High Volume Doesn’t Mean High Confidence: A Reminder

Wednesday was speech day in Public Speaking.

The air was buzzing with the nervous excitement of the first day of speeches. The kids have butterflies in their stomachs, but they’re also ready, after writing and practicing their speeches, to perform for their peers.

Their first speech is an easy one: a speech of introduction. But I put a twist on it.

Rather than having kids introduce their peers as they are now, I have them introduce each other for a future event. They pretend to be a keynote speaker or an award winner. In their speeches they tell about the person’s imaginary life: their challenges, their achievements, their heroic acts or death-defying feats. It generally becomes quite entertaining. It also lightens the mood quite a bit.

So one after another the kids get up, give their speeches, receive their feedback, sit back down.  And then my most outgoing student gets up to speak.  She giggles a little and swings her leg around.  She starts to speak and her voice is quavering.  Her whole body is moving like she’s unable to keep it still.  She makes it about 60% through her speech and stumbles over a couple words–no big deal, usually–but instead she kind of freaks out.  She looks up, like she’s about to cry and says “can I start over?”  Sadly, the bell is going to ring in about a minute so I ask her to do it the next day.

When the next day rolls around, she is worse than she was.  She is almost in tears before the period even begins, “I can’t go Mrs. Louden. I just can’t.”  We make a plan to have her give her speech just to me. I had her go out in the hall to practice some more.

When I had a minute, I went out to talk to her.  “So, tell me about this.  What’s going on? You’re one of my most out-going students, so I’m just surprised.”

She explained that she took this class on purpose because she knew she needed to get over her fear of speaking to crowds.  And then she said “I’m not out going, Mrs. Louden, I’m just loud. Really loud.  Don’t confuse my volume with confidence.”

BOOM!  That is powerful stuff.  Food for thought.

How many of us have done this? Confused a student’s volume with confidence? Or, in the other direction, confused a child’s quiet with ignorance or apathy?

Guilt washed over me.  How many times a day do I make these assumptions?

We spoke a little more about it, and I mulled it over for the rest of the day, thinking of kids in my classes who were loud or quiet, and what I presumed about their intelligence, interest, or confidence based simply on their volume.

Now I have a challenge for the rest of the year.  It will be hard to measure, except in my own reflections, but I challenge myself–and all of you–not to confuse volume (or lack their of) with confidence (or lack there of).


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