Of all the things that terrify people, the one at the top of the list for most is public speaking. So much so, in fact, that a lot of people would rather have a root canal than get up and give a speech to a group.
For anyone in a leadership position, though, being able to comfortably deliver a speech or talk to a group of people is an essential job skill. Leaders need to be able to communicate their ideas and plans, and the way to do this is by speaking to those you wish to lead or serve. The fear of speaking to a group deters many people from taking on roles of leadership, and hinders success when they do.
So common is the fear, and so essential the skill, that advice books and support groups abound. The Huffington Post has compiled a list of dozens of online articles giving public speaking tips. Most of us have heard of Toastmasters International, the organization that helps members develop communication skills in a friendly, low-pressure and sociable environment. Go to your public library and find the 808.5 shelf in the nonfiction section and you’ll find dozens of books on oratory and public speaking (PN4121 if your library uses LC Classification instead of Dewey).
Is being comfortable with effective public speaking a desired trait for Scouts and Scouters? Of course it is! Just think of all the times you, as a Scout leader, speak to a group. It could be explaining Cub Scouting and your den program to your new den parents, or talking about your den’s accomplishments at a pack meeting. It could be delivering the weekly Scoutmaster Minute at the end of troop meetings, or presenting your Wood Badge patrol’s project to the rest of the course participants.
I recall being nervous when it was my turn to give a presentation in my eleventh-grade political science class in high school. I didn’t let that stop me, though, for I was confident in what I had prepared and perfected my delivery ahead of time. I even threw in a bit of irony, which brought a chuckle from the class and gave me the confidence that I could actually do it.
As an adult, I didn’t often have an opportunity to speak in public, but joining the training and Roundtable staffs gave me a chance to improve my speaking ability. As I conducted classes and breakout sessions, I became more aware of the finer points of giving a presentation: staying on point, on time and on the audience. I would watch and listen to speakers I found interesting and captivating and observed their methods. As I had more opportunities to speak, I became even more comfortable and confident. I even volunteered to give Friends of Scouting presentations – a particularly difficult task in that it involves asking other people for money – but learned that by believing in your message, and considering the audience to be your friends, you can deliver a convincing and entertaining talk, and do so without being paralyzed with fear.
Leadership is one of the things our Scouts acquire as they move through the program. Having the skill and confidence to address the troop as senior patrol leader is not something that young people naturally possess. Many SPLs aren’t comfortable at first with this essential skill, but Scouting is all about developing youth, and in the course of their tenure, their speaking skills will improve.
Working with Scouts, we often take this course of development for granted, so I’m often amazed at how most young people convey themselves. I was at an event recently where a high school senior was asked to read a passage from literature as part of the program. Her delivery was not very expressive and her pacing was way too quick. She just rattled off the words seemingly without really thinking about what she was saying. Another presentation gaffe I witnessed not too long ago was actually from a group of college honor students. They may have had outstanding academic credentials, but their ability to convey the message to the group left a lot to be desired.
My two sons are both comfortable making a presentation to a group. It may be partially because both their parents are professionals in the communications field, but they’ve had an opportunity to practice and learn during their time in Scouting.
As with most subject areas, there’s an “app” for that – or a merit badge, to put it in Scouting terms. We’re all familiar with the Communication merit badge. It’s Eagle required – for good reason – and it’s also one that most Scouts find among the toughest to earn. Among its requirements is to give a five-minute speech to a group. It doesn’t have to be perfect; its purpose is to introduce the Scout to the experience of speaking in public. For those who wish to pursue the skill further, there’s the Public Speaking merit badge, which requires several presentations before a group, including one where the Scout is given a topic and asked to come up with a short presentation on the spot. It helps to hone the ability to organize one’s thoughts quickly and speak with confidence.
Scouting also gives adults the opportunity for instruction and practice in presentation methods and techniques. You may wish to attend a Trainer’s EDGE course the next time it’s offered. While it’s aimed at those who train other Scouters and youth, it’s valuable communication skills development for any Scouter. And, like Wood Badge, it will give you skills you can take back to your job and personal life.
So don’t be afraid! The fear of public speaking is all in your head. Conquer your fear and unleash your leadership potential. You may even grow to enjoy getting up in front and captivating an audience with your message!
A couple more resources:
- It’s Your Career: Resolve to Conquer your Fear of Speaking by leadership and management guru Art Petty
- Ten Tips for Conquering Public Speaking Nerves by Robin Kermode in Management Today
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