Reflections on being a Public Speaking Instructor

04 Apr Reflections on being a Public Speaking Instructor

One of the greatest honours of my life is being a Public Speaking Instructor.

Does that sound like an exaggeration? It isn’t.

When term begins I ask the question- who wants to be here? Only a few put up their hand. It is a required course for many programs at BCIT.  Most view the course as an unpleasant necessity, and some students are absolutely dreading it.  Some feel sick to their stomachs at the thought of speaking in front of a group of strangers and being critiqued. Others expect it will be boring to suffer through their classmates’ attempts at presenting. There may be one or two keen participants who are nervous, but are hopeful they can improve.  It’s a mix of emotions and attitudes, to be sure!

What no one suspects is that this course will not just be a box to tick off, or even simply a skill set they can acquire and add to their resume. This group of strangers will surprise each other, and themselves.

Sitting in the classroom, all have preconceived ideas about each other. On that first day, I know the students are making snap judgments of everyone in the room. It’s a great place for stereotyping. The demographics provide so many options!

At BCIT we have a lot of international students. One of the public speaking classes I teach is designated for students transitioning from the international program into the mainstream courses. The class is open to both students from this program and “regular” students- but even in “regular” classes at BCIT, it is typical to have at 5 or more first languages spoken. Imagine any ethnic stereotype- on that first day- we’ve got them all.

The students in my classes also come from all age groups- from millenials to baby boomers. Some have corporate backgrounds, others are changing careers from any number of fields, and still others may never have stepped foot in a post- secondary classroom before. Blue collar, white collar, different ways of speaking, different income levels- take your pick and sum them up by generation, class and position.

Then you add the psychographics. On the first day the extraverts make themselves known. Some are extremely comfortable with themselves and happy to be there, others are vocal about their displeasure. The introverts reveal themselves at different paces. Some cautiously begin to contribute while others seem totally disinterested. Then there are those that seem unlikely to have anything interesting to offer- their expressions are blank.  All of the students are united by one thing- they are silently judging everyone else!

But.

As we progress, they start to support one another. They learn to give and receive constructive feedback. They begin to trust that this is a safe space to practice, try it out, put themselves forward.

By the end of the 12 week course they are all blown away by each other. No one was what they first seemed. Each person is revealed to have a compelling story, a fascinating background, a struggle, aspirations, hidden talents, or unique perspectives. We see that many have endured loss, won battles, are starting brave new journeys, or have made important discoveries. Our eyes, hearts and minds are opened.

I have described this scenario like the students are the ones who start out judging- but as the instructor I do it each and every time- even though I should know better! It’s only now, having gone through this process umpteen times, that I at least have the awareness that my initial assessments are going to change. The student whom I wrote off as totally disengaged will wind up inspiring us all. That aggressive young woman shooting daggers from her eyes on day one will have us all crying when she shares her story in her final speech assignment. She’ll take extra time to thank me for the course, and stay in touch long after.

It’s a powerful thing, being able to speak about your goals and dreams, what you’ve overcome, or who you are.

Public speaking is something I can do- I’ve been teaching and speaking in front of audiences for almost twenty years- but it still takes courage, effort and practice! Providing the space for others to become good at this important skill is incredibly rewarding.  I am the guide and the facilitator, but it is the students who do the work- the individuals who are willing to stand up and own their stories, practice their pitch, and share their expertise. They are what make the class such a great experience.

What a privilege to be part of!  It’s the kind of job that, if I won the lottery, I might still show up for.

For reasons why you should take a public speaking course to promote your business, check out my blog post here.

Need help with public speaking or presenting? I offer workshops and one on one coaching. I’d love to hear from you!