Addressing an audience can be a scary experience. In fact, public speaking ranks high on the list of common fears, along with spiders, closed spaces and heights. Through a lively course devoted exclusively to the art of public speaking, all Class 9 students learn what it takes to become convincing, confident orators.
The five sections are organized by the peer groups the students were placed in at the beginning of the school year. During the fall and winter, the groups participated in weekly workshops run by the Class 12 Peer Leaders; the spring term is devoted to Public Speaking. Thus, the students know their fellow group members well, a valuable benefit.
“The groups trust each other already and feel comfortable being vulnerable together,” remarked Xiomara Hall, Director of Middle and Upper School Admissions, who teaches the class along with Samara Antolini, College Guidance Coordinator; Erica Corbin, Director of Community Life and Diversity; Brittany Dávila, Director of College Guidance; Luc Hotaling, Drama Department Head; and Martin Piñeiro, Director of Student Life.
“This class is a really good environment. Because it’s our peer group, we all know each other so it’s a lot easier,” commented a student in Ms. Antolini’s section. During a recent visit, her students were in the midst of giving “This I Believe” speeches, and their preparation and bravery were evident.
For this assignment, the students delivered impassioned remarks highlighting a personal concept or objective they deeply cherish. They had up to three minutes to make their points - and to move the audience with their words. One student spoke about believing in the power of trusting your gut when making important decisions. Another described her strong conviction that everything happens for a reason. A third shared her steadfast belief in the power of hope.
Regardless of the varied content of their speeches, the students all demonstrated hallmarks of competent public speaking: Unwavering voices, consistent eye contact, grounded feet and perfectly timed pauses. Throughout the presentations, the students were supportive of one another, offering encouragement and applause.
“What great improvement!” Ms. Antolini remarked after everyone had her turn. “I’m so proud of you.”
In Ms. Hall’s class, the students were giving five-minute presentations on their “expert” assignments, another project designed to calm nerves by building confidence and improving skills. In quick succession, the students took turns enlightening their classmates about a subject in which they had expertise, with the help of PowerPoint slides.
As the students spoke engagingly on topics from “A Guide to Croatia” to “How to Run a 5K Race,” they worked hard to pace themselves, project their voices, keep within the allotted time, and refrain from fidgeting or saying “um,” necessary competencies for successful public speakers. Several realized that a surprising amount of information could be imparted in the span of five minutes!
Following each presentation, the audience of “active listeners” suggested feedback in the form of a “compliment sandwich” – a piece of gentle advice (the filling) surrounded by two positive observations (the bread). “The students are learning how to give constructive criticism to each other,” explained Ms. Hall.
For the compliment sandwiches, the students praised their peers for being “really well prepared,” “knowledgeable” and “easy to understand,” while kindly recommending they “use a podium to avoid moving around” and “slow down a tiny bit.” The feedback helped the students improve their performances and feel more at ease. In other lessons, the students in each section wrote and delivered 90-second public service announcements and participated in captivating debates on a range of hot-button issues like the death penalty.
“Being informed, being confident and being able to hold the floor – these are important skills we hope for them to develop,” said Ms. Hall.
“This class challenged us in a good way,” remarked a student. “We learned to be confident about various topics we were not familiar with before.” Added another, “This class helped me take a deep breath and speak clearly.”
Indeed, speaking in front of an audience takes courage. With proud postures and compelling voices – honed through this instructive, supportive class -- these Class 9 students are emerging as eloquent individuals capable of expressing themselves through the power of the spoken word.
Browse photos from the classes below: