We all know the proverbial story of the well-liked “C” student, with a big personality, returning to his or her high school reunion as a millionaire while the “A” student has yet to achieve up to his or her promise. I can tell you for a fact that in most cases this does not pan out; the “A” student usually does very well in life as well. But why ruin a good story? This story is often repeated because it illustrates something we all know to be true: that qualities such as friendliness, empathy, interest in others, and sociability play a large role in determining success.
The reality is that the intense focus on academics in school can lead us to overlook skills such a public speaking. We end up believing that our children are just naturally outgoing and comfortable in front of crowds or that they are introverts and will never be able to make their message heard in a crowd. The fact is that public speaking can be taught, and with a little creative parenting, there are a number of ways you can help your child to be a future public speaker. Some of the easiest ways to encourage your child to be comfortable in front of crowds are found in the performing arts. Each year, there are numerous youth theater productions and youth orchestral performances. Many are at your school. When offered the opportunity, encourage (push) your child into exploring chorus, band, or drama. Even a role in the chorus or a stint at third trombone can provide an excellent opportunity to make your child feel comfortable in front of an audience. Should you be more fortunate than me in this endeavor, you may even get to watch your child in a lead role or perform a solo. Every year, I watch students with amazement as they perform magnificently before audiences without thought of what they are accomplishing.
Encourage your child to be active in their place of worship or civic organization. Ask if they can read the lesson of the day, make announcements, or read the minutes. Is there a teaching role available in youth ministry? Does the place of worship sponsor a scout troop? If so, there are numerous leadership roles available that provide opportunities to speak in public.
Look at the extracurricular opportunities available at your school. Activities such as Harvard Model UN, forensics, and debate will offer invaluable opportunities for practice. Many times students do not know what these are or what they may involve, so you may need to go through the list with them and explain the team nature and how they represent their school. Sneaky parents might even trick their children into watching The Great Debaters starring Forrest Whitaker and Denzel Washington. As always, preview first. Rural Texas was not always hospitable to African- Americans in the fifties so there are a few tough scenes.
My point is that regardless of whether you have an “A” or “C” student, parents should strive to provide opportunities for their children to become comfortable addressing audiences in public situations. The first time you watch your child stand out in a crowd, you will know the extra work was worth it.
Christian J. Proctor, Ph.D.