“Come on, be honest… when you look at me, you must think: ‘Ha! Steve? He won’t do anything with his life. But I will.”

…and then one day, I was running a public speaking workshop in a school.

A teacher took me to one side beforehand.

“Watch out for Steve. You may get some challenging behaviour…”

Well, no kidding! Steve “challenged” me all day. The joker in the class, always mucking around, never taking things seriously. He wasn’t nasty, he was just…

Well, challenging.

Until the end of the day, when each boy gave a short speech: on a topic of their own choice.

Up steps Steve… Shabby jacket, scuffed shoes.

“When you look at me, you probably think I’m a joke.”

“But I’m not!”

“You probably think… dead end kid, probably end up in a gang.”

“But I won’t!”

“Come on, be honest… when you look at me, you must think: ‘Ha! Steve? He won’t do anything with his life.’”

But I WILL.”

If you could have seen the impact he had! Steve wasn’t perfect. Far from it.

But what he was… was honest.

We’ve long known the importance of healthy eating.

Good nutrition and a balanced diet promote physical, mental and emotional well-being.

What if the same were true for healthy speaking?

What if our approach to how we speak – to each other and to ourselves – were to yield physical, mental and emotional benefits every bit as vital?

I write these words on the very day that schools across the land open fully.

A matter of hours ago, our daughter (aged 9) and son (aged 7) skipped into their own primary school for the first time in months.

Were they excited? Certainly.

But a little guarded, too. After all, they’re not quite sure what to expect.

Fully reopening will involve, it seems, more than just school facilities.

It’ll involve hearts and minds too.

So, what are the ingredients for healthy speaking?

Well, it starts with setting the stage for a safe environment.

In my experience, this can be trickier than it sounds. It requires time, space and an environment that’s distinct from the normal day-to-day chat of a classroom.

For any person to truly open up and dig deep requires trust: absolute confidence that they can be vulnerable without being judged or viewed as in some way ‘weak’.

It took Steve the best part of six solid hours of public speaking activity (on a single day!) before he felt willing to embrace genuine emotional risk.

That’s fast.

For me, back in 2005, I’d been an active member of a public speaking club for two years (meeting for two evenings every month) before I took that same step.

That’s as an adult.

Secondly, stories are gold.

If a child has lived and breathed the experiences they’re relating, how much easier it is for them to find the words.

Too often, we assume that impactful speaking stems from well-researched rational content, meticulously scripted.

In practice, the reverse is often true. Emotional impact comes from a speaker digging deep in the moment and finding the words to relate simply what they know to be true.

Thirdly, encourage speakers and listeners to identify the underlying message, point or ‘moral of the story’. What meaning or ‘value’ can be drawn?

When asked for his top tip on effective public speaking, Bill Gove, 1st President of the U.S. National Speakers Association, replied:

“Make a point, tell a story. Or tell a story to make a point.”

In doing so, you equip children as speakers with a critically important, empowering life skill. You also open the door to a higher value audience experience.

For the speaker, this latter point can be nothing short of life-changing. To realise, perhaps for the first time, that one’s own story might be of genuine interest and value to other people?!

Now, that’s a big deal.

Steve’s classmates witnessed not only a remarkable display of honesty. They played an important part in triggering a seismic shift in a young boy’s confidence, self-esteem, and in his sense of what it might be possible to achieve.

For this reason, when invited to speak at TEDxLondon in 2017, I took as my topic: “Why public speaking should be taught in schools.”

Because when we speak, we not only tell the world who we are.

We tell ourselves, too.

I can think of no better reason for inspiring all our young people to speak.

To reaffirm who they really are.

And to speak healthily.

Simon Bucknall

Simon Bucknall is an award-winning speaker, coach and facilitator

“The Public Speaking Expert For More Inspiring Leaders”


View Simon’s TEDxLondon talk, ”Why Public Speaking Should Be Taught In Schools”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MP5FQ5AXcM&t=5s

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