The challenges of public speaking

Jake Keeley

You’d think there would be a direct correlation with writing and speaking however, that’s not the case. I can tell stories with my pen, but I cannot tell stories through my vocal cords. For whatever reason, the genetics of story telling did not pass from my father to me. Therefore, in an attempt to recondition myself, I have volunteered to give several presentations in the near future. Do I regret it? Certainly.

The main problem I have with public speaking is getting onto someone’s level. For one, it is hard to gauge how much a particular person, or group of people, knows about a subject. Unfortunately for me, I have a hard time reaching people at a lower level of understanding than I have.

The way my brain works, I either understand something or I don’t. Therefore, when someone does not understand something that I do, I have a hard time conveying the background mechanism as to why I understand what I do. On the other hand, when I am presenting to people who I assume know more than me (also known as the general population) I take a big spoonful of marbles and put them right into my mouth. Smart people frighten me. I was a smart person in high school, but as I get in to the working world I realize that I am not as smart as I once was in school.

Why am I boring you with my lack of public speaking skills? Because I shouldn’t have to do it, and nor should you. Sure some people will be required to speak in front of people regularly at their place of employment, but I will not. There are plenty of people who work independently in cubicles who send their work on to others, but will never speak on it.

The way I see it, public speaking is just another skill, and if you do not possess that skill, you should not be asked to feature that skill. I’m not asked to paint a picture, because I can’t paint, I don’t have that skill. They don’t ask people who can’t do statistics to do statistics, because they’re not good at statistics. In that same sense, I should not be asked to speak in public because I’m not good at it.

This is where I think professors are missing the target. All the time that people spend writing, preparing, and practicing oral presentations is essentially for nothing if you will never be asked or required to give an oral presentation in a professional setting. But even more agonizing to some students is the fact that they will be graded on the presentation.

All material presented could be perfectly accurate, however mispronouncing words, stumbling over sentences, or simply looking uneasy while speaking oftentimes results in a lower grade. This is even more strange to me when it is done within a group. The point of group work, or group projects is to emphasize everyone’s skills, and to de-emphasize everyone’s weaknesses. Doing so should bring out the best aspects of everyone’s work.

However, there is an unwritten, or sometimes written, rule that everyone has to do an equal part of everything. That’s not wise. Have the most artistic person do the part that requires artistic skills. Have the outgoing person present the project. Do not have the introvert present a quarter of the project just because that’s their “fair share.” I think it would benefit everyone to reevaluate the reasons we do things, especially as it pertains to this topic.