The Power of Speech

Grade 7 students learned important public speaking skills in an expert-led workshop.

The Power of Speech

How long can a speaker hold an audience's attention? Twenty minutes? Four minutes? Ninety seconds? This was the range of answers offered by Grade 7 students to the professional speaker leading their class. ICS parent Mercedes H is an expert in public speaking and debate, and also trains others in those skills. She had volunteered to lead a workshop for Grade 7 students, all of whom are preparing for their public debates at the upcoming Model United Nations conference. Mercedes responded that 90 seconds to 20 minutes is well within the range that speakers can hold their audience's attention. She then proceeded to keep students fully engaged with 40 minutes of interactive discussion about how to master that skill.

Students already knew the basics of good public speaking – choose an interesting topic, be well prepared, and speak enthusiastically. This workshop allowed them to practice and observe finer points of the craft. Volunteers followed instructions to deliver a speech with specified mannerisms. Some used preferred speech-giving tactics and others, the opposite. This allowed the audience to witness speaking that was too fast, too quiet, emotionless, or delivered without eye contact. Students then practiced and experienced the same speech delivered powerfully and with clear diction and strong engagement. Students found this first-hand experience of the two styles very instructive.

The instructor also discussed the importance of tailoring a speech toward the audience. For example a strong, assertive debating style may be appropriate in a courtroom. But at the United Nations, a collaborative, persuasive and respectful style is necessary – not just in word choice but also in body language (e.g. gesturing with an open hand versus a pointed finger).

Mercedes wrapped up the session by discussing the importance of practising a speech. While the words themselves are of course crucial, the delivery is equally meaningful. A big part of that delivery is body language and poise. She shared her personal experience: "I have butterflies every single time I get up to speak." She added that poise hides nervousness and portrays confidence, and that confidence engages the audience. But poise only comes from practice.

Students left the workshop feeling energized and excited to practice these skills at their conference in April. All of us at ICS are thankful that we have such a supportive community of parents who are engaged with classes and willing to share their expertise.

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