Opinion: We ought to emphasize public speaking skills more

Vedika Khemani HM ’10 sums up the aim of many liberal arts colleges in a New York Times blog post as “mold[ing] their students into well-rounded, well-informed global citizens with a wide skill set.”

She argues that the “the ability to communicate effectively and work well on a team” has become a key necessity to succeed in today’s global economy.

With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that each of the 5Cs emphasizes the importance of public speaking in its general education requirements.

Pomona College requires the most of its students, mandating one “speaking-intensive” course be taken before graduation. The other 4Cs emphasize the importance of public speaking and assert that their general education requirements naturally foster “communication skills.”

Sometimes overlooked for more pre-professional styles of higher education, liberals arts colleges now have quantitative data upholding the importance of instilling public speaking skills in its students.

As such, other larger institutions should start paying attention to the types of well-rounded students that graduate from liberal arts colleges. Better yet, high schools ought to give students the exposure to speaking publicly in front of an audience.

Quantified Communications, an analytics platform led by Noah Zandan, conducted a study of over 100,000 presentations given by a wide range of professionals from the business world to the realm of politics.

His team found that the use of clear, concise language in corporate earnings calls leads to a 2.5 percent movement in the price of that company’s stock. In terms of engaging an audience, simply switching up 10 percent of the “volume, rate, and cadence” in one’s voice can greatly affect how closely an audience listens to and retains the message being expressed.

Furthermore, appearing more authentic to an audience allows a speaker to appear 1.3 times more trustworthy and persuasive.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities recently compiled research of hiring managers and found that they considered oral communication to be the most highly sought-after skill in the job market.  

The art of rhetoric takes many different forms, and as certainly evident from the 2016 presidential elections, those varying forms are appealing to different groups of people. Regardless of how one views his policies, President Trump’s signature brash rhetoric certainly tapped into the feelings of many in America.

Remarkably, many white working-class people in the rustbelt felt that Trump resonated with them, despite the fact that he never spent anything close to a day in their shoes. His unique, more simplistic style of speech gave people the impression that he was different from any other politician.

Research done by Carnegie Mellon University found that Trump often spoke at a level below that of a sixth grader and that his style of public speaking led other candidates to speak more simplistically as well. On the other side of the spectrum, the research found that Hillary Clinton often changed her style of speaking depending on her audience, “confirm[ing] the perception of [her] as a chameleon.”

Political rhetoric in the 2016 presidential election took a turn for the worse, regardless of political party. The reason for this could very well be that the average citizen today, who had not been exposed to public speaking skills in school, has become more susceptible to this more simplistic style of speech.

While some may make the argument that there is no ‘proper’ way to articulate the English language, there exists a certain style of speech, supported by the aforementioned study, that stands above the rest and has the greatest power to inform and persuade. While recent political candidates may have excelled in being relatable, this has resulted in a loss of respect of others in the political sphere due to perceived ignorance.

Obviously, as college students, our opportunities for encouraging public speaking in high schools may seem limited. That, though, does not stop many of us from volunteering as mentors and teaching assistants in local underprivileged high schools in an effort to improve study skills or test scores.

Schools that lack additional resources can have difficulty finding the time or money to devote toward public speaking. Whether it be through volunteering in these local schools or broader efforts, we ought to use this art we have learned here at the 5Cs and bring it out of our bubble.

Christopher Murdy PO ’22 is an intended international relations major from Lido Beach, NY. He has yet to be convinced West Coast beaches are better.

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