This week I got to be a judge at our district's elementary public speaking contest. 26 brave elementary students from 9 different schools took to the stage and gave speeches on topics important to them. Subject material ran the gamut from traditional topics like the love of hockey through to unique topics such as Siderodromophobia - the fear of trains. What did not vary was the skill and confidence of the speakers. One by one each student stood before the microphone, made eye contact with the audience, and gave their speech.
Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is remarkably common. In fact, some experts estimate that as many as 75% people experience some level of anxiety regarding public speaking. Some even suggest the fear of public speaking outranks the fear of dying. The ability to speak out clearly and articulately is a very valuable 21st century skill. Forbes.com lists five reasons why overcoming a fear of public speaking can work to a person's advantage. Leadership, confidence, gaining trust, and out performing more timid competitors are all listed, but my favorite is the last reason cited - "Achieve Something Great!" One only had to see the smiles on the faces of the students as they completed their speeches and acknowledged the applause of the audience to know that they all felt that sense of achievement.
Its the nature of competitions that only a few can win, though many compete. It was mentioned at this year's contest that our Speech Competition has been going on for 34 years. I've been one of the judges for the past seven, and a parent of competitors for years before that, but this year's contingent of speakers was one of the best I've ever heard. Choosing a winner was almost impossible, with only the narrowest of margins separating the top speakers from the rest of the pack. In the end our judging panel declared a tie between two speakers; one girl and one boy.
The girl's speech was about the excitement and anxieties of making the transition to middle school. The boy spoke about all the things in the world that are awesome. One speech was well crafted, earnest and heartfelt. The other, equally well designed, was lighter, more amusing and made the audience smile. Both speakers engaged their audience and had people nodding in agreement, empathy and the memories of their own experiences. The fact that both came from the same school made their shared victory even sweeter, and their excitement and happiness over the win was fun to see. Being able to overcome their anxieties had been exciting and securing the win for both themselves and their school - well that was awesome!
It might be cliche to say but really, everyone who attended this year's competition was a winner. While a few students went home with medals or trophies, everyone benefits from the development of a cohort of courageous and competent students who able to confidently speak their minds.