Confident speaking skills are crucial for a healthy society

At last the government is being told to teach people how to speak effectively. Without that skill, the integrity of civic society is undermined by a noisy minority.

In his report published today, Sir Jim Rose has called for a stronger focus on “formal language, including standard spoken English in the primary curriculum”. This is to be welcomed, and is long overdue.

As viewers of BBC Two’s The Speaker might have noted in recent weeks, the gains that come with being able to speak competently and confidently in public – and in a range of contexts – go far beyond “word poverty”. Participants came out with higher self-esteem, and able to engage more effectively both in the community and as consumers; both of which will make them more employable.

But these skills also enable the more effective use of important social devices: advocacy, negotiation, leadership.

Time and again, speaking in public comes close to the top of public fear surveys – right up there with concerns about health and well-being, family stability and financial security. How many people won’t take a lead in their residents’ association because they’re terrified of speaking in public? How many great engineers do not, for the same reason, rise to the leadership of their companies? How often does the “quiet” student go unnoticed in class because of a nervousness in “speaking out”? How many people are treated badly as consumers because they’re afraid to voice their complaints?

And, crucially, how many people would be more involved in civic and political life if they weren’t afraid of speaking in public?

People who readily voice their opinions are the ones who get heard. The more of us that feel able to speak up, the more that public spaces – be they classrooms or council chambers – are likely to be reclaimed from the noisy few.

The Citizenship Foundation, SpeakersBank and Speakers Trust are among those organisations currently working together to build support for a broader campaign on this issue: a National Campaign for Public Speaking.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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