‘Good journalism is about meeting and talking to lots of people,’ says Michael Crick, political correspondent on Channel 4 News. It’s somewhat surprising then to discover that Michael does not consider himself naturally gregarious. ‘Beneath everything, I’m rather a shy person,’ he says, ‘I find it quite difficult to pick up the phone and talk to somebody that I don’t know, or even talking to people I do know.’ Being able to use his job as a ‘cover’ for his approaches has helped him overcome his shyness, as did, back in his schooldays, the English-Speaking Union’s Public Speaking competition.
‘The Public Speaking Competition was a really important part of my life as a young sixth former,’ he says. ‘It taught me so much about speaking – about timing, about introductions, conclusions, humour, dealing with your audience; all sorts of things. And, because we were lucky enough to win it, it gave me a huge amount of self-confidence that I could do things on a national scale.’
Though initially he intended to become an MP – and prime minister eventually – student journalism led into a traineeship with Independent Television News (ITN), during which he discovered he was well-suited to the profession. ‘I think I have one of the best jobs in the world,’ he says, ‘and in one way or another I use the skills I learnt in the Public Speaking Competition every day. Talking to each other is the real heart of good journalism in my view.’
Journalism aside, Michael considers these skills equally important in other fields, too. ‘It’s about the way that we deal with each other as human beings,’ he says. ‘Without being able to communicate verbally, civilisation would be almost lost.’
We may not use paper much anymore and we may do everything online, but we still require human beings to use their voices to talk to other human beings to explain what’s going on, to try and persuade them to do things – be that a salesman trying to persuade someone to buy something, teachers addressing a class or barristers in court. It’s not just about talking either, but listening and knowing when to intervene and how to pitch your intervention, and the more you can learn about these skills, the more successful you will be.
Putting oracy at the heart of education
As Michael says, it’s hard to think of any career today that does not require speaking and listening skills. And yet it is a well-documented fact that those young people most in need of these skills are least likely to receive suitable training, due to their backgrounds or geography. The English-Speaking Union works to redress this imbalance and aims to ensure that young people everywhere have the oracy skills and confidence they need to thrive.