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Unclassified Info: Public speaking as character builder

When I’m not spending my time inciting the ire of readers around the community, I have a relatively interesting day job in corporate America. Aside from the regular demands of the daily grind, the company is obsessive about the growth and development of its employees. For me personally, it means taking part in leadership forums, management seminars and tri-annual off-site meetings where I stand before my peers and present an original case study, which is graded on several criteria — speaking and communication skills being two of them.

Needless to say, standing before a group of people with nothing more than a series of prepared thoughts racing through one’s mind is something a lot of people avoid like the plague. According to Forbes magazine, speaking in public is among the top fears of adults and, “Tends to develop when we’re self-conscious adolescents,” according to Barbara Rothbaum of the Emory University School of Medicine.

Ultimately, the fear is not of the speaking itself but of the risk of public embarrassment. Admittedly, losing you place mid-stream in front of a group of peers or strangers is no fun. But it happens to everyone, so once you drop the notion of the perfect speech as the status quo, there is little to fear. Unless you are the type who sweats profusely under stress. That can be a real bummer.

So why am I bringing this up and what does it have to do with Glendale? My youngest daughter, Zoe, had her open house last week at R.D. White Elementary School. Aside from the opportunity to review her work folder and see her classroom up close, her teacher Mrs. Avedian, organized a truly inspiring demonstration of public speaking.


Each of her students was asked to play the part of a historic figure in a “living museum.” The students lined up in chronological order as statues, from Spanish conquistador to Gwen Stefani and beyond. Parents and family members were then asked to walk through the museum and press a paper button on the student/statue, who would then come to life and provide a brief speech about the life of the person they were portraying.

My daughter was a Native American woman. Her 90-second speech gave me a quick synopsis of her life, struggles and role in California history. Watching her deliver the speech carefully and conscientiously made me quite the proud papa, I am happy to report. I’m sure those sentiments were shared by every family member in the room towards their respective young public speakers.

As I wound through the snake-like aisle made by the desks, I heard speeches by Abraham Lincoln, Levi Strauss, Ansel Adams, Neil Armstrong, Katherine Hepburn and Martin Luther King to name but a few.

I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s story complete with his well-known accent and was likewise relieved the recent inglorious months of his life were absent from the presentation.


Overall, I was impressed by the presentation styles and confidence displayed by each and every student. Of particular interest to me was how many of them showed the maturity to make eye contact with their audience. While doing so may not have been a vital part of the overall lesson plan of communicating with confidence and clarity, it is nevertheless an important part of public speaking.

When I finished hearing every student, I congratulated Mrs. Avedian on the innovative assignment. If the experts are correct and we do develop our fear of public speaking when we are self-conscious adolescents, then getting kids to do more public speaking at an early age is a valuable lesson to be teaching.

With firsthand knowledge of how stressful it can be to speak before a group of strangers, I tip my hat to the students who fought through the butterflies and apprehensions. If I could offer one bit of advice from someone who has been in their shoes it would be this: Public speaking is a skill that will serve you well in life. It may be one of the key skills that make you stand out in a competitive world. Be confident, calm and slow down. And remember everyone gets nervous and it is OK to do so. It means you care about doing a good job.