Speaking in public is becoming a more sought after skill in many areas of life; such as in the workplace and in education too. This skill is increasingly being taught in one way or another. You can now access public speaking courses online and find the closest one to your area. In our university (Bangor University) we have POPPs classes where we put these skills into practice. We do a mixture of prepared and impromptu speeches which vary the skills we learn such as preparation and thinking on our feet. POPP’s is a big part of our grade in stats and can really benefit our overall grade if we put the effort into this part of the module. However, I do know that there is a big debate whether we should do POPP’s or not. I am going to try and give both sides of the argument and let you know what I think as I go along.
Like I briefly mentioned, POPP’s is worth a big part of our stats grade. It is worth 15% of a 30 credit module which means it can have a big impact on our overall grade for psychology. This does suggest how important the skills learnt in this class are. These skills include increased confidence, interpersonal skills and communication. By standing in front of an audience and speaking/performing repeatedly then your self-confidence will increase which can be beneficial in all aspects of life such as work or in personal relationships. Public speaking can help in work and your career right from the start; the interview. The interview is much like giving a speech about yourself and why you are suited for the job and what they would gain by hiring you. For this you need self-confidence which giving speeches regularly can improve. Therefore these aspects are all linked. There isn’t really a chance you can avoid speaking in public all your life. You may be asked to give a speech at a wedding or special occasion. Even when a man proposes there is usually an audience (well traditionally) which they would have to speak in front of. Key communication skills can also be learnt or enhanced through the practice of giving speeches. This is because you get chance to prepare for most speeches, therefore, you have the opportunity and time to think about what you want to say and phrase things better. Also when giving a speech there is usually an opportunity given to the audience to ask questions; this can help you improve how to think on your feet and deal with the unexpected. I personally think POPP’s is a beneficial part of our course and numerous skills can be learnt or perfected. In addition to this, our speeches are not graded. We are not cruelly judged on what we say, we are given advice. I think this really helps because it doesn’t matter if we do a rubbish speech because it isn’t severely marked (we simply get a mark if we do it and give it a go) but we do get pointers on how to improve which helps increase confidence and get the practice which is truly needed.
However, I do understand that POPP’s and public speaking is some peoples worst nightmares. Some people experience bad anxiety when thinking about giving a speech. These symptoms (for example sweating) can vary in degree. Emory University have indicated that 88% of people have social phobia. Social phobia is a fear of speaking in public. This shows that this fear is not uncommon and many people do get nervous when speaking in public so you are not alone in these feelings. Some people it is as simple as being scared of speaking in front of people or being judged or the fact that eye contact is required. Some people go completely blank no matter how much they prepare and practice their speech. I must admit that when I first gave a speech or gave a reading I was incredibly nervous and it was horrible and I just wanted it to end as quickly as possible. But now I sing regularly in front of an audience and I have given speeches on various occasions and I don’t really have a problem with giving a speech in POPP’s because the atmosphere is laid back and I know that it is all practice and will help me improve my skills. Another argument I have heard is that preparing a speech takes a long time and yes I agree. Writing a good speech can take a lot of time and practice but like I keep on saying the benefits definitely outweigh the costs. Many people fear that they do not have complete control over their speech due to unexpected questions which means they have to think on the spot as you cannot prepare for every possible question. Another argument (which I do not agree with) is that POPP’s is a waste of time. I understand that the people who are already confident in speaking in front of people don’t see the point but I think it is important that they realise that a lot of other people need the practice and experience to overcome their fears.
There has been a lot of research in this area in how to ‘cure’ people of their social phobia. The Lefkoe method is a common method involving 4 steps. These are:
- Identify the causes of the fear of speaking in public
- The client is then shown how to unlearn these fears they have already learnt
- Then discover how these fears have come about
- The final stage involves breaking the connection between these fears and events.
All in all these steps take approximately 3 – 4 hours and then you will be cured from your social phobia. These sessions last approx. 60 minutes and are done over the phone by a certified facilitator. The certified facilitators go through rigorous training ensuring consistent results are reached in consistent time. A change is said to be noticed after each session. However these sessions are quite expensive. $200 is to be paid before each session/appointment so you can spread the cost apart. There are many people who have reported great results with this method so it is questionable whether this money is worth it to overcome a long lasting fear. Go to this link to read more and see patients’ comments: http://www.speakingwithoutfear.com/ .
Anderson et al. conducted an experiment involving virtual exposure to reduce anxiety of speaking in public. They conducted 8 therapy sessions; 4 of these sessions were anxiety management and 4 were exposure therapy. In the exposure therapy sessions participants gave speeches to a virtual audience. All participants completed questionnaires about their anxiety before and after treatment. They also completed one 3 months later. Participants were asked to give a speech to a real audience before and after treatment and then completed their anxiety questionnaires. Result showed a reduction in anxiety levels on all self-report measures (pre and post treatment). This reduction was maintained on the follow up measures. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/da.20090/abstract).
There are also various other courses and clubs which can help reduce anxiety such as the toastmasters club. You can search for courses online as well. One website is: http://www.skillstudio.co.uk/public-speaking/?gclid=CNHS9efB364CFREPfAodLHz_ZQ. It is encouraging that there is so much help out there for people to improve this skill, as I have emphasised throughout this blog, it is a great skill to have and be incredibly useful in many aspects of life. I personally think POPP’s is a good thing and have found that many people benefit from these types of courses. To finish I would like to leave you with a quote from the Ohio State University extension: “Good public speakers are made, not born.”
Here are the other references I have used in this blog if you want to have a look: