Out Of The Mouths Of Babes
Posted April 2, 2012on:
Friday night I went to a youth public speaking event. Sixth grade kids have spent the last 21 weeks working with two Toastmasters on developing confident communication skills. This night was their final night and their chance to show off their skills to friends, teachers and parents.
These kids were all 10 or 11 years old and have been willingly learning public speaking skills that will be lifetime tools for success.
This was such an exciting event. The program was facilitated by two veteran adult Toastmasters who volunteered to work with these kids over the last five months. The kids learned how to deliver planned speeches, impromptu speeches and how to offer valuable feedback.
Toastmasters offers a program called Youth Leadership that is offered to high school students. That this program was offered to sixth grade students was so impressive.
I was invited to attend as an area leader in Toastmasters.
I was so impressed with what I saw on several levels. The kids were enthusiastic, proud, and supportive of each other. They were all dressed for success. The girls wore dresses or skirts, the boys dress shirts and ties!
The school encouraged and fostered this partnership with Toastmasters. The parents were obviously thrilled that their kids had developed such confidence. I knew this because several parents shared feedback at the end, and two said they wished they had this kind of program when they were this young. One mom got choked up with emotional pride.
I was not sure if I was going to be asked to say a few words or not at the event. I was prepared to if asked. As it turns out, there wasn’t time at the end, so I did not speak.
If I had, I probably would have stuttered, naturally or voluntarily, or mentioned something about stuttering. Would that have been appropriate? Maybe, maybe not.
One of the kids said something that struck a chord with me when she was evaluating (offering feedback) another kid who had delivered a prepared speech. All the kids had a speaking role.
This young girl said something like, “In Toastmasters, we know there is always room for improvement. I noticed that you seemed to stutter on a couple of words. Try not to do that next time.”
I tensed up as I heard that. I shouldn’t have, because it was a totally innocent comment made by an 11-year old girl who was offering feedback to another 11-year old girl. They were all nervous. And giving feedback is hard to do. You want to be positive, but you also want to give the speaker something they can take away and grow from for the next time they speak.
I found myself having an inner dialogue with my self. I thought, “wow, this kid is using the word stutter to connote something negative. We don’t want that. But what can I do?”
Then I thought, “well, if I have to say anything, and I stutter and wind up acknowledging that I stutter, that little girl might feel bad, so if I do have to speak, I hope I don’t stutter.”
Then I thought,” you idiot. This would be the perfect time to educate people quickly about stuttering. What if one of those kids actually stutters and no one knows, because like I did, the kid tries to hide it in school?”
Then I thought, “Stop talking to yourself, Pam. You are making too much of this. It’s not that big of a deal. You are taking yourself way too seriously.”
I was glad that they ran out of time and I was not asked to say anything on behalf of Toastmasters.
What do you think?