TEDx program encourages prep freshmen to speak up

TEDxGCU President and licensee holder Abbie Gage and members work with a team to come up with a topic for their presentation during the TEDx Catalyst event.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Don’t be shy.

That’s not so easy, especially if you are a high school underclassman facing students from another high school, and polished college speakers are watching you.

Enter Grand Canyon University’s TEDxGCU Catalyst event Friday at the Colangelo College of Business lobby. The workshop, led by TEDxGCU student leaders and K12 Educational Development, provided a comprehensive but comfortable overview to 88 students from three high schools on how to deliver a TED talk.

“I view any opportunity to speak in front of anyone as an opportunity to improve your public speaking,” said Joey Fitzgerald, director of operations for TEDxGCU. “For freshmen, in particular, getting involved in your classes, and in the discussions and in just regular conversation with people, it really builds (memory) muscles that I think make public speaking so much easier.”

So learning to speak on a topic in front of 10 people, and then before an audience of nearly 100 (as 10 high school students did), provides invaluable experience for future events – such as the TEDxGCU main event held annually at the end of the school year.

TEDxGCU Director of Operations Joey Fitzgerald approves the presentation groups.

“The muscle memory is already there,” Fitzgerald continued. “They've already been practicing reps. So my biggest piece of advice that we’ve really tried to push is just get out there and talk.”

The event has been such a hit that many administrators from participating schools have asked to be invited for the following year, said Cori Araza, senior project director for K12 STEM Outreach for Grand Canyon Education.

“This is really a great start for them to really understand what it looks like in a presentation standpoint, and what are those things you need to have within that presentation to make it interesting to other people,” North Valley Christian Academy principal Jason Mitchell said. “And then that interaction piece as well, seeing students in college and where they’re at.”

While the high school students were meeting in 10 groups with their speaker acquisition members, Araza devoted a portion of her time exchanging ideas with administrators and teachers from Valley Lutheran and University high schools and North Valley Christian.

North Valley Christian Academy principal Jason Mitchell speaks passionately about his students' preparation for public speaking.

“Her brain is always thinking about how she can help everyone," Fitzgerald said.

That was a good time to assess, since the high school students, who each received a workbook outlining components of TEDx, gained valuable insight from many of the 30 student acquisition directors.

The high school students learned simple things, such as keeping their speeches well under 18 minutes, possessing calm body language, identifying the audience, finding a hook, supplementing your speech with statistics and graphics, and starting strong and finishing with action.

“I think that this is such a great time,” said business management/communications student River Murray, a TEDxGCU director of operations who had no experience in public speaking before attending GCU. “I think as high schoolers, your mind is just hurting with all these different things that you're processing and looking at the next stages of life and different things you're venturing into.

TEDxGCU Director of Operations River Murray talks about the benefits of TEDxGCU Catalyst.

“I would just encourage them that I think now's the time to try new things, and there's never too many things that you can try. And I think being able to really figure out in high school like ‘Hey, what am I passionate about?’ and what can be my outlet to experience that and really get into that later on down the road. I think high school is a great opportunity and time to be able to explore those.”

The 10 groups were scattered throughout the first floor of CCOB, and Murray emphasized the importance of the directors getting to know the students in their group in an effort to engage them and encourage participating.

That method also allows the students to feel comfortable in asking questions, whether it’s about their presentation or life as a college student.

TEDxGCU Director of Operations River Murray (center) and team members listen as students prepare their presentations during the TEDxGCU Catalyst event.

After lunch, each of the 10 groups made their presentations, engaging the audience on topics such as “Older Sibling Syndrome,” “The Power of Law and Gospel,” “Engage an Audience with a Question,” “Complex Pets” and “How Music Shapes Us.”

Some of the groups used statistics on a screen to make their pitch more convincing. Others used analogies or pluses and minuses.

The winning pitch, “No More Homework,” was orchestrated by Noah De Luna and his fellow freshmen classmates from North Valley Christian. The winning group was chosen by a vote off a QR code.

Mitchell said his freshmen already have experience in argumentative communication in which they had debates to present, so Friday’s event gave them practice in getting comfortable with a different audience.

Presenter Noah De Luna (front) and his team from North Valley Christian Academy were voted the winners of the TED talk presentation during TEDxGCU's Catalyst event at the Colangelo College of Business.

“The hardest thing is there are so many kids at different levels right now,” Mitchell said. “We have kids that have been homeschooled for the last three years because of COVID. We have kids that been in an online setting. To put them all together, get them comfortable and speak in front of people, that has been something that they’re all at different areas, and personality-wise, too. Some have been very comfortable in that setting, some scared to death.”

On the ride to GCU, Mitchell explained to his freshmen what to expect at Catalyst. Some displayed fear before Mitchell told them they would work in groups with one presenter.

“Then it was ‘OK, we’re OK,’” Mitchell said.

GCU News Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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Related content:

GCU News: TEDxGCU speakers share inspiring stories of perseverance

GCU News: Catalyst creates confidence in TEDx skills

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