Conference feedback — public speaking


I'll continue to post about the wonderful feedback I got from participants at the IERG Conference this last week. (Note: If you're interested in our school, you'll want to consider coming to next summer's conference — held in Vancouver, B.C., the first few days of July, 2016.) The following are written comments I got after presenting our ideas about cultivating public speaking superpowers in our kids.

Public speaking

It might be interesting to have another perspective to public speaking… read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. There's a TED talk, too.

Ah, I've been wanting to read this book for years, and am now one step much closer! Thanks, anonymous wise commenter!

I'll say this for now: I think that getting all students skilled at public speaking would be even more useful for introverts than for extroverts. The typical extrovert can pick up public speaking abilities — and might even be prone to, just in the normal course of her life. The typical introvert, however, might rather be eaten by eels than stand in front of a crowd. And yet (as Susan Cain found out, once she rocked the TED stage) the benefits for being able to do so can be tremendous.

I should still, however do what our commenter suggested: re-think the whole question of public performance from the perspective of an introvert. (By the way, we endeavor to build our school on neurodiversity — extroverts and introverts; calm people and ADHD wall-crawlers; empaths and people on the autism spectrum. And there are a lot of anti-neurodiversity assumptions built even into progressive, "whole-child" education — such as that kids should always be working in teams.) We need to pursue this carefully.)

One-minute speeches on pre-determined topics & working up to impromptu speeches (pick out of a hat).

Yes! Let me re-state that more generally: we should work from a pre-designed speaking curriculum that starts easy (and fun), and only gradually builds in difficulty. Toastmasters has a children's division — Gavel Clubs. They start with games. I've been meaning to snoop around their curriculum — Lee, count on me to report back to you soon on what I find!

(Oh, by the way — it actually can be easier to work up to pre-planned speeches — the opposite of what our wonderful commenter suggested. Planning is stressful, and imagining yourself on the stage, even moreso. That's the way it works for most adults, anyhoo — I'll check to see if the same is true of kids.)

Will it include debate? drama? great speeches of the past? (e.g. Martin Luther King's "I Had a Dream")

See, this is why it was so worthwhile to float these ideas in front of clever people — yes, we should totally design debate and drama into this! And great historical speeches! (In fact, I think savoring great historical/literary speeches could be a good way for us to cultivate a culture of good speaking.)

Right now, I have no idea how to do this, but it's tucked away in the back of my mind. Lee?

Does helping each child become a good public speaker select against 'introvert' qualities (which can be very important) or would there not be any direct conflict… hmm...

Wow — wow. I'll take this question into my reading of Cain's book (and, what the heck, my re-watching of her TED talk, later today.)

How to resist powerful "beautiful" public speakers (e.g. Hitler and his future heirs).

Yeah — I like this! Arming oneself with rhetorical abilities helps us see through others' rhetorical abilities. "Defensive public speaking".

This next one was written in response to the last:

Should the world be run by people who can move a crowd...

Ah! If someone changes the world to make this no longer true, then I vow to consider taking public speaking out of the curriculum!

Dale Carnegie's program on public speaking might be a useful resource. Also Toastmasters for activity ideas?

I've just added Carnegie's book (Stand and Deliver) to my library queue! Thanks! And, as a proud Toastmaster (really, I believe in the power of anyone to become an amazing speaker because I'm in a Toastmasters group who routinely pulls this trick off), I'm excited to bring what we do to kids.

Love the idea of giving students life skills — this will definitely set them up for success.

Agreed! And "success" as defined a whole lotta different ways, way beyond the workplace. (I've become a much more confident person in the last few years, and I suspect that's due in large part to Toastmasters.)

No matter how many times you perform on a stage, there always seems to be a little fear when you step onto that stage...

This commenter is right — for most people, at least. (A few people really do seem to entirely lose their fear, but they're in the minority.) I overspoke when I presented, saying something like "students can lose all their fear". I'll try to stop saying things like that. The general idea, however, really is true, and powerfully so: we can make the horror of speaking (so bad it detracts from the speaking, even when it doesn't debilitate the speaker entirely) extinct, once and for all. — excellent unit with TED talks on public speaking.

I think the commenter is referring to this unit (I've just e-mailed the person I believe wrote that to make sure). I'll look into it!

In any case, this comment suggests two things to me —

  1. We can learn a lot about public speaking from TED talks — both speeches that are about public speaking, and all the other speeches. We can even learn from speeches that are done poorly — in fact, we might be able to learn more from poorly-done speeches! It suddenly strikes me that we should make a plan to bring lots of TED talks into the school week. I do my daily boring 7-minute workout (the link is to a NYTimes article) while watching a TED talk — we might similarly pair up something dull with that.)
  2. We should consider encouraging our teachers to make their lesson plans public, as this website allows them to do. Eventually I'd like to publish whole giant sets of what we teach in a special site that we give for free to the world — but in the interim, I wonder if we want to encourage teachers to do this for private money. It'd be a way to (1) get these lessons out to the world, and (2) get our teachers to polish their curriculum. If we do this, we'd need to explicitly work out the weird legal situation having to do with the ownership of the curriculum — it partially belongs to the school (because we'll be developing the broad strokes of it) and partially to the teacher (because they'll be refining and personalizing it). Anyhow, that's something to think about.

Do all students need to become public speakers?

Oh, a powerful question! I think that the limited answer is "no", and that the expansive answer is "yes".

No, not all students need to become public speakers in the professional sense. "Public speaker" is a particular job that one can put on a business card. There's a limited need for that sort of person.

But everyone can benefit from having the skills that being able to speak publicy brings. Public speaking brings confidence (at least to those who were scared of it before). It brings the power to clarify: to prune down a thicket of thoughts into a single message that anyone can follow. (It actually might do this better than writing, which can afford to be more complex than speaking.) It brings presentation skills: how can you shape your body to express certain emotions? How can you shape your voice? How can you connect, or disconnect, with your eyes? It even brings (or supports) one of the most powerful skills: story-telling.

It strikes me, actually, that all the skills in Egan's Mythic toolkit could be aided with students' ability to communicate verbally to a crowd.

Tomorrow, I'll share and respond to comments on our history curriculum!