Dozens of students, faculty, parents and alumni began filing into the School Center: A record-breaking number of audience members for a Speaker Series Event. It was daunting yet exciting, and I was ready. In a few moments the crowd would be quieted and the next hour and a half of the Presidential Election panel discussion would be left in the hands of Christopher Fletcher (’17) and me.
Being able to moderate this event was an exciting experience. We were able to interact with journalists who are well established in their fields. Fletcher and I had prepared our questions, but we were also forced to think on the spot and create follow up questions and predict connections between different topics. I exercised and improved my public speaking skills, an area in which I believe the High School curriculum is lacking.
According to the 2015 High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE), when asked “How much has your school experience at this school contributed to: Acquiring skills for a job after completing high school?”, most students responded “rarely”. This constitutes as a 2.9/4 average, which is below the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) average of 3.22/4.
Speaking in front of a group of others is an invaluable skill for the future. No matter what professions students pursue, they will inevitably need to be able to successfully navigate speaking in front of dozens of colleagues and professionals in their field.
Currently, our curriculum doesn’t adequately allow for enough opportunities for students to practice public speaking. Giving a PowerPoint presentation in front of 16 students in a classroom isn’t even sufficient in preparing students for the large-scale presentations they may encounter in the future. However, students aren’t even being given that opportunity to give presentations in class, as the HSSSE survey results reflected that ASL falls below the NAIS average on frequency of class presentations.
In addition to classroom speaking exercises, students should be encouraged to participate in larger-scale events. Class meetings and, eventually, all-High School assemblies provide students with perfect opportunities to stand up and give presentations in front of a larger group of students and faculty.
The Speaker Series events, such as the Presidential Election panel discussion, are also great outlets for student participation. Student involvement should be two-fold. The organizers of these events should look to incorporate student voice, and students should additionally advocate for themselves and their skill-development, actively pursuing the opportunity to participate.
Two years ago there was a student-run TEDxASL event. The involvement of students in planning the event is commendable and a step in the right direction. However, only one of the speakers in the event was a student. This was a great opportunity for students to step up and speak about any area they are passionate about, yet, the student interest levels were exceedingly low.
I believe a great addition to the Speaker Series events would be a TEDx-style conference with solely student speakers. Encouraging students to share personal stories, applicable revelations from the classroom, or anything else that peaks their curiosity would provide students with the perfect platform to voice their thoughts.
The application-based Writer’s Seminar program provides students with opportunities to share their work in a public forum, and this is commendable as well. Programs like this should be more abundant.
Akin to reading and writing, public speaking is an essential skill that needs continuous practice in order to improve. If ASL does one thing outside of the classroom to prepare students for the future, it should be to actively encourage students to exercise their public speaking skills.