When I lead Master Classes on business presentation skills for mid-career STEM professionals, I often have participants come up to me afterward and say, \u201cI wish someone had told me all this 15 years ago.\u201d\u00a0 That started me thinking. Why didn\u2019t someone tell them this? Who should have told them? Where and when were the right time and place to tell them?\nEmployees, managers and executives from all levels of an organization participate in the Master Classes I lead. The classes are offered to companies as on-boarding or continuing development for employees. I\u2019ve also lectured and coached students all the way from technology-magnet secondary schools to mid-career professionals in Executive MBA programs. The vast majority of employees and students experience excessive nervousness (if not outright fear) when they\u2019re called upon to stand up in front of a group and present their work. Chapman University\u2019s annual survey of fear reveals that Public Speaking is identified as a phobia by about 25% of the population at large. My own research shows that \u201cnerves\u201d are identified as a top concern by a plurality of participants in the classes I lead.\nIt seems crazy that something we are called upon so frequently to do in business remains so painful for so many. How, when and where should we begin to address this?\nStart early\nSchool seems like a good place to start. If we turn back the clock far enough, most of us are in school. While I concentrate on the business presentation, and not all students interested in business, the idea of \u201cprofessional\u201d presentation skills is an easy and near universal substitute for business presentation skills.\nWhy every school should embrace public speaking is a headline that caught my attention this past week. It\u2019s from an article posted by TES, an education services provider in the UK. Yes, every school should. But \u201cpublic speaking\u201d embraces after-dinner speeches, toasts, and even standup comedy, so I would favor embracing \u201cspeaking in public in a professional manner.\u201d Every school should embrace speaking about consequential matters in public.\nSpeech, oral interpretation and rhetoric were considered key components of a comprehensive education not so long ago. But I think they\u2019ve largely been thrown out along with the \u201cGreat Books\u201d ideal. I took Speech in High School, but as an elective. It was not required. The TES article makes the case for extracurricular engagement in school with debate and speech at a club level. Again, optional.\nI think the very fact that they are optional signals that they are not considered to be essential and this diminishment carries over into our professional lives. We tend to think of giving presentations as something we do outside and apart from our actual work; something that takes us away from our work. Presentations are a nuisance and something better left to others. Many of us try to avoid giving presentations and that\u2019s the problem. We then feel trapped (irritated and nervous) when they can\u2019t be avoided.\nIt\u2019s what we do\nWe need to begin by recognizing that speaking to groups in our work lives is integral to what we do as professionals and not tangential\u2026unless we have chosen the monastic life. Speaking in public is not something separate or extra-curricular. Leaving the lab, the cube and the scrum to assume a leadership role in any organization requires us to communicate with other people \u2013 one-to-many \u2013 in real time and real space.\nThat idea and practice should begin early in school. Being called on in class is not sufficient or even good training for speaking in public. Being called on in class can be anxiety provoking because you\u2019re being tested. If you don\u2019t know the answer or can\u2019t express what you think is the \u201ccorrect\u201d opinion you are exposed to failure, ridicule and rejection. If this is a student\u2019s only invitation and opportunity to speak publicly, the student learns to associate speaking up and out with anxiety and stress.\nMore problems\nWhen we confine speaking in public to clubs, like debate club, we tend to immediately redefine it as a competitive sport. As if competition is always fun. This just adds to the anxiety for most people.\nTiming is an issue too. At what grade level should we begin? I recommend before and after adolescence (skip middle school and early high school.) That\u2019s the time of our lives when it\u2019s difficult for most of us to separate and stand apart from our peer group. That is anxiety provoking. But it\u2019s also exactly what we are called to do when we stand up to give a presentation. The pressure to conform works against us as presenters when we are adolescents. Younger children are often less self-conscious and eager to please, and young adults are more willing to establish their own identities and rebel against conventions.\nWe also misunderstand the role and importance of self-expression. Many schools are now adopting project-based learning that requires students to give a short presentation at the conclusion of their project (also sometimes in a pseudo-competitive \u201cproject fair\u201d environment.) This has limited value too if the students don\u2019t receive coaching beyond a few tips. These projects are facts, facts, facts and combined with the few tips they just give the student a lot to remember; again, anxiety inducing.\nI\u2019m a fan of self-expression. We tend to associate self-expression with creative endeavors \u2013 art programs \u2013 and with the attention on you. We disassociate self-expression from STEM where we want just the objective facts.\nWhat we should focus on as self-expression is what you see when you look at the world. What you observe from your unique vantage point. When you\u2019re called upon in class it shouldn\u2019t be just to recite facts or the opinions of others that you have memorized. We should all be encouraged and able to speak with distinction and conviction about what we observe and find interesting. That is the beginning of a compelling presentation.\nThis is something we should all be encouraged to talk about in public and be comfortable doing from an early age. So, the question is not so much why didn\u2019t someone tell us this earlier, its more why don\u2019t we all do this earlier?\u00a0\nThe vast majority of published articles on public speaking are about fear. We can\u2019t go back in time and face our fears and we can\u2019t all go back to school. But we can make sure that another 15 years doesn\u2019t go by. Don\u2019t be afraid. Speak up. Start telling those around you what you see and what you find most interesting.