Public speaking is routinely listed among the top three fears for humans. It’s right up there with death, and typically ranks higher than snakes and grizzly bears.
So, when we see teenagers like those at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science who recently competed, and placed, in the state mock trial competition, it’s important to realize the true gravity of what they have accomplished. More than that, we’d be remiss not to at least imagine how these students might use these skills to build future success.
When a high school student sees “Public Speaking” on his or her class schedule, said student — at least statistically — isn’t overcome with warm feelings, or excitement, about that academic option. To excel in such a class, you have to overcome anxiety, organize your thoughts, learn to present yourself in the most interesting light and often deliver at least one speech where you try to persuade your captive classmates on a subject.
Once this process is complete, however, you have a life skill — driven by confidence — that you can apply in job interviews, business presentations and volunteer opportunities in your community. In other words, just one semester of facing this fear can pay dividends over a lifetime, not only in professional life but in all sorts of interpersonal settings. As with learning a language, public speaking is a skill that must be practiced to be retained. Yet the value of overcoming that natural fear of speaking in a public speaking class is something that once conquered, endures.
When you look at what these MSMS students have done, though, it’s even more impressive. Not only have they learned the art of public speaking, overcoming whatever obstacles lay in their path for that, they took it to the next level. They’re learning to think on their feet, look at all sides of an argument, speak passionately and effectively for the side they choose and, most importantly, accept the possibility they may lose even if they do their best. We could all use a bit more of those skills.
There was a time when debate teams were as common in our schools as team sports. We would welcome a return to that.
In a world where we have ever increasing non-verbal avenues to express ourselves — especially considering websites like YouTube and social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter — it becomes even more important than ever to develop skills to do so effectively, through speaking and writing.
Though we applaud the success of the MSMS students, we do so with a bit of envy. They are acquiring early in life, skills that will prove to be valuable their entire life.