I was the first of my siblings to enter the daunting world of public speaking. For me, it happened as it has happened to many others: my mother informed me that I would be doing Speech and Debate, and no amount of terror and pleading on my part could convince her otherwise. Of course, like so many before me, I soon fell in love with the activity and the deep friendships that were ripe to be formed in this environment.
I joined in mid-December, and in January headed off to the first tournament armed with a Lincoln-Douglas case and an After-Dinner Speech. As a beginner speaker thrown into the deep end, I was forced to learn quickly how to stop my knees from shaking, and how to think on the fly. Nowhere was this more evident than in the category of impromptu. Over a year, I learned how to go from fifth-and-below in impromptu to winning a tournament.
The secret? Stories.
The first roadblock to be conquered in speaking is how to get those pesky words to leave your mouth. How does a beginner speaker defeat nervousness? He learns to tell stories.
Let me ask you a question. Which is easier to tell? A list of statistical facts, or a story from your own life? What about a story from someone else’s life versus one from yours? Of all the ways to become comfortable while speaking, telling stories is the easiest. Part of what makes us so nervous in front of people is the fear that we will forget what we are supposed to say. Yet even if you forget the wording, telling a story is one of the most natural ways of speaking. It is far easier to remember detail and make it engaging, because it happened to you.
Not only does storytelling help a beginning speaker be more confident, it also helps him to fill time, particularly in impromptu. Often the first struggle with impromptu is how to fill five whole minutes. Rather than rambling about the topic, which I definitely have been guilty of, beginning speakers should practice coming up with at least one story, and giving details to make it engaging. This will help with both learning to maximize prep time, but also with learning to fill time more effectively.
Third, storytelling helps with one of the most important parts of public speaking: connecting to the audience. For beginning speakers, trying to draw in the audience is generally not the first thing on their mind. They are far more concerned with writing the speech itself, not blanking in the middle, and what tournament attire is the latest and greatest in homeschool fashion. Yet if they include stories from their own life in the speech, they can connect with the audience without even realizing it.
During my second year in Speech and Debate, I had five separate stories about dead fish ready and waiting. These stories may not have seemed deep or profound at first, but they had a point and they made the audience laugh and lean forward in their chairs. This past year, I have judged speeches as an alum, and have been far more interested and engaged when a competitor tells me a story from their own life. If the audience connects emotionally to your story in some way, they will be more interested and eager to listen to your arguments and conclusions.
Are you a new speaker this year, or a concerned parent trying to launch a reluctant competitor? Start with stories. Find some to laugh to, some to cry to, and learn to tell them well.
Anna will be teaching a beginner public speaking class for middle schoolers this fall through Lasting Impact. Please see this link for more details: https://lastingimpact.info/product/class7936/
Anna Fox participated in NCFCA for two years, qualifying to nationals in speech both years and qualifying and placing in LD her novice year. She is currently a literature major at Patrick Henry College, and has taught children of ages 2-15 for seven years.
Lasting Impact! is excited to meet the needs of many younger students – juniors, beginning, or novice. Speech and Debate is something you can start earlier, rather than waiting until high school. Our online classes and clubs have been engaging, interactive, and fun!! Why wait to develop confidence and speaking skills? Check out all of the Junior classes and clubs Lasting Impact! is offering…
- Beginner Public Speaking Class with Anna Fox
- Debate Readiness with Amy Eichholz
- Junior Speech Club with Ellen Neumann
- Order in the Court with Julie Romeo