A Public Speaking Crash Course for Teens Cultivating Confidence

Hi everyone! Glad to have you reading. This is Gloria Zearett and I’m a part of The Expressive Leaders Program at The Practice Space. This post is about my project, a short public speaking workshop for minority students. I hope that after reading this you’re encouraged to reflect on your relationship with public speaking, or just speaking in general! I also hope it encourages you to attend the workshop if you so chose!

Just to introduce myself, my name is Gloria. I’m a junior at El Cerrito High. Go Gauchos! When I’m not speaking in public (often) or simply not talking (less often), I’m usually in a dance class or choreographing a new piece. (Or doing homework let’s be honest.)

I’m an expressive leader because of my drive to create change from the ground up. I know it’s tempting to try and create change “once we get to the top,” but it’s equally as important to me to empower everyone around me, and I also see the importance of building community and hearing as many voices as possible as part of that.

There’s a lot of issues I’m passionate about addressing. However in predominantly white institutions, schools and workplaces an issue I frequently watch my peers encounter is silence. A shyness to answer a question for participation points or fear of going to office hours can be detrimental to students’ grades and overall comfort. A hard time reaching out to (or even just making) friends is difficult to deal with once other social and personal problems come into play.

My project revolves heavily around fixing this! Today, many societal privileges come with confidence. I hope to instill this confidence in my workshop participants, as well as educating them on the importance of their voice out loud, not just their thoughts or resilience.

I chose this project because I was a very quiet and shy kid, and communicating was really hard for me. Even as I started to grow out of my shell, stress or nerves would pull me back in. I have a lot of gratitude towards The Practice Space and the ECHS speech and debate team for finally getting me out! I personally really do see and feel the benefits of being more comfortable and confident speaking in front of anyone!

It was groundbreaking to me to find out just how formulaic confidence is. Smile, raise your eyebrows so you look awake, vary your tone and speed, mention people by name and add in a well placed chuckle here and there and you’re good to go! I was inspired by a lot of public speaking workshops, which are usually aimed at adults. I thought young people would benefit, especially if I could make the lesson somewhat of a crash course.

In many spaces I think quieter people are skipped over, and I know this needs to be changed. A Lot of people just need to be prodded with the right kindness however as a minority student this prodding can take harmful forms. Without the right type of kindness, or having faced the wrong kind of prodding, many minorities are discouraged from having discussions, making connections or even communicating their needs.

Shyness is too often dismissed, less voices in a room seen as easier for teachers and classes of students to handle. Many minority students consider themselves extroverts until entering a harsh environment, workspace or institution (1). Additionally, Asian and African American people have higher rates of social anxiety, especially influenced by fear of conforming to a stereotype when speaking publicly (2). “Shyness is (also quite) prevalent in young university students, who participate in few public speaking activities, who are afraid to speak in public, self-report speaking at low intensity and who are unable to use their hands naturally during public presentations.” (3)

As part of our project I will be running a short public speaking workshop, a chance for people to dip their toes into speaking comfortably!

To start this project I made an outline of my intentions and from there brainstormed a lesson plan. My next steps are mostly logistic, picking out dates, formats, time blocking etc, as well as writing out a lot of my material! A challenge throughout this process has been my own personal fear that I’ll sound snobby or pretentious during the workshop. (Fingers crossed we don’t come off this way.)

One surprising thing I have learned is just how much public speaking experiences have helped me in my normal life. My stress about making appointments, asking questions and communicating has definitely diminished (not disappeared, but that’s okay!)

As a result of this project, I hope people of all identities feel comfortable and confident speaking their truth, whether it be in casual conversation or in front of a crowd. 

This project and I would always appreciate support! If you’d be interested in hearing more about the project, attending, spreading the word, inviting a loved one to the workshop, guest speaking, or donating please feel free to the The Practice Space and they can put us in touch! 

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