After 20 years consulting in corporate America I've come to this conclusion. We wait too long to build confident leaders. Important leadership skills such as public speaking and confident communication must begin much earlier. That's why I started a Confidence Class for middle school girls in my community. In 2006 a mother called me. I don't know how she got my name. She explained that her daughter got nervous standing up and speaking in her 7th grade class. She wanted me to teach her to be confident. Although I coach business leaders to project executive presence, she was so persistent that I caved in. I told her if she could get 10 girls together I would teach a class on the weekend. To my surprise, she rounded up 10 lovely middle school girls from the same class and we had our first meeting in her house.
I discovered that I really enjoyed working with them and it brought back memories of my speech pathology days in the New York City schools. After learning skills of confident public speaking, her daughter gave a reading in her church before 100 people. Another girl, gave the acceptance speech for her grandfather at his legal society dinner of 800 attorneys. She received a standing ovation. It seemed the success of the classroom had spilled over into their every day lives.
And now here I am again, doing my third confident public speaking class for middle school girls. Three daughters in one family have now attended my class to become confident public speakers. The second sister went on to debate on a National level. Her mother told me that the Confidence class in public speaking served as the foundation for her to go on to join the debate team.
In each one hour session, the girls learn the same skills I teach adults in companies, learn to give each other balanced feedback, and watch themselves on videotape. What would happen if young students learned these skills when they were young? There would be fewer bad presentations. They would be better leaders. And maybe more women could chip away at the glass ceiling.