Blake Dowling: Teaching Florida students the power of public speaking
Microphone voice speaker in business seminar, speech presentation, town hall meeting, lecture hall or conference room in corporate or community event for host or townhall public hearing

Microphone voice speaker in business seminar, speech presentatio
For my personal journey of speaking, I have found that practice makes perfect (somewhat).

When was the last time you gave a speech? Spoke in public? Does it give you total terror before and during the experience?

Some of us are natural at public speaking while others struggle mightily. Public speaking is one of those things that the earlier you start, the better. The problem is finding a platform from which to do so.

As a kid in Alabama, I had no opportunities to speak in a group setting. However, I was at Tallahassee Classical School this week as a judge for the 4-H Florida Power & Light Public Speaking Competition; watching students sharpen the blade of public speaking while in middle school.

The 4-H/Florida Power & Light Speaking Contest (or you might remember it as the Tropicana Public Speaking Contest) is an opportunity for our youth to learn writing, reading, and speaking skills outside of typical classroom instruction.

This program has been in school systems across Florida since 1969. We had nothing like this in LA (lower Alabama) when I was growing up and it was awesome to see it in person this week.

I spoke with Hannah Pitts, Dean of Grammar School at TCS, about the program.

Hannah Pitts with Tallahassee Classical School and I. Image via Mallory Ragsdale.

“At Tallahassee Classical School, we put a strong emphasis on our scholars being able to compose their thoughts and speak in front of others, using dialogue to understand, sort and compare vocabulary. Because this is a tenet of Classical education, we are proud to take part in the 4H Speech Competition each year. Our fourth, fifth, and sixth grade scholars are pushed to write excellent speeches that captivate their audience because we know that the pen is sharper than the sword.”

Thank you to Hannah and TCS Headmaster Cara Wynn for your noble work educating our youth.

I also reached out to Florida Power & Light to get their input.

“We are excited to support this long-standing program that helps students develop public speaking skills they can use well into the future,” said Matt Mohler, external affairs manager for Florida Power & Light Company. “At FPL, we are honored to partner with organizations like 4H to help support and develop our state’s future leaders and innovators.”

As our youth continue with their studies in the Sunshine State there are a variety of options available to help you speak better in front of an audience. The University of Florida has a public speaking lab where all college students can get coaching on their speeches. This could include a taped playback, tips on anxiety or just general speech prep.

You can check out their program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

If you miss getting in on the ground floor with public speaking, there are plenty of resources to assist you post-academia. As the saying goes, there is an app for that.

Orai is an app that gives you a daily five-minute coaching opportunity to give presentations and speeches. Tips are given, feedback, and you can practice a speech and get a critique on every facet.

I describe it as a Speech Coach in your pocket.

They have helped over 300,000 persons tackle what 73% of professionals admit to fearing, which is public speaking.

For my personal journey of speaking, I have found that practice makes perfect (somewhat).

While I didn’t have speaking help as a kid, practicing a few times beforehand and talking about something I am passionate about is clutch. My common missteps, even with practice, are forgetting to introduce myself and just diving right in or talking way too fast. I am sure you can relate.

When I spoke at the Tallahassee Chamber Conference last year, I dove right into my speech and forgot to introduce myself.

Chamber President Sue Dick gave me a quick reminder about three minutes in. We can’t do Q&A for 30 minutes, so really honing your content with real-life stories is my advice for your next speaking gig. Also, avoid PowerPoint angst and boredom for your audience and use those slides as your guide, not as the focal point of the presentation. Or try something different, like Prezi, for your presentation instead of PowerPoint.

This year, I attended a speaking gig in Ft. Lauderdale at the Florida Association of Community Health Centers Conference on cybersecurity.

During that talk, I talked about a dozen real-life hacking situations to keep it engaged. Plus, I barely referenced my 25 (or so) slides. Bonus, we had giveaways for correct trivia question answers at the end. Nothing says speech awesomeness like gifts.

Trivia (plus Q&A) can help that 30-minute speech get to 45 minutes if needed.

There is nothing better than a good speech. Mark Wilson from the Florida Chamber of Commerce always does a tremendous job with public speaking.

In August 2020, I attended a conference that was the first one that I remember after conferences and large meetings were on hold for about six months because of the pandemic.

Mark was the speaker, and he talked about our job crisis, the “Great Resignation,” and the potential for our post-pandemic economy. It was inspiring.

I will never forget it, as it was such an intense time to be running a business, as we all know. Plus, it was nice to hear someone discussing the big picture after months in the trenches dealing with the pandemic.

It was mainly a Zoom conference, but a few of us were in the room all spaced out, as you can see in the pic from the Tallahassee Democrat and that’s yours truly in the center.

Mark pauses for emphasis during his speeches and he often asks a question after a long statement. He will say something like, do you follow, am I right, etc.

He also works on the stage and doesn’t stand behind the podium and bore you. Well done sir, and congratulations on being named Floridian of the Year by Florida Trend Magazine.

At FSU with Kelly O’Keefe and a handful of others for the August 2020 conference, what a time to be alive.

For the young people I met this week, job well done; it was an honor to hear your speeches.

To Florida Power & Light, keep up the good work.

As Jerry Seinfeld said: “According to most studies, people’s No. 1 fear is public speaking. No. 2 is death. Death is No. 2. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than delivering the eulogy.”


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and can be reached at [email protected].

Blake Dowling

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at [email protected] or at


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