Let’s make public speaking the next big thing in schools!

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I suffered from a phobia of public speaking for several decades before I discovered the way to change my mind. My fear started when I had a meltdown as I was giving a seminar at college. I didn’t finish the talk in front of my classmates and was sent for speech therapy. For the next decade, I avoided any occasion to speak in front of people – despite being an outgoing, sociable teacher who loved my job. The mere mention of speaking up in a meeting or assembly or even the arrival of a visitor in my lesson would send my stomach into knots and my brain into panic mode. I would avoid training events because I couldn’t face the moment when you have to introduce yourself. In the end, I decided I could avoid all of this pain and give it all up by having children.

During that time, bringing up two small babies, my husband experienced an unexpected panic attack at work when asked to speak in public. It led to a serious bout of anxiety and depression that impacted the rest of his life.  Meanwhile, even though I had avoided public speaking, I now found myself plagued with free floating anxiety that landed on other perceived threats like driving at night or answering phone calls. I eventually realised that evading public speaking was simply compounding my fears and that my comfort zone was shrinking. I decided to read everything I could about anxiety and how to overcome fears. I didn’t want to be bullied by anxiety any more so started a ten-year battle and journey. It led to success beyond my wildest dreams – I became an Advanced Skills Teacher, a Headteacher, author and trainer, who regularly speaks in public, hopefully inspiring others by communicating my passion for learning.

What that decade-long journey showed me is that many teachers have similar fears. They hide it well but the torment of those sleepless nights before training events or presentations can sap confidence and limit careers. I have come to realise that the energy we can get from becoming powerful communicators is not only useful for speaking at conferences or inspiring the staffroom – it can help teachers engage and entrance their classes so that we really can become the ‘change agents’ John Hattie identifies as the very best teachers.

We’ve all heard that 93% of our impact is due to tone and body language and only 7% due to the content. But how much training do teachers get to practice and improve their delivery, pace and tone and become irresistible to listen to? How many teachers hold themselves back from high-profile leadership roles because they experience a terror of speaking publicly?

Making an impact in the classroom and staffroom through outstanding presentation skills is a new course which not only deal directly with this fear but also gives ample opportunity to hone the skills of presentation, pitching and influencing that bring with them the confidence and self-belief we all need.  The course covers understanding and dealing with anxiety, developing the tone and body language to create confidence and how to put it into practice through a series of exercises and learning that reveal how to visualise success and set communication goals.

Developing strong public speaking skills will help teachers improve classroom practice, develop leadership skills and grow confidence and self-belief. Now, when teacher resilience and wellbeing are so needed in our schools, they are proving a popular Inset option. However, it is easy to underestimate the potential this type of training has for our students. People who attended public schools are vastly over-represented in politics, law and the top jobs in industry. Their self-confidence and belief are nurtured by school cultures where regular public speaking competitions, debating and presenting are highly valued and encouraged. Employers say our young people can find communicating in teams or even on the telephone, challenging when they start work. Can we help them be more work ready, more resilient and adaptable by putting improved communication skills at the heart of our school improvement priorities?

Building opportunities to get children delivering ‘Dragon’s Den’ pitches in their lessons was recently advocated by Sir Antony Seldon, who promoted ‘happiness’ as a priority in his school. Helping children’s learning by teaching each other, pitching their ideas, debating, presenting to parents and visitors and being confident about holding an audience is an excellent way to challenge and build resilience and life skills.

I am passionate about giving our teachers and our children public speaking skills because I know through personal experience how different it can make you feel to be able to speak up without fear. There will always be situations where you will be required to speak up, socially and professionally. So, instead of ignoring the majority who silently suffer, let’s give all our state teachers, and their students, the confidence to have a powerful voice and become effective communicators.

Article by Jackie Beere, former Headteacher, author, and trainer at Love Public Speaking.

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