Learning to Speak in Public

There is a well-known saying, “I can’t think of anything worse than having to speak in public.” This was never the case with me because I had my first speaking experiences at university in my third year, having to speak before my classmates and my instructor. For this quiet shy student, describing how to make or do something that I knew how to do well, it seemed an easy slide into my career as a teacher. So, because it was part of my training, I demonstrated how to mix and cut biscuits with a mirror positioned overhead so other students could follow the method used while I gave instructions.

I obtained my home economics degree and a permanent basic teacher’s certificate after other such performances. Then came practice teaching at the front of a full class of students in a Vancouver school where I had been assigned so-called, practice teaching, which is sometimes called a practicum. The following years provided plenty of practice in three different school districts, each class regulated by the sound of a bell that controlled the time when students left my classroom and another group trooped in.

A new Home

When we moved here from Nanaimo in 1991, my daily life changed from having assorted community volunteer responsibilities to choosing suitable fixtures, floor coverings, fabrics, wallpaper, colour schemes and paint for our new home, and creating its new garden setting.

My Promise

After all those years of timing my classroom presentations by the ringing of bells, I had made a promise to myself that as soon as we were settled, I would learn to develop an internal timer for knowing the length of a speech. At a gathering of businesswomen in the city soon after my arrival, I met members of International Training in Communication (ITC). They welcomed me to their next meeting and my long-held promise was under way.

ITC was my route for the next 10 years. Each meeting had an agenda and every person who spoke was allotted a time length. At my very first meeting my name was on the agenda with a one-minute time limit. The assignment was to stand and introduce myself to the group. Not a difficult step for me but for other new people who joined our group we could see the stress as it passed through their body. Some stuttered, some grew red in their face, some uttered their name and just sat down with 45 seconds left on the timer. It was the beauty of this group that each new member was encouraged to stand, and when they “had their butterflies flying in formation,” speak clearly stating what they had come to say.

By careful increments of difficulty each of us proceeded toward proficiency. As we were assigned longer presentations, members were eventually asked to make their first real speech. Time allowed for that was 5 to 8 minutes and all of the members were there to provide ‘feedback’ a much gentler way to “give evaluation.” We were encouraged to challenge ourselves and eventually I learned how to make longer presentations and give workshops, some of them using PowerPoint, complete with word outlines and pictures. It was such regular practice that allows me to make a good presentation within the time allowed.