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SPEAKING IN PUBLIC / 2

It's Never Too... Early!

Should public speaking be a skill that schoolchildren are taught?

Should public speaking be a skill that schoolchildren are taught? Aegli Vafea, one of the participants in my recent “ADDRESS FOR SUCCESS™” public speaking workshop, definitely thinks so.

Aegli had her own first-hand experience of the positive effect of public speaking lessons in school when her 12-year old son Demetris, who is currently in Form 1 at the GC School of Careers, was given them as part of a project to help students gain good oracy skills. The school had identified a longstanding problem that needed a solution: the vast majority of its graduating students (Form 7) avoided applying to top-notch UK universities when they found out that an interview or oral exam would be part of the process. Even though they were the best in the school, the thought of having to verbally explain why they deserved a place at university was too much for them and they preferred to apply to institutions which did not require them to take an oral examination.

A Proverb to the Rescue

I love the wisdom of an old Chinese proverb, which states: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” The message I take from it is that it’s never too late to start on the things you want to accomplish. I have a feeling that the GC School of Careers has also been inspired by the same proverb, hence the introduction of Public Speaking from Form 1, some six years before the students might need it. This is a very wise move, given the fact that, in today’s connected world, it only takes the click of a button on a smartphone for anyone of any age to find themselves speaking to an audience via popular social media channels.

An Example Worth Following

Four years ago, The Independent wrote about a report confirming that the alumni of private schools still control politics and many top professions in the UK. One reason why those particular people are so successful in later life is, of course, their shared history, which gives them privileged networking connections. Another reason is that they all tend to be very confident and fluent public speakers.

In Cyprus, graduates from the best state schools are also likely to have those “privileged networking connections” but there is no reason why all Cypriot students – in state and private education – should not benefit from the public speaking skills that their counterparts at the GC School of Careers are gaining. All schools would do well to follow this example:

During their first term, Form 1 students (aged 12) are asked to prepare a spoken presentation on a particular topic as part of the English lesson. They are graded according to how well they perform. The students are encouraged to brainstorm and write down all their ideas and their teacher then helps them to whittle them down to the best ones. Next comes a difficult but essential part of the process: the students are asked to memorize their presentations, which means mirror time or camera time for the tech-savvy ones. As Aegli Vafea told me, they may spend hours going over their speech again and again as they try to ensure that it flows well, will keep their eventual audience interested and, of course, earn them high marks. Before the final presentation, all the students are marked twice by their teacher in order to have an indicative grade and to fine-tune their performance. Finally, they make their presentations, not only to the School Principal but in front of the 18-19 year-old Form 7 students too.

Aegli pointed out that, in certain lessons like Religious Studies and History, the top GC School of Careers students will only attain the highest marks if they have the confidence, determination and ability to stand in front of a full class and present their arguments

Employers around the world are united in their desire to find young people who can make clear presentations, work well in teams to solve problems and get things done. Excellent language and oracy skills are essential in today’s competitive world and it is never too early to start developing them. The ability to communicate and connect with people is becoming an increasingly essential requirement for success.

Remember the Chinese proverb I quoted earlier. It is certainly never too late to start something you wish to accomplish but it is never too early either. If we want to give young people the best possible chance to become successful adults, we should be developing their oracy skills now, rather than have them wondering later why we didn’t help them 20 years ago.

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For anybody interested, the next “ADDRESS FOR SUCCESS™” public speaking workshop will be take place on the 9th of May, 2018 at the prestigious Four Season’s Hotel in Limassol, Cyprus. To join please click here.