Fourth and fifth graders are learning how to give engaging presentations and speeches and participate in a public speaking contest, thanks to Toastmasters International, a nonprofit that teaches public speaking. These 10 and 11-year-olds are learning to tell stories and incorporate humor in their speeches. There’s a contest for grades 9-12 as well.
This is a great idea, but learning how to present needs to go beyond a contest. This should be a mandatory course in high school and college. Unfortunately, many entering the workforce are completely unprepared when it comes to giving presentations and speeches that don’t make you doze off.
Last year, a colleague and I were conducting presentation training for a client. One of the attendees said that he was told by a college professor that you always start off a presentation or a speech with a joke.
Well, the professor is wrong. You don’t start off with a joke. You can start off by telling a story that is relevant to your presentation or speech and which makes the audience laugh. But, a joke never works. It’s not your story, it’s not based on truth, and it sounds forced. Don’t tell a joke, but do tell a story. And, the story doesn’t have to be at the beginning of a presentation. It can be anywhere.
As an adjunct instructor at a local college, I make sure to teach my students presentation skills each semester. Most of my students are juniors and seniors and few, if any, have taken a course in public speaking.
High schools and colleges can also consider a course in stand-up comedy instead of traditional presentation training. Students will learn the same skills, if not more, such as storytelling, listening, engaging and reading an audience, and so forth. And, they’ll probably have more fun than a traditional presentation training class.
Whether it’s presentation training or stand-up comedy training, high school and college students need to be trained. If not, the workforce will have to wait until the fourth and fifth graders grow up.
Did you ever take a public speaking course in school? If so, was it helpful or a waste of time?