Speaking skills are essential for success and should not be overlooked

Speaking skills are essential for success and should not be overlooked

Learning how to communicate effectively is often overlooked at state schools, but it is an essential skill in the world of work. Private schools often have more of a focus on public speaking, for example, and pupils can use this experience when faced with a panel of interviewers when looking for a job. Lynne Fernquest, Chief Executive, Bath Rugby Foundation, outlines her thoughts on the importance of improving communication for younger people from all backgrounds.

Ask business leaders about the importance of communication and they’ll tell you it’s ‘essential’ for success.

Confident speakers grab our attention. They get employed and get promoted.

However, how much talent are we overlooking because someone’s verbal communication skills are lacking? How many potential employees have we cast aside because ‘they haven’t come across well’ – even though their CV included all the other essential skills?

During 30 years in journalism, I saw time and time again how those who spoke well received more column inches in print and online. The better you speak the more likely you are to be heard.

Speaking well isn’t a matter of luck, it’s a skill that helps us throughout our lives and yet isn’t always prioritised at state schools in the way it is in private school. The result is the attainment gap – the gap between children from state and private education – is getting wider and wider.

Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds often face obstacles to developing strong speaking skills and this makes it difficult for them to succeed in school, get a job and even participate in life. At its worst this can lead to social isolation and feelings of inferiority.

What a waste of potential.

On the flip side magic happens when we prioritise ‘speaking well and confidently’. I know this from personal experience.

I grew up in a working class family. My father was a factory worker and my mother was a stay at home mum. They encouraged me to work hard and be proud of my background, but unfortunately, I lacked self belief, hated speaking in public and I would often avoid it at all costs. University made me realise just how far behind the privately educated students I was.

It took many years for me to find my voice, but when I did it made the world of difference.
I’m now the chief executive of a children’s charity, and I see every day the challenges faced by youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds. These young people develop their own verbal shorthand with their peers, and although this works in their circle, it doesn’t translate well in the ‘outside’ world.

On the flip side I also see the difference when speaking skills are valued and encouraged. It can help young people get better results in school, get a job and succeed in life and can also help build relationships and make friends.

So, if we knew speaking well benefits us in every aspect of our lives, why isn’t it a priority in school? I remember sitting oral examinations in French, Welsh and Spanish but never in English. Why not, when there are so many clear advantages of becoming experts in our first language?

There are four clear reasons why learning how to speak well benefits us through all of our lives:
• Improved academic performance: The National Literacy Trust found students who have strong speaking skills perform better in school. This is because they are better able to participate in class discussions, ask questions and give presentations.

• Increased employment opportunities: Employers value employees who can communicate effectively. This is because good communication skills are essential for teamwork, problem-solving and customer service. Around 77% of employers said that communication skills were ‘very’ or ‘extremely important’ for job success.
• Enhanced social skills: Strong speaking skills can help young people build relationships and make friends. They can also help them to be more assertive and confident in their interactions with others. For example, a study by the University of Oxford found that children who received training in public speaking were more likely to become leaders.
• Improved self-esteem: When young people feel confident in their ability to speak, they are more likely to take risks and try new things. This can lead to increased self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment.
In addition to these research studies, there is also a great deal of anecdotal evidence to support the importance of speaking skills. For example, many organisations that work with young people from these under-served communities have reported that developing speaking skills is one of the most important factors in helping them succeed.

At the time of writing this article, Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, announced a plan to improve the speaking skills of ALL young people in England. The plan, which is called Oracy for All, would see the introduction of a new national curriculum for speaking and listening. The curriculum would focus on developing students’ ability to communicate effectively in a variety of contexts, including formal and informal settings.

Starmer’s plan has been welcomed by education experts and, if introduced, would be a massive step forward.

“Speaking is a fundamental skill that is often overlooked,” said Stephen Coleman, Professor of Political Communication at the University of Leeds. “But it is essential for everything from getting a job to making friends. This plan is a welcome step towards ensuring that all young people have the opportunity to develop their speaking skills.”

If you’re a business leader, I urge you to think about whether your company could offer speaking skills as a training tool for your employees. Watch them thrive after a few sessions with organisations like Toastmasters.

You could also make a real difference to the lives of young people by donating to organisations that are working to improve speaking skills in disadvantaged communities. You could also volunteer your time to, or employees’ time, and see first-hand the benefits.

By taking these small steps you could make the biggest difference.

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