Despite an AACU survey released in August listing “good speaking skills” as the top quality employers are seeking, most schools don’t teach oral communication — and when they do, they tend to focus only on academic scenarios rather than teaching the type of communication skills required in most workplace situations, Education Week reports.
Many schools don’t focus on oral communications because they are not part of required state testing, but these skills are needed more than ever because the workplace demands them, the increase in technology robs students of many opportunities to practice face-to-face communication skills, and practicing them reinforces other skills such as critical thinking, civil discourse and non-verbal communication skills.
To fill the void, some larger employers, such as DTE Energy in Detroit, are adding instruction in oral communication for their high school interns, including instruction in giving short, 60-second elevator speeches about themselves.
Employers are looking for people who know how to communicate and how to connect with others in a variety of situations. Oral communication has always been important, and today, as in the past, it is the ultimate test of leadership skills in most situations. Good oral communication is what wins elections, earns top spots at corporations, and separates the ordinary from the extraordinary. Even the ideas of the smartest person alive won’t receive the recognition they deserve unless communicated effectively — and that communication is likely to occur in a public speaking scenario.
This skill, which used to be one of the main focuses of education in classical times, is now slipping away as students live in a culture where they barely communicate with anyone verbally at all. Schools need to create situations where students are exposed to the oral communication skills that will be required of them in the workplace. These scenarios can be accomplished in regular classroom situations by requiring short impromptu speeches, or embedded as units in a class such as English. However, the skills are important enough to have an entire class devoted to it.
One reason public speaking may fall low on the priority list is because many people are afraid to speak in public. In fact, some students are demanding the right to avoid speaking in public because of “anxiety issues.” The problem with that is that glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is often cited as the top phobia for people. However, it is a phobia that can usually be overcome with a few tips and a lot of practice. Part of the purpose of education is to stretch students beyond their comfort zone. Giving them a skill that is the most sought-after by employers seems a great place to start.