language gives to others. So, one by one, each student began to pull their shoulders back, lift their heads and smile with confidence.
I also admired their teacher, Miss Lawerence, who told them she was very shy in school and still gets nervous when speaking to her class. However, she quickly reassured them that, with practice, they would overcome their anxiety as well. Her smile and energy were infectious, and it was easy to see that her students respected and loved her. She encouraged and supported her students, applauding each one when they finished their presentations.
As one classmate recited her part of the speech, I saw one student whisper to another. So I asked what did he want to say? He looked at me and said, "It's okay. It doesn't matter."
I asked again what did he want to say?
"Well, I think she should enunciate her words better."
I said, "You're right. She does. We're all in this together, and the more you help each other, the more you'll learn as well."
It was great to see how their focus honed in on what was working and what needed to be corrected. Simply paying attention to their words and how they were saying them shifted their mindset. It wasn't just words on paper; they began to connect with them emotionally. It was a game-changer.
The students for this project were under the direction of a young woman, Brianna, who guided them in the process of drafting their proposal. She emailed me to let me know the class's participation in the competition was well received by the audience. She said they spoke well and felt they had a good chance of being chosen to present their bill to city administrators. Of course, I can't wait to hear the results, but I was happy to know they did so well.
Quick update: As I was writing this article, Brianna called me to let me know that her students were chosen to speak to city legislatures and present their proposal! I'm so proud of them!
I look forward to more opportunities to help young adults develop their communication skills. Finding our voice may seem daunting, but once we discover it, we open up a world of endless possibilities.