How many of us had to give presentations in school? I know I did, alot. Lots of breaking down books or poems in English class in front of a powerpoint I'd worked on the night before. Plenty of slides covering topics in history or geography.
When I was a student, I think it took me a while to understand why we were being asked to give so many presentations. Of course presenting on a topic you're unfamiliar with is a distinctly painful experience; far worse than writing an essay or doing homework would be. It's not just a test of mastery over the material, but also practice for other, even more valuable traits.Confidence, being able to expressing your ideas, performing are all difficult skills to acquire and this is a good way of doing so.
Nothing stirs the soul like the spoken word. It's why the smartest scientists in the world don't just write papers but spend time teaching, lecturing, going to conferences. It's why politicians can't just rely on social media and their million dollar marketing teams but instead have to wheel themselves out for speeches and rallies. It's why plays, comedians, and concerts exist. It's even partially why the work from home movement is getting such resistance from companies.
Becoming skilled at speaking your ideas will pay many dividends. Presenting your ideas isn't something that ends after high school or university. You'll use in every meeting at work where you must explain or convince or persuade. Discussions and debates benefit from clarity of speech. The better you can express yourself, the more people will listen.
All that being said, I find it somewhat unfortunate that giving presentations has largely stopped after I graduated university. Of course this is because of the stage of my career right now; I'm sure if I get into something more management or business related I'd be giving more. Still though, presenting isn't just reading off a PowerPoint in a meeting room stuffed with suits. Any time you have your own idea and you explain it to others you're giving a small presentation. I actually enjoy these moments when they arive in the workplace, and I think the audience certainly prefers listening to someone who wants to present.
Sometimes people talk about the hard skills and the soft skills that are valuable in a career. Hard skills are things like qualifications and skills: engineering or science or just how to actually do the job. Soft skills are how you work with other people. How well you can express yourself, whether you're a team player, if you're fun to work with. Hard skills are important, of course, but people say the real differentiator are soft skills because those can't easily be learned. It's why there's emphasis on the interview; not just to learn about your background but to see if you have good vibes and are nice to talk to.
I think being able to present an idea is one of the ultimate soft skills. It literally doesn't matter how good your ideas are and what you think if you can't make others understand and agree with your perspective. In some sense it's about storytelling, one of the most fundamental human skills there is. Of putting your facts into a compelling narrative; the best way to make other people care about what you're saying. We frame other parts of our lives in stories all the time, and presenting anything is just more of the same.
I don't think I always good at this. Even now it's easy to let the pressure of a large or unfamiliar audience get to me. I notice these physical signs of nervousness, like shallow breathing and speaking more quickly. I imagine for someone who's truly afraid of public speaking these could be a whole lot worse. I think it's useful to realize that despite any challenges I did somehow improve. Whatever complaints you may have about the education system, it did help me master this vital skill.
I suppose being good at school helped. It's a lot easier to talk about something that you know well. I recall preparing and giving speeches in middle school to practice this skill. Despite managing to get through mine with only a slight few blunders, I also recall the truly gifted students (some of whom were in my class) that had the entire room laughing at their jokes and listening raptly as they told a speech about their hilarious story of trying to come up a speech. Some might be more talented at this, but I think it's really something anyone can master.
One of the most fun ideas I've seen recently is to put together a presentation night for your friends. I admit I saw this on tiktok (along with other fun nights like book swap night and food board night) which has some surprisingly good ideas. Being able to do this in front of a group of trusted friends, on a topic you pick yourself that you're presumably comfortable with should hopefully remove most of the fear and anxiety from presenting. Not only is it a fun way to learn about each other's interests and hobbies, but to practice an important skill in a safe space.
Plus, the ideas people might come up with are so funny! From typical academic stuff like presentations on books or history, to more casual topics like why your favorite TV show is better than everyone else's or why Taylor Swift should become president, to even pure joke topics like a presentation ranking the top 10 noses in the friend group or who would survive longest in a zombie apocalypse.
You know, the more I write the more I'm convincing myself to put one of these together for my own friend group. In fact I already have some ideas about what kind of topics I might want to talk about. I think you should seriously consider doing something like this. It's a good way to share interests and learn about each other, it's good practice for important skills, and it's so fun!