Finding confidence in speaking up

An interview with former Headteacher Jackie Beere OBE:

love public speaking

Jackie Beere OBE is a former Headteacher of a large secondary school in Northamptonshire. She was awarded an OBE in 2002 for developing innovative learning programmes for students and teachers. As the author of several best-selling books on learning, coaching and personal development, Jackie now speaks all over the world to business leaders and school leaders on the latest strategies for developing emotionally intelligent students and a growth mindset culture. What many people don’t know is that Jackie suffered with a phobia of public speaking for many years. In this interview, Jackie talks to us about how overcoming this phobia has transformed her life. Now she wants school students to be able to do this too through taking part in brand new after school public speaking clubs that develop their presentation skills and speaking confidence.

Jackie, how did your fear of public speaking affect you as a teacher?

I was always an extrovert personality, but I developed a phobia of speaking in public. It made my life a misery. I can’t remember how it started but it dominated my life for years. As a teacher, I found myself running scared of any possibility that I would have to speak to my peers in a meeting or even worse in an assembly or at a training event. The paralysing anxiety would kick in just thinking about the simplest of speaking tasks, such as introducing myself – let alone giving a presentation at interview or if an observer entered my classroom.

Heartbeat racing, dry mouth, throat closing up, shaking hands – all these symptoms are so horrible that I found myself doing anything to avoid them. And the worst thing was, I kept it a secret. No one else knew how scared I was. I left teaching to have children to avoid ever having to do it again. However, I realised as years went by that there would be other times when I would need to speak up. It just couldn’t be avoided for the rest of my life. Also, when you avoid what scares you, that anxiety can attach itself to other things. Answering the phone becomes a challenge or having a meeting with the bank manager. So, I decided to overcome my fear rather than let it stop me achieving my dream of becoming a Headteacher at my school.

So how did you overcome such a powerful phobia?

I just had to do it. There’s only one way to overcome fear and that is make your brain experience what you fear in a different way. My phobia fooled my brain into thinking public speaking was a real threat to my survival, so my ‘flight or fight’ instinct would kick in and flood my system with adrenalin to help me run away. I needed to re-programme my thinking around public speaking to change my experience. I had to take small scary steps to have good experiences of hearing my voice in public and begin to reframe the way I thought about these events.

Starting with baby steps, I made myself volunteer to chair meetings and run small staff training sessions just to get used to hearing my voice aloud in public. I went to public speaking classes and built up my skills and confidence by having lots of opportunities to speak and transform my thinking about speaking. I worked hard using various thinking strategies and built up my confidence over time until I ended up making a career out of public speaking! As a school leader, headteacher, teacher trainer and now an international speaker at conferences, I love public speaking and know that overcoming this fear has changed my life in so many ways. I am big advocate of encouraging other people to do the same.

How can your experience help us in schools?

Ofsted wants schools to offer a broad range of extra-curricular challenges to help state school pupils have the same resilience and confidence we see in the public-school sector. In addition, we know that our young people are more vulnerable than ever due to the pressures of social media creating insecurity and peer pressure. Public speaking is a powerful skill that empowers children to fulfil their true potential and gain true inner confidence. That’s what it did for me, so I am determined to help our children have these skills and that confidence.

To pursue this, I’ve teamed up with Love Public Speaking Ltd to help schools offer a Public Speaking Club that can be delivered by teachers and paid for by parents – just like music or football classes can be offered as extras. Schools can use pupil premium funds to sponsor disadvantaged children to join the club too so this is something schools can provide for everyone at no extra cost.

So who runs these public speaking clubs?

Love Public Speaking Ltd deliver the most amazing training for volunteer teachers from your school or MAT who are interested in taking the lead on running club. Many teachers also fear public speaking so this training will really help them too. In fact, I believe every teacher should experience this training because it will improve their classroom presence, delivery and student engagement.

All the materials, speaking exercises and worksheets to deliver the course are provided by Love Public Speaking Ltd so you can make this club part of your provision for as many students as possible.

I am passionate that our children need to develop the confidence and resilience that will make them able to cope with the demands of life in the 21st century. This club is fantastic way to start and has been a sell out with parents in the first few schools we’ve introduced it to. Watch this space…

To find out how to bring this Public Speaking Club into your school, contact Carrie Swift at carrie@lovepublicspeaking.org

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