You’re at the podium. You’ve gone over what you want to say in your head to the point that you could do it backwards and blindfolded. You’ve practiced so much that your family even knows your speech by heart and is getting a little annoyed with your impromptu performances in front of the mirror. But now the lights are bright, and the crowd is large and unfamiliar. All of a sudden you can’t remember what you wanted to say. Your mind has gone as blank as that bewildered look on your face, and you definitely can’t get any words to come out. Then the sweating begins, which isn’t helped by the fact that your heart is also beating out of your chest. By the time you are actually able to speak the audience is looking at you with a mix of horror and sympathy, hoping that this whole uncomfortable situation will be over as soon as possible for everyone. Suddenly you are jolted awake and realize that you were only having that dream again, the one where you have to speak in front of an entire audience full of people!
Hey… don’t feel bad. Most of us have had a similar dream. In fact, over 85 percent of American’s claim that their number one fear in life is speaking in front of large groups. Obviously, public speaking is a common source of stress for almost everyone. Because this is the case, many of us would like to avoid speaking in public like the plague. The only problem is that we often times don’t have that luxury. In most of today’s jobs, there is going to be some opportunity for speaking in front of a group. Whether we work alone or with large numbers of people, eventually we will need to speak in public to get certain tasks accomplished. If you ever aspire to a leadership or managerial role in the workplace, you can be certain you’ll need to speak to groups, large and small, to be successful.
O.K., so we’ve determined that public speaking is something that we are going to have to get used to, like it or not. What then? Well, I say the best way to develop yourself into a proficient public speaker is quite simple if you follow the three P’s: Practice, Practice, and more Practice. Public speaking is just like any thing else, in that the more you practice the better you’ll get. What is the best way to practice?
Plain and simple, go out and start speaking in public. In 4-H we have a public speaking program that helps young people develop public speaking skills beginning at an early age. The younger we can get kids to start speaking in public, the more confident and comfortable they will be in front of groups as they grow older. The 4-H presentation program allows youth to choose a topic they are interested in, research it, design the presentation, and present the information in front of an audience. This concept works well as young people are more likely to be comfortable speaking in front of groups about a topic they are knowledgeable about and one that interests them.
This month, Lee County 4-H’ers will begin putting together their public speaking presentations in preparation for 4-H County Activity Night. During this event, 4-H members will give their presentations in front of family, friends, and judges. The judges will provide helpful feedback to each of the presenters to prepare them for their next stop at the District Competition. Once they reach the district level, Lee County 4-H’ers will compete against young people from eighteen other counties, with the hopes of advancing to the State Competition in Raleigh held in mid-July during 4-H Congress. By developing these public speaking skills at such a young age, 4-H’ers are arming themselves with a valuable career skill that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Bill Stone is Extension Agent, 4-H Youth Development, for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.