If you’ve been consistent in monitoring public speaking developments, you probably already heard the old reports about some students demanding that they not be forced to make class presentations. Their reason for the demand then was simple: they feel anxiety when they speak in class.
The demand did not fall on deaf ears, with some teachers expressing support for the students. Others, however, remained adamant about the need for students to enhance their public speaking skills. After all, according to them, it’s a requirement to do well in the workplace.
Although these events took place sometime in 2018, the truth is, the debate has not been resolved. One critical question remains: Should public speaking be mandatory in schools? Well, let’s try to answer that in this article by arguing for both sides.
Why Is Public Speaking Important In School?
The people who believe public speaking should be mandatory in school put forward many reasons for this. I mentioned one of their reasons: that it’s critical to the professional success of people, which I noted in more detail in the article, "Why Public Speaking Matters In The Workplace?". According to a Prezi survey reported by Forbes, 70% of Americans who are employed agree that presentation skills are critical to their success in the company.
Here are other reasons these advocates for public speaking think would make the case for making public speaking mandatory in schools:
It promotes expression: Public speaking is the act of expressing one’s ideas in public. And the act of expressing rather than repressing is a good thing. According to Thought Catalog, when you express, you’re a strong person. When you repress, well, you’re just making everything worse for you because all these pent-up emotions will just come crashing down in the end. Whether you’re stating emotions or ideas, what is clear is there is a correlation between expression and character improvement.
It helps boost confidence: The thing about public speaking is that it won’t always give you that much anxiety (unless you’ve been medically diagnosed with anxiety but we’ll get to this later). A child will naturally feel anxiety the first time they make a class presentation. But the next time around, they’ll feel less anxiety when they make another one. The third time around, they’ll feel even lesser anxiety. The fourth even less. In other words, in general, the more frequently they present in public, according to mandatory public speaking advocates, the more they get used to speaking in public. And the more they get used to speaking in public, the more confident they become as public speakers. That confidence can transcend other aspects of their lives.
It helps enhance social connections: For pro-mandatory public speaking people, public speaking enhances your, well, speaking in general. So, if students engage frequently in public speaking, they can enhance their speaking skills in general as well. That means they can communicate better with their peers and adults, too. The better they communicate, the better they can form social connections that can help build their character as individuals. For more detail on this, check out the article "What Is the Importance of Public Speaking In Everyday Life?"
It teaches them to face their fears: Students can learn that they need to face their fears head-on if public speaking is made mandatory. And for those arguing for mandatory public speaking, that’s basically teaching them a valuable life lesson. In life, after all, we all have to face our fears at one point if we want to achieve happiness and live with no regrets.
In other words, the argument for mandatory public speaking in schools has to do with how the act can actually help build a student’s character and ensure skills formation.
Why Public Speaking Should Not Be In Schools?
Now let’s look at the arguments that some use to make the case against mandatory public speaking in schools:
It makes anxiety worse: When a student feels anxious about public speaking, engaging in public speaking will only make it worse. When students feel trapped, they may engage in behavior that is no longer deemed acceptable in the adults’ eyes. For instance, they end up not attending classes where they have to speak in public or just drop them altogether.
Not all students want careers in public speaking: Schools are supposed to teach students valuable skills they’ll use when they get to the workplace. And the thing is, not all careers actually involve public speaking per se. A graphic designer, for instance, usually only stays in front of a computer and creates designs.
Those who make the case against public speaking note that public speaking is unnecessary and that it only worsens how students view school.
Should Public Speaking Be Mandatory In Schools? The Verdict
If you look at the arguments for and against public speaking, you’d have to agree with me that both sides actually make good points. However, based on all these arguments presented, I’d still have to choose the group that pushes for making public speaking mandatory in schools, but I propose some tweaks. Let me explain my verdict by countering the two main arguments put forward by people who don’t want public speaking to be mandatory.
So, it’s true that if you make people with anxiety do something that makes them anxious in the first place, their anxiety will only worsen. I think at this point, though, that we have to make a distinction between anxiety that’s normal and anxiety that’s a medical condition that has been diagnosed.
According to Healthline, there’s a difference between feeling anxious and having anxiety. People feel anxious because there’s a stressor that’s making them anxious. This type of anxiety is typically just short-term and goes away when the stressor goes away.
When people have anxiety, on the other hand, that feeling interferes with how they live their lives. It doesn’t simply go away and intervention is required.
That said, I agree that children who have diagnosed anxiety shouldn’t be required to do something that makes them even more anxious. Their anxiety, after all, is a medical condition. They need all the help they can get.
This shouldn’t apply in my opinion, however, to students who only FEEL anxious about public speaking. That anxiety is short-term. In fact, this anxiety can be addressed by public speaking anxiety management tips like the ones put forward by communication coach Alex Lyon in this video:
If any, I think these students should be made to face their fears of public speaking for character formation. I agree that this will teach them a critical life lesson. Students need to understand that in life, they need to face their fears head-on at some point and be brave.
Now let’s move on to that second point put forward by those against mandatory public speaking in schools.
I’ll be blunt. The argument that public speaking should not be made mandatory in class because it’s useless if you want to work in other industries is invalid, as it presupposes that public speaking is actually useless in those industries.
While it is true that some industries such as graphic design do not require public speaking as a skill per se, this skill is useful for people to get that job in the first place. Have you ever landed a job without actually being interviewed by a hiring manager or by a panel? I doubt you have. Interviews are a critical part of the hiring process. And interviews require public speaking skills.
Besides, even when you start working in those industries, public speaking skills also come in handy. Just think about it. Do you know anyone who’s a senior graphic designer, a graphic design company chief executive officer, or a president who never made presentations or spoke in public events before they were promoted? I’m sure you can’t think of anyone.
At one point or another, they had to make a major graphic design presentation before the boss or had to speak to members of their design team or even made a graphic design pitch to potential clients.
Public presentations are part and parcel of the workplace. And if you want to succeed in the workplace, you need to know how to speak in public.
Also, some companies require another round of interviews before promotion. You can’t be promoted to content marketing manager, for example, from the position of 'Writer' if you don’t pass an interview with, say, the company CEO or the president, or at least the supervising manager of the position you’d like to be promoted to.
In other words, even if not all students want careers in public speaking, they’d still have to learn those public speaking skills if they want to land a job in the industry they want in the first place and at one point climb the corporate ladder.
Should Public Speaking Be Mandatory in Schools: Final Thoughts
With all that said, I think public speaking is a great skill students should have. Public speaking skills are a necessity at work. They can help students land their ideal job and excel in what they do.
But more importantly, public speaking teaches character. If you help students face their fears as early as now (this, again, doesn’t apply to students who have anxiety. I think they need all the love and support at a critical moment in their lives), you help build their character for the better. You make them those strong and brave people they should be in life.
I think if we teach students public speaking, they’ll be prepared for the future in many ways.
For more resources to develop your public speaking skills while you are in the comforts of your own home, please check the articles Online Resources for Public Speaking and Where Can I Learn Public Speaking. If you would like to leverage the best presentation software for your next big speaking engagement please read the article 'Best Presentation Technology tools'.