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Concentration on Declamation – Public Speaking Skills at Peck

Public speaking skills, one could argue, are perhaps the most valuable of all business assets. Consider the late Steve Jobs, speaking confidently and persuasively as he rolls out the newest iPhone. Contemplate the potential success or failure of a young entrepreneur pitching a make or break business plan to a boardroom full of angel investors. The medium is the message – which in this case means the presentation skills of the messenger are evaluated equally on par with the content.

At Peck, we recognize the imperative of public speaking prowess and we look to our students to challenge themselves and develop the talents needed to become not only more eloquent public speakers but also more confident in their ability to communicate thoughts, opinions, and dreams. For this reason, every Peck student takes a Public Speaking class during their sixth grade year.
As Daisy Savage, Head of Upper School and one of several instructors for the course explains in her syllabus, “During the course of this term, you will undoubtedly have moments of anxiety:  you will have a knot in your stomach as you prepare to take the ‘stage;’ you'll feel a little hot around the collar and dry around the lips.  It is, however, these very moments that you must learn to cherish. Part of being a student and a person is learning to take the right kind of risks -- school and life are no fun if you never push yourself beyond your limits and embrace your inner nerves.”

Embracing anxiety about public speaking is no small task. Among adults, “glossophobia,” or speech anxiety, is the most common fear across the globe. Yet, according to a survey cited in Forbes Magazine, 70% of employed Americans say presentation skills are critical to their success. Sadly, in the same survey, 20% of respondents said they would do almost anything to avoid giving a presentation, including pretending to be sick or asking a colleague to step in for them. With a curriculum tailored to foster responsible risk-taking and resiliency, we must offer students not only public speaking training, but opportunities to practice throughout their years at Peck.

Although public speaking opportunities and experiences are integrated into our students’ learning experience from the start, such as the Kindergarten play, reading at assemblies, and Lower School signature performances, formal opportunities to demonstrate oratory skills increase in Upper School. In this Grade 6 Public Speaking course, participants study the various ways to form and deliver a speech, write and deliver varieties of speeches, critique and analyze their classmates speeches, and work to help all members of the Peck community become better presenters. 

The rubric for the class includes expectations for volume, eye contact, pace, articulation, expression, posture, gestures, use of visual aids, organization of ideas, and accurate use of facts and personal anecdotes. The course culminates in a grade level speech competition where participants must write and deliver a speech from one of three categories: persuasive speech, illustration of a defining moment, or sharing a lifelong lesson. Students initially vote on their classmates’ speeches and the final six candidates present their works at an all-school assembly where they are then judged by a faculty panel.

Everyone has a story to tell, and Peck's Grade 6 Public Speaking class is one more opportunity where students can hone and spin their personal tales. The winner of the 2018 sixth grade public speaking contest was Barbara Caspersen, whose lifelong lesson involved capsizing in a sailboat during an intense competition with her nemesis.

Congratulations to the other five finalists, who presented their speeches at the assembly: Kathryn Cepeda, Zach Kalafer, Matthew Mastrangelo, Shivani Shah and John Whipple.

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