Gaining confidence in public speaking

Getting comfortable speaking in public is often a challenge for union leaders, particularly those who are new to their roles.

That’s why OSEA and AFT brought Public Speaking for Union Leaders back to Oregon. The class provides an open, encouraging space for union members to learn and grow with advice and feedback from Lauren Samet and Julie Washington of AFT.

Constance Palaia of Three Rivers Chapter 22 said she attended the class in order to conquer her fear of public speaking.

“I have never spoken to a crowd behind a podium, or asked a question at a town hall, without my voice shaking,” Palaia said. “I approached the class as an ‘Outward Bound’ sort of test and thought I might come out the other side fixed.”

Tammy Burnett, president of Ashland Chapter 42, speaks before the class at the AFT Public Speaking course in Salem.

Attendees got the chance to see themselves on video delivering a speech, provide constructive feedback to one another and encourage each other to stand up for our values — and have fun in the process.

“The instructors were an excellent blend of sweet and sassy, and their positive teaching methods encouraged everyone to improve,” said Amanda Larimer of Beaverton Chapter 48. “I had hoped to gain more confidence and polish from this training, and we went way beyond my expectations.”

Larimer said one of the most valuable lessons was learning different forms of speeches and how to empathize with your audience’s viewpoint. She said understanding where your audience is coming from improves your ability to articulate a persuasive point.

While it can be both tempting and intimidating to place those comfortable with public speaking on a pedestal, Mary White of Willamette Education Service District Employees Association Chapter 95 said showing humanity is OK.

“It is okay to breathe,” White said. “Be confident and smile — your natural self is best.”

Larimer plans to put her newly acquired skills to work at the next Legislative Education Day (LED), where members can speak directly to lawmakers about working conditions and issues from an expert’s point of view. White plans to run for chapter office, instilled with the confidence that comes from training and practice. Meanwhile, Palaia said she wants to promote Medicare for All in her southern Oregon community.

“The most valuable lesson that I learned is that if I speak to something that I am passionate about, I can throw away my notes and have a strong and effective voice,” Palaia said.

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