It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who recognized so well the opportunity that public speech provides. Last week I had an opportunity to interview Linda Lingle, governor of Hawaii. I wanted to know how she views public speaking and how she prepares for her speeches. Before I even had the question out of my mouth she enthusiastically responded, “Public speaking is a privilege. I love public speaking because it is an opportunity to take something and share it.”
Isn’t that the truth?
To speak and be heard is one of our most basic needs and indeed a privilege. It is why anyone who has a message should strive to share it. But how can we practice our public speaking if our current work doesn’t offer many opportunities to give speeches? One way is to volunteer your services at civic organizations and to local schools. The Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, UNICO and AAUW frequently seek speakers to round out their regular meetings. By letting them know you are able and willing to talk about a hobby, a volunteer organization you are involved with or an expertise you have, you are likely to get invitations to share your information. You never know who you might inspire with your talk and you will no doubt improve your own communication skills in the process.
This summer I’m going to test-pilot a new assignment in my intro speech class. I believe that many people have been inspired by speakers throughout their lives. I’m going to have students create an oral history of a family member sharing the words of a speaker who especially inspired them. Think about it: what speaker have you ever heard that inspired you? When I graduated with my PhD from Penn State in 1999 the commencement speaker was David H. Monk, Dean of the College of Education. I distinctly remember him saying, “Whether or not you become a teacher, be a teacher. ” I loved that. By speaking in public, you could be the one who inspires next.