Poetry Out Loud: Public Speaking Skills
Poetry Out Loud is a recitation competition founded in 2005 to inspire students and encourage their literary development. Through this competition, students obtain confidence, a critical knowledge of traditional/contemporary writing, and a mastery of public speaking. Since its start, the competition has reached over 3 million students in over 10,000 schools in the nation. MN State Competition for Poetry Out Loud will take place at The Loft Literary Center this spring.
Working with Poetry Out Loud has led me to reflect on my own experiences (or lack thereof) with public speaking, and think about the importance of developing confidence in front of an audience.
All I can think about right now is my senior capstone presentation, looming up ahead of and above me. I have watched the first round of English majors make their presentations, some of them a little shaky-knee’d. I know these students; we’ve spent the whole semester in a classroom together, sweating and agonizing over our stories and scripts and novellas, each one the culminating point of our respective college creative writing careers. Nobody presented a story that I hadn’t heard before, in our small workshop setting. But now, behind a podium and in front of a distracted audience of peers, professors, and strangers, almost everyone stumbled over their words a little (or a lot) and spoke so quietly or quickly that it was hard to understand them. Sweaty just watching them, I know that I will not fare much better with my own presentation. I am scrambling to find the courage to believe in and love the words I’ve spent the past four months writing, enough to share them out loud.
I have never had to do anything like this before, and now I wish I had. Finding poise and confidence at a young, formative age is so essential. While I can stumble and stutter and still carry on after whatever happens in my own presentation, I like to imagine an alternate reality where I am excited to share these stories that I am very proud of, rather than nervous about how exactly to present them in the first place. I still remember the exhilaration, in my junior year of high school, when my English teacher asked each student to bring a poem to recite to the small class, and I sped through Margaret Atwood’s “Variation on the Word Sleep,” standing in front of the whiteboard. Each of us, that day, brought something close to us that we wanted to share, and it was a really wonderful and intimate moment spent appreciating the words and stories that other people carried, and made their own in those brief moments.
Opportunities like that, particularly in a high school setting, are few and far between, and I wish that I (and my peers) had been exposed to more of them. High school students! Do not become me. Advocate for Poetry Out Loud programs in your school. Teachers, I promise your students love poetry. That day, my entire seventeen-year-old heart projected Margaret Atwood’s poem towards the boy I had an enormous crush on, and I meant every word I said. His own poem was irreverent and unromantic, and I was quickly un-enamored, and I am still grateful for that, as well. Through reading and receiving poetry, we grow to know ourselves (and sometimes others, for better or for worse), and in reciting it we learn the confidence and grace that can carry us through college, and hopefully beyond.
Jessie Lee-Bauder is the Loft’s 2017-18 Poetry Out Loud Intern. She is overwhelmed at the prospect of graduating from Macalester College in December, with a degree in English (Creative Writing), and minors in American Studies and Environmental Studies. In addition to her work at the Loft, Jessie has a show at Macalester’s radio station (“tweenies”, Mondays 2-3 p.m.), serves gyros at a Greek restaurant, and reads and writes quite a bit.