The Leadership Practice of Public Speaking
April 13, 2020

The 5th Annual Leader in Me International Student Speech Contest is in full swing and all K–12 Leader in Me students are encouraged to participate! This week we sat down with Sean Covey to ask him more about the leadership practice of public speaking.


Leader in Me Weekly: Sean, can you share why the Leader in Me International Speech Contest was started?


Sean: Sure. Public speaking is an integral part of a Leader in Me School because it is a 21st-century life skill. Employers want good communication skills and public speaking is the second half of Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. 

Public speaking has always been an integral part of learning leadership at A.B. Combs Elementary. It might be at a Leadership Day for 200 people, a class presentation for 20 people, morning announcements, or just a small team project with three other people. The idea is to offer multiple opportunities throughout the year. For some students, the best way is to start small. I speak from experience because, as a student, I was horrified of public speaking. 


We can certainly relate!


Did you know that surveys show people would rather die, than speak in public? As difficult as it is, public speaking opportunities build confidence.


Could you share some stories about this with us?


I’d be happy to. About four years ago, I was at a Leadership Day at A.B. Combs Elementary with about 200 other visitors. A fourth-grade boy stood up to give the speech he memorized. He started, was doing a really good job, but then froze in the middle of his speech. He tried again, but he just couldn’t remember. Muriel put her arm around him and said to the audience, “This is a development day for the children, so I’m going to give him a few minutes and we’re going to come back.” The program went on and then Muriel came back and said, “He is going to complete his speech now.” He started his speech from the beginning and absolutely nailed it! The standing ovation went on for like two minutes. He lit up! He was beaming, smiling from ear to ear! I thought, “That student’s life has changed forever.” It was incredible. 

Muriel said, “See what we learned here today, students? Sometimes things are hard, but you can do it.” She taught a lesson on the spot. It was a beautiful reminder to all of us about the power of affirming, teaching, and believing.


Wow, that’s powerful. 


I’ve shared the story before of my own son Nathan, who also had a breakthrough at a Leadership Day. Nathan was asked to speak about Habit 5, and he asked me to get him out of it. I wouldn’t make the call, so he reluctantly prepared—and he gave a great speech. From that moment, his paradigm was, “I’m a good speaker,” so he started seeking out speaking opportunities. It was life changing for him. These can be life-changing moments for many students. 


Often, when we share an idea such as “public speaking for all” it is met with resistance, because a teacher may be thinking about one student who may have a really difficult time with it. How can we help address this? 


In the end, individuals have to volunteer. We can use our own discernment, encourage, offer opportunities, ask, but in the end we shouldn’t force. In Nathan’s case, he could have gotten himself out of the speech and, if he had, I wouldn’t have forced him to do it. But, for the most part, I think 95 percent of students respond well. Starting small and building from there is the key. 


What do you think about teachers encouraging students to submit a video to the Leader in Me International Speech Contest as a public speaking opportunity?


I think it’s a great idea, especially with so many students at home! I’d love to hear their ideas.


Great, we’ll share the details. Thanks for taking time to chat with us today, Sean.  

The Leader in Me International Speech Contest in the largest and most inspiring student speech contest in the world with a chance to win a $1,000 USD Leadership Grant! Students (with the help of their parents) can create a 5-minute traditional or creative video in their native language, addressing a leadership topic that matters the most to them. More details at


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