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OCC People:  Hamilton Uses Counseling Skills to Coach Teens on Public Speaking

07/10/2014

By Fleming Saunders
Public Affairs Operations

Delisa Hamilton, a veteran trainer in Continuing Education, counsels adults on career choices and training needs. On her flex-days, she advises 14-year old middle-school students on the fine art of public speaking.

“No matter what the age,” she emphasizes, “self-confidence and self-awareness are key.”

Like her students, Hamilton caught the speaking bug young. While growing up in Maryland a few miles from Washington, D.C., she listened as her father coached her older brother and sister on public speaking. “They were winning national competitions as teenagers,” she recalls. “I was envious of their trophies and fearful of whether I would ever be as good as they were.”

After joining the OCC in 2003, Hamilton got her chance. She was elected president of the Toastmaster’s club at the agency and won several speaking contests. While the former cheerleader at Xavier University was coaching cheerleading at her son’s school, St. Ambrose in Cheverly, Md., she had an aha moment: “why not teach Toastmasters to my son and his classmates, just as dad had taught my siblings?”

Every other Friday afternoon for the past three years, Hamilton has presided over classes of about two dozen boys and girls at the school. This year, she was joined by her recently retired sister to share her own speaking expertise. “At 3:00 p.m. on Friday, the kids were ready to go home for the weekend!” Hamilton says. “We tried to encourage them with snacks and candy, but the sugar had them bouncing off the walls. The principal put a stop to that.”

Fortunately, Hamilton realized, the kids liked public speaking more than candy. “They enjoyed each other’s company, for the most part,” she says. “We incorporated various games during the year that challenged them to do public speaking without using too many ‘ums’ and ‘ahs.’ I think we made the class fun.”

One winter day, Hamilton and her sister found an innovative way to teach confidence. “I wrote on the blackboard, ‘What are your biggest fears?’ Then I turned off the lights.” In the darkness, she told the kids to stay quiet and think about what to say. “When the lights came back on, they were ready to talk.”

It wasn’t just about spiders and roller coasters. “Some students shared vivid fears about not being considered beautiful, or not being taken seriously, never seeing a father who was in jail, of being blamed when a disabled brother died, or not being able to live up to high expectations of parents.”

“I didn’t expect the level of purging,” admits Hamilton. “But we learned that if you can overcome your deepest fears, you can do just about anything.”

The dramatic session bore fruit at the Young Toastmasters Annual Banquet on May 9. Near 100 proud family members and 20 anxious Young Toastmasters filled the room— each prepared to deliver a final speech to the audience.

  • One child spoke of his hearing problems as a child and the loss of his “best friend”—his grandmother. He broke down – “he stopped mid-sentence and cried for what felt like five minutes. All year long, his voice was weak and soft,” Hamilton recalls. “Now, he was loud and clear!”
  • One student—who had run crying out of the room during the discussion on fears—admitted that she wasn’t always the easiest to get along with and apologized to her class. “By revealing her heartfelt feelings,” Hamilton said, “she won sympathy and understanding.”
  • A shy young man—once hunched over his seat—came alive at the podium. Hamilton notes that “he was the tallest kid in the class. I said, ‘you’ve got a noble African name and the stature of a leader. Speak up. Don’t be afraid. Carry yourself as a king.’ ” He won the “best speech of the night.”

“Public speaking isn’t easy for adults in the workplace either,” says Hamilton. “We are often guarded and cautious in how we present ourselves in various settings. But whether young or old, we should examine our strengths and weaknesses. I advise employees to seek out new opportunities, overcome their fears, and be confident of success.”

Toastmasters clubs are located all across the country. For more information on a Toastmasters club near you, visit the Toastmasters Web site (OCC Speakeasies). Headquarters employees and contractors are invited to attend the OCC “Speakeasies” Toastmasters Meetings, which are held on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month from noon to 1 p.m., in HQ 3C-000.

Last Updated: 07/10/2014