“Public speaking” is a term that conjures up images of a large stage with a microphone, one person, an expectant audience, and all the challenges that go with such a scenario.
However, public speaking, in fact, really means speaking anytime and anywhere that is beyond conversation: presenting a project or proposal to a group, persuading a class that your idea is valuable, exhorting your teammates in a locker room pep talk, debating a position, making an announcement at School Meeting, and, yes, standing in front of an audience delivering a speech.
Recognizing that the ability to speak confidently and comfortably is a critical skill, Blair emphasizes public speaking in every aspect of life on campus. We dedicate energy and resources to our well-regarded public speaking program and teach students the practical techniques they need and increasingly desire to become effective public speakers. Young people who are able to think clearly, analyze and organize their thoughts persuasively, and present their ideas confidently are well-prepared to succeed in college and in their professional lives.
While public speaking has always been a part of the School’s program, the 2011 Strategic Plan’s emphasis on superior academic preparation brought new focus to effective public speaking as a hallmark of a Blair education. Developing our program has become an important initiative, funded and supported by the community—and the outcomes have been impressive.
Our teachers incorporate a variety of assignments into their classes and curricula to develop students’ public speaking skills.
As a result, beginning freshman year, these skills are continually taught and reinforced, making students aware of the hallmarks of effective speech and how they can improve the content, language, and delivery of their presentations. During the 2011-2012 school year, nearly all Blair courses included opportunities for public speaking.
We know, however, that it is not simply through formal presentations and speeches that students acquire public speaking skills; rather, it is through the encouragement they receive each day in the classroom and the expectation that they sharpen their analytical abilities, organize their thoughts, speak and listen effectively, and present cogent, persuasive arguments. These aspects of classroom life lead students to become better public speakers.
Blair students often first gain experience speaking in front of larger audiences at Monday and Friday School Meetings and at weekly Chapel and Vespers services.
Friday School Meeting is run entirely by the Senior Class Council and, over the course of their Blair careers, nearly all students will gain practice and confidence by speaking in this public setting.
Since 2002, Blair has hosted an annual senior class public speaking contest in May that has become a highly anticipated, campus-wide event. During the spring semester, seniors present speeches in their English classes, and the finalists speak before a full audience in Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts. Given the success of the senior contest, Blair began a similar contest in 2011 for the sophomore class, which is attended by the entire sophomore class as well as many others in the community.
In addition to these annual speech competitions, Blair students take part in local and regional activities where they further hone their public speaking skills: Model United Nations at Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania; Poetry Out Loud, a poetry recitation contest; and the Princeton Prize in Race Relations Symposium.
Blair’s focused approach on teaching effective public speaking has significantly impacted students and alumni, who report that their experience at Blair provided them with essential skills and practice, giving them the confidence to speak more openly and effectively in their college classrooms and in professional settings.
Indeed, as seniors prepare to graduate, they take part in exit-interviews with a faculty member who asks them to reflect back on their Blair experience. Many seniors note that their training in discourse and speaking—as challenging as it first seemed—was one of the qualities they came to appreciate most about their education at Blair.
In addition to the discussion and exchange of ideas that take place each day in the classroom, students also have many other opportunities to participate in public speaking:
Chapel and Vespers Talks
School Meeting Announcements
Class Council Speeches
Exhibition and Defense of Written Papers
Participation in Dramatic Productions
Presentations of Research and Lab Results in Math and Science Classes
Art, Theater and Photography Critiques
Filmed Practices and Reviews of Presentations
Student Panel Discussions