Toastmasters International was formed in 1924 by a group of men who wanted to hone their public speaking skills. Today, there are more than 9,300 Toastmasters clubs with more than 175,000 members in 70 countries.
To help today's students learn the art of speaking before a crowd, schools are requiring students to take public speaking courses. Nearly four years ago, a former head of Augusta Preparatory Day School's upper school designed a program to give students an opportunity to speak to their peers on a subject of their choice. What emerged was a required speaking course for seniors.
According to Gloria Dossett, the head of the school's Fine Arts Department, students begin thinking their freshman year what they would like to speak on.
"The kids really feel that if after a speech, they hear other students talking about it in the halls or the faculty lounge, they've done good."
At Augusta Prep, students speak before the entire upper school body, faculty and any parents who wish to attend.
"It makes people think outside of the traditional classroom setting," said Dossett, adding that students speak to an average of 250 people. "The single most important purpose of this program is to teach students directly that they can make a difference."
Student speakers are evaluated by their faculty adviser, two additional faculty advisers and Dossett. The program is strictly pass or fail.
"Oftentimes, a student's research leads them down a blind alley or a crossroads," said Dossett. "We have students who change their mind after their research. Sometimes they are overwhelmed by the amount of research material available."
Viji Thomas, a senior at Augusta Prep, recently spoke on the controversies surrounding insanity pleas. Her argument was "all about the fact that there needs to be standard procedures regarding insanity," Dossett said. "Insane is completely a legal term; strictly speaking there is no such thing outside of a courtroom."
Thomas, after months of researching the insanity plea, still doesn't know how she feels about the subject.
"While researching it, I tried to figure out how to put it all together," she said. "I definitely think there should still be the insanity plea, but I think there should be a group of state-approved and qualified people to evaluate the defendant to determine if a person is sane. The jury should determine punishment based on whether a person is sane or not."
While Dossett admits it's oftentimes emotional watching a student speak, she is adamant that public speaking is a skill everyone needs. Thomas agrees.
"It's a skill everyone should have," she said. "From college to my career, I'm going to need to know how to talk to crowds both large and small. Public speaking is something that's very valuable."
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