IMAM: We need a public speaking requirement

A speech-focused class would fill an important unmet need

Under the College’s competency requirements, students are expected to complete a Second Writing Requirement, which is meant to help students refine and develop their skills in written communication. The fact that we have this requirement shows the University understands and recognizes the importance of having the ability to effectively communicate to one’s personal development. However, another skill currently overlooked by the College in the requirements it imposes on students is public speaking. In order to help students develop personally and better equip them to succeed professionally, the University should consider implementing an oral communication requirement into the College’s requirements.

Perhaps the most obvious benefit that would arise from a public speaking requirement is that it would better prepare students to successfully enter and strive in their professional lives during summers and after graduation. The ability to effectively communicate orally is well-known and often cited by employers as being one of the most important skills necessary for incoming and current employees to succeed, even across multiple fields. This claim is supported by the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ annual survey of employers to determine the top ten personal qualities and skills that employers seek, which consistently results in the “ability to communicate verbally with persons inside and outside of the organization” among the top responses.

The benefits of such a requirement also extend to one’s personal development. Even if you are able to obtain a job that requires little to no oral communication and keeps you glued to your desk all day, you will still need to convey your thoughts and needs to others, whether attempting to deal with a complex issue over the phone or delivering a toast at a wedding. By helping students effectively and confidently communicate their ideas, opinions and findings, students will be better able to trust and utilize their voice to influence others. Whether simply in terms of general confidence or a trait to help students become better leaders, both informally and in formal roles, this is a trait I think most would consider valuable enough to help students develop before leaving the University.

Now, some criticisms of this suggestion may come down to questioning the necessity of making learning this skill a requirement — why not simply offer more public speaking courses and allow those interested to pursue them? One reason for making this a requirement is how widespread the fear of public speak is. Public speaking consistently ranks at the top in surveys about our fears, often being named more than death. This causes concern that the people who avoid taking those classes may also be those who need it the most. Additionally, the alternative proposal that this skill simply be integrated into other classes, such as the ENWR requirement, would not allow many students to effectively develop this skill. On the other hand, a class devoted to teaching oral communication would create the opportunity for students to better tackle and improve their public speaking abilities by creating an environment that would allow them to witness and learn from others’ mistakes, in addition to their own.

Sadly, the University fails even in offering more courses regarding public speaking. However, there are surely students eager to develop this skill. The high demand of an oral communication workshop-style course offered by University alumnus Kurt Lockhart a couple years ago, as he put it, “speaks to the unmet need for public speaking education at the University.”

At the very least, the University should include more courses focused on the development of public speaking skills into its curriculum. Implementing an oral communication requirement into our curriculum would allow the University to better meet the needs of students and prepare them for life outside of the classroom and after their time here.

Alyssa Imam is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at a.imam@cavalierdaily.com.

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