Learning To Speak Effectively

Written by Maren Schmidt

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Over the past few weeks we’ve been discussing tools for our children’s success in a future that we may have difficulty imagining.

We do know that there are timeless learning tools that have enabled humans to adapt to new challenges. We are in the middle of a decade of uncommon problems. Unfailing tools are needed.

Learning to speak effectively is a tool that was revered by the ancient Greeks, who in turn, taught oratorical skills to the Romans. Cicero (106–43 BC) is perhaps best known for his speeches and his teaching of others to speak publicly.

Speaking effectively brings with it the idea that you have something worth saying and worth someone’s time to listen. In today’s electron world of blogs, tweets, and social networking where seemingly trivial personal details are constantly expressed, our children are in danger of being inundated in waves of unimportant information, drowning in drivel.

Today it becomes evermore critical to be able to logically present your ideas in a clear and concise way that will inform, enlighten or persuade others.

First, you have we have a knowledge base of something meaningful to say.

Everyone is entitled to his opinion, but not every opinion is worth listening to. Celebrities are often asked for their opinions on subjects on which they have no expertise. A well-known actor questioned a reporter who wanted his opinion on the economy. “I’m an adult male who wears make-up, dresses in costumes, and pretends to be somebody else. Why would you want my opinion?” This celebrity realized he needed to earn the right to speak by being well informed, not just by being well known.

We also need to have an understanding of the underlying problem we are addressing.

Too many pundits and politicians go on and on in confusing ways never answering the question they have been asked. Before we can speak to an issue we need to ask a lot of questions to gather pertinent information, as well as have an empathetic understanding of the issue and the people affected.

Once we know our subject and the relevant issues surrounding that topic, we need to form a logical plan to speak to it.

Cicero taught a memory device of organizing a talk as if you were walking through various rooms of a house.

According to this technique, as you organize a talk, you mentally walk through the rooms in a specific order “placing” certain items in each room that will provide a mnemonic device for the points of the presentation. Cicero’s technique creates a logical process where the speaker can literally “walk” his audience though a thinking process to an orderly conclusion.

Learning to communicate our thoughts to others effectively begins with becoming knowledgeable.

Even a six-year-old can become an expert on some topic, for example, how to take care of goldfish. Even a six-year-old can ask questions of others about what they personally want to know about goldfish. Even a six-year-old can consult various sources—books, videos, websites and people—for information. Even a six-year-old can be guided to create a logical presentation of accumulated information.

Speaking effectively is a skill we need to help our children learn for the challenges they will face today and all of their tomorrows.


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