With more emphasis and higher marks awarded to VCE oral presentations in VCE English this year, public speaking skills are now more important than ever for Victorian students. Too often vague instructions are given to students:
- use eye contact
- reduce your note usage
- connect with the audience
- be confident
Valid instructions for a good oral presentation, but students are rarely taught exactly how to do this. The latent step to raise a student’s good speech to an excellent speech remains an enigma. What exactly is ‘confidence‘? Not the dictionary definition but a definition that allows students to follow a path toward confidence. With a multitude of elements that make up our confidence, the reality is, it’s not an easy skill to teach.
The same goes for ‘connecting to an audience‘, yes eye contact will definitely help but the skill of increasing eye contact and less note usage is more than just memorising a speech. Professional speakers take years to develop their craft, making the difficult look easy and natural. Students too will take time to evolve their speaking style, especially at a time of immense physical, mental and emotional growth. Identifying the benefits of engaging a specialist in communication skills will support the efforts of teaching staff to achieve the best student outcomes and identifies the school as committed to preparing students with 21st-century skills.
Are we expecting too much from students?
By the time a student has reached year 12 they have done many oral presentations but most still feel uncomfortable presenting and few are happy with the way they present. We can’t expect a year 12 student to automatically have great communication skills. Very few take the co-curricular opportunities afforded to them that develop their oral presentation skills. Without supportive guidance students who are not strong public speakers, will feel increased pressure, stronger speaking nerves, with the delivery of their speech letting them down.
High scores in English are essential for good ATAR scores. Equal opportunity to develop communication skills should be afforded to all students.
Schools extending communication development to students
I get very enthusiastic when contacted by schools, inviting me as a resource to develop their student’s communication skills.
Much work has been done in the last term working with Year 12 students, unpacking terms such as confidence, audience engagement and own the speaking area. We break down these concepts into manageable areas to develop. Existing speaking strengths identified we ‘turn up’ while distractions identified we ‘turn down’ until the student ‘gets the mix right’. An emphasis in the areas of how to reduce note usage, how to increase eye contact, how when writing a speech to avoid a shopping list style speech. Learning how to develop a speech into a mature exploration of the topic. By the end of the 75-minute incursions, students have professional speaking insights to apply to their next classroom oral and speaking beyond school.
Recently working in a Catholic Boys School in suburban Melbourne, students were highly engaged in the exercises to develop their communication skills. See below for the student feedback.