• Nafekot Tadesse

Knights, Queens, and Orators

At one point or another in the virtual learning experience, students may have found themselves in a Zoom call speaking into the depths of black muted screens. Known by students and educators as "breakout rooms", this effort to sustain group work and cooperation among our peers while online was not always embraced as many students can report times they were met with silence in these breakout rooms. Could these moments of reluctance to unmute ourselves and speak up be a manifestation of underlying fears of public speaking? After all public speaking refers to addressing either the public or a collection of peers.

How is it that addressing our peers can feel more intimidating behind a screen? One possible common factor between addressing a virtual classroom and a public crowd is an audience largely made up of strangers. It is very common to not know the students in your breakout room in contrast to in person contact which builds familiarity. Also, in person learning offers the space for group members freely talk at once amongst themselves whereas Zoom etiquette typically allows one speaker to be unmuted at a time. This formality can heighten focus on speakers for what would otherwise be simple comments or questions. To every student finishing this 2020-2021 school year, you have succeeded in communicating to strangers your thoughts, ideas and questions in courses dealing with difficult concepts and this alone is a major achievement to be recognized!

Here in Chess and Community, one of the activities we have developed to help our youth grow comfortable in their public speaking abilities is our Debate Program in partnership with the Demosthenian Literary Society, one of only two debate societies at the University of Georgia. While the program has also transitioned to virtual attendance, Zoom has not slowed down the outstanding leadership of C&C Debate Coach Narke Norton, who has worked with C&C youth for 4 years. An alumnus of both UGA and Demosthenians, Norton’s signature advice to beginners in debate is: “Tell us what you know, what you’ve researched, what you're experienced in and outside of school. This a simplistic picture of debate, a talk, a discussion, an expression of thought.”