By Glenne Fucci, Regular ContributorAugust 13, 2015
Public speaking is the bane of many of our existences. We all know the feeling as we approach the podium, stage, or front of the class. We get up there, shaky and jittery, deliver a jumbled speech of stutters and “ums,” while mentally counting down the seconds until the misery is over. We finish, get some claps, maybe receive a few kind words of “you did great,” but are left with the feeling of embrassament.
Alas, inevitably some time later we are forced to get up in front of a crowd and deliver some kind of speech or presentation once again. The cycle of nerves seems never-ending, no matter how old, educated, and mature we are.
image via wintheroom.com
Last week I was visiting one of my best friends in Australia and she took me to a debate competition. I had no idea what it was, but she told me how fun it was to coach middle and high school girls in debating, so I figured it may be interesting to check out. At the competitions, the teams are made up of five girls and the competitors receive their debate topic only one hour before the debate begins. The girls have just that one hour to prepare their arguments, counterarguments, and reasoning before they get up in front of an audience and a judge to go head to head with the opposing team.
At the competition I attended, first up were Year 7’s who debated the merits of taxing addictive products that are harmful to health. Then came Year 10’s who argued over whether corporations should be permitted to sell personal data to third-party advertisers. Both topics seemed pretty complicated for their respective age groups, but all teams were pretty convincing.
Although I was impressed that some 11 and 15 year olds could convince me to take positions on issues that I had never really given much thought to, I was more impressed by these young girls’ ability to get up in front of a crowd and deliver a speech (that they knew would be attacked by the opposing team) so effortlessly. Yes, there were nerves, particularly among the younger girls, but they all succinctly and confidently delivered their arguments without breaking a sweat. I’m not sure about all of you, but when I was 11, I could barely string together a sentence when speaking in front of more than four people; so the fact that these girls were standing up in front of an audience and arguing about, at times, unpopular points, gave me a lot of hope for the next generation.
My friend told me that debate team is now one of them most competitively selected teams at her former school -- no longer are the top sports teams or theater productions getting the most auditioners, but rather the five-girl debate squads are the most sought after. Although sports,theater, and other extracurriculars do so many positive things for girls, so, too, does debating.And, in some ways, it’s arguable that it does more. Debating teaches the obvious skill of public speaking, a skill that’ll make the rest of your life infinitely less stressful. But more importantly, debating teaches confidence; it teaches girls how to take a position on an issue and stick to that position no matter whether it comes under attack. Debating allows girls to talk about important issues and “lean in” to future conversations, business meetings, and dinner discussions to share their perspective. Ultimately though, debating shows girls that they should not be afraid to speak their minds, to stand up for what they believe, and to have faith that they can persuade others to agree with them. These are powerful tools, tools that so many girls don’t know or don’t believe they have.
As a society, I think we need to encourage more girls to participate in, and more schools to offer, debating as an extracurricular activity. Even better, we should encourage more schools to incorporate debating into the classroom curriculum. When we can gain confidence in standing in front of a crowd and taking a position, incredible things can happen. We, girls, have so much to offer the world, but, especially in high school, we’re told that the clothes we wear, the people we date, and the parties we get invited to are what matters.
What if instead we were told that our ideas, our positions, our commitment to a particular issue define us? I think we would have many more confident girls heading out into the world if that were the case.
So, let’s go out there, think critically, speak our minds, and change the world one debate at a time!
How do you feel about public speaking? Have you ever participated in a debate? How did you feel afterwards? Tell us below!