Blue Island; Illinois — Imagine you’re on a stage with hundreds of eyes watching your every move and listening to your every word. They focus their eyes on you, just waiting for you to slip up. This scenario seems pretty nightmarish, but it happens to people every day.
Whether it be when giving a presentation for class or just taking part in a group discussion, the world’s number one fear of public speaking can sneak up on any of us at any given moment. However, there happens to be a plausible remedy to such a crippling issue: Speech and Debate.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. When people hear the words “speech and debate” they often think of some extremely boring activity where people just sit and talk about irrelevant topics. A total snoozefest if you will. But what many don’t know is that beyond actually being worlds of fun. This activity is a breeding ground for some of the most valuable skills a person can have: public speaking, time management, communication, persuasiveness, etc.
Through this, one can explore both their interpretative talents through acting and comedic events (prose, poetry, duet acting, etc.) and their more serious side with debate and public address events. Participants also learn the valuable skills of taking control of a room, being able to easily slide into a state of pure professionalism, and the power of charm.
Personally, Speech has truly brought out the extrovert in me! Since I’ve gone so many years having to talk in front of and meet new people weekly, I’ve grown to be very comfortable in my own skin. And while some may not consider that a skill, at my age it's increasingly hard to truly know who you are, but because of this activity I’ve been able to outgrow my shell and gain a strong sense of self.
I’ve done speech for all four years of high school and in my time I’ve competed in Dramatic Duet Acting, Original Oratory, Impromptu Speaking and a host of other events that have helped me gain a wide range of skills.
Crying on cue? Check. Sounding like a professional news broadcaster? Check. Giving a persuasive speech with supporting evidence after only two minutes of preparation? (This skill took a bit more time, but ultimately … ) Check! Not to mention, winning. A lot! But don’t just use my experience as a reference. Influential and beloved celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, and the late Chadwick Boseman serve as proof of how the skills gained through speech and debate can lead to great success later in life.
And even if someone does the activity and decides not to pursue a career related to their experience, it is still beneficial. For example, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson competed at the 1988 National Speech and Debate Tournament in Humorous Interpretation. Look where she is now!
Because of speech, I can talk to large groups of people without terrible fear. I can answer questions on the fly without stuttering over my words. I can tap into my innermost self and produce a performance loaded with drama, and so much more.
So, the next time you feel sweat dripping down your forehead at the thought of public speaking, consider speech and debate or an activity like it. And if you’re really interested in seeing what it’s all about, this summer the National Speech and Debate Tournament is being held in Phoenix, and, like every year, stellar performances will be uploaded in June.