As a primary school pupil, the sum total of my public-speaking activity was standing up in front of the class and talking about my favourite book.
I didn’t consider the merits of the exercise: it seemed like an arbitrary task and one that had been designed purely to make me nervous and uncomfortable. Presenting my thoughts on – and knowledge of – a subject to my peers in a classroom was daunting, but I do now appreciate the value of the exercise.
At Young Enterprise Scotland, we make young people aware of the value of verbal communication and encourage them to take part in activities that help develop their skills in presenting and public speaking, at school and beyond.
These tasks aren’t tests and are not designed to induce nerves: they give young people the flexibility to talk passionately about their enterprise projects and give examples to show what they’ve learned.
At the Circular Economy Showcase event in November at Scotland’s national stadium, Hampden, pupils from 19 primary schools across Glasgow delivered presentations about their enterprise projects in front of their contemporaries, teachers and a panel of judges.
These youngsters, all in primaries 5-7 – aged about 9-11 – took to the stage with so much dynamism and confidence.
Excelling in that type of task at that age is a huge achievement, especially as these youngsters put themselves forward for the task. Each one of the young entrepreneurs wanted to stand up and talk passionately about their enterprise projects.
We also recently saw entrepreneurial youngsters from two Scottish secondary schools take to a high-profile stage to talk about their achievements in another programme. Young people from Kirkwall Grammar School in Orkney and Northfield Academy in Aberdeen presented at an event in the Scottish Parliament in front of first minister Nicola Sturgeon, MSPs and business leaders.
That’s a challenge for someone with decades of presenting experience – so to see young people take this on with aplomb is highly inspiring.
But what’s really in it for the young people involved?
We work with schools all over Scotland and it’s clear that teachers are aware of the importance of verbal communication skills.
No matter the size of the stage – from putting up a hand to answer a question in class, to building a rapport with an audience of hundreds – verbal communication can have such a positive impact on how young people view themselves.
Communication is central in entrepreneurship: every business relationship that’s forged by these young people in the future may start with an email or a letter, but the core of it will come from a conversation, so spoken communication skills really are vital.
Being able to stand up and present increases confidence and a sense of wellbeing, and even if there are a couple of slip-ups here and there, youngsters should feel empowered purely from taking part.
Some of our business-savvy youngsters of today may very well end up leading the country’s entrepreneurial charge in the years to come – so it’s fitting that they get the chance to talk about their experience, in school and in the wider world.
Geoff Leask is chief executive of Young Enterprise Scotland