Why Greta Thunberg should be taught at school

By : Russell Findlay | May 28, 2021

At the age of 16 Greta Thunberg attended the United Nations General Assembly and was asked what her message to world leaders was.

Her response became famous and has helped build support for her campaign to address environmental damage.

Some speeches resonate and can change the world, whilst others are instantly forgotten, and with them the ideas they contain are also forgotten.

So what makes, a speech great?

That’s the question we at Speakers Trust ask ourselves every day, so that we can empower more young people to share their ideas and perspectives successfully.

Greta’s speech (below) highlights some great practice in speechmaking that we study with our students in our live workshops and in ur newly launched Speak Out Academy (the home of our online learning).

Here are just a few of the learning points we pick out, and share with students.  They provide great teaching points for English Teachers preparing students for GCSE English Speaking and Listening.

Her voice:  Greta’s voice showed her passion for the subject. She varies her voice to emphasise key words and phrases to drive her point home.  She also used silence brilliantly – pausing to allow her message to sink in.  The pause after the first sentence is priceless.  One of our most common pieces of advice is to pause after a key point.  It indicates to your audience that something important has been said.  And it gives them time to process it.

Her expressions: Her face and gestures showed real emotion. She was visibly angry to the point of tears at several big moments. You feel her pain. Emotion is contagious and great speakers use this to help their message resonate emotionally as well as logically.  Many speakers, especially when reading notes (or their PowerPoint) become robotic and stifle emotions.  Without the anger, it is doubtful that Greta’s speech would have had as much traction.

Her facts. As a young person speaking to some of the most influential people on the planet – it was important she built credibility. She did this through facts.  She used facts to make complex points, but she delivered them in a way we could all understand.    The planet only has a certain amount of CO2 left to give and it’s running out quickly. You don’t have to be a scientist to understand that.  Too often speakers deliver complex facts without thinking of how easily they are for their audience to understand.  Greta avoids this trap.

Showcasing young people changing the world is important to inspire others to develop their Oracy skills and the confidence to make a positive impact on the world.  We have 15 years of data showing how public speaking workshops, where we showcase young voices, build confidence, self efficacy and engagement with the society.  Using role models can also deliver learning points that resonate with students and that they can immediately put into practice.   We see that in the classroom every day.

Tjose who don’t prioritise the teaching of life skills like Oracy will be thinking “Most young people won’t be standing up at the UN”.  All young people will however need to be able to talk persuasively, to thrive beyond school.  Simple things like interviewing for a job, motivating a team and speaking up in meetings, all need the confidence and skills to speak up.  The ability to share your ideas out loud is something that is missing in too many young people, particularly those form disadvantaged areas.  More than 40% of young people tell us they don’t have the confidence to share their ideas in front of a group.  As a society that may mean we miss out on 40% of good ideas.  We also see important voices being marginalised.

This is something we hope to change as we roll out our online and interactive learning to schools across the country.

To learn more about Speakers Trust and how our training and online courses can empower the young people you work with, please visit our website.

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