According to a Washington Post article from 2014, the biggest phobia that Americans have is public speaking, yet there are many times in life that we find ourselves confronted with the need to speak before a group.
As children and teens, there are class presentations, oral reports, and college interviews. As adults, work may include client presentations, employee reviews, or speaking with the press. Community leadership roles require speaking to the group you lead—volunteer committees, local businesses, residents, or activist groups. Even life events such as giving the best man speech at a wedding or the eulogy at a funeral mean speaking in front of a crowd with confidence.
For many, the fear of public speaking could bring on a panic attack during their presentation. In order to protect themselves from anxiety and embarrassment, people avoid public speaking, often passing up opportunities in life and career for alternatives that don’t require it. Or worse: sabotaging themselves by missing deadlines, arriving late, or other avoidance tactics in order to dodge a dreaded speech. There is obviously a great need for people to learn how to speak in public without fainting from anxiety or running for the hills.
Why are there so many adults who are brought to their trembling knees at the thought of speaking in public? They have not been taught the skills needed to master the task! The best time to learn how to become an effective public speaker is as a child. While the typical school curriculum offers some opportunities to speak publicly through class presentations and oral exams, they are not enough for most kids to conquer their fears of public speaking, learn all the skills needed, and move forward with confidence.
Acting is a very effective way for children to learn how to get up in front of a crowd and speak eloquently. You won’t need a Dale Carnegie class in public speaking as an adult if you grow up in the performing arts! Here are three skills kids will gain that teach them to master public speaking:
1. Preparation. Performers need to prepare monologues, songs, and dialogue. They study and memorize their parts, getting so familiar with them that they don’t have to worry about what to say. This is a good practice when it comes to speeches and presentations given in other circumstances. If you are prepared and know what you plan on saying, you will able to think about other things while you stand in front of an audience.
2. Practice. Once a young performer knows his lines, he can get out of his head and bring the message to life. Whether you are using your smartphone to record and review or have other people in front of you, you need to practice out loud. Learning to control your breathing, pacing, articulation, projection, facial expressions, and body language is all a matter of practice. These skills can be learned and incorporated into your way of being eventually. Rather than feeling shaky and weak, practicing these skills empowers you to take back control of your body and voice. Over time, young performers can practice with bigger groups of people until they are unfazed by the number of people before them.
3. Connection. Kids who are just fine talking with individuals or small groups already know one aspect of how to talk with large groups without fear: connection. For some reason, when the number of people gets bigger, people tend to lose that connection. Acting teaches you how to connect with your fellow performers and the material. This translates into speaking publicly in front of a live audience. Instead of acting with a partner, you might focus on someone in the front row. When we can see how our message affects another person, we get comfortable and focus on getting our message across to that person. This connection helps you relax and feel good. It is the key to sharing your ideas with the group, which is the point of speaking in public overall.
Learning how to speak publicly by studying the performing arts when you are young is a great way to master one of life’s greatest fears and become a confident, effective adult and leader. Ultimately, this sets kids up for success every time they are confronted with a need to speak in front of a group in school, college, work, and life. They may even learn to love it!
Master your craft, empower yourself, and enjoy the journey.
This article is reposted here with permission from Backstage.com.