Brain Power’s innovative approach to learning leadership is bringing the critical but often overlooked skill of effective public speaking to high-potential kids.
We’ve all suffered through extremely awkward, boring, and poorly executed presentations. I’m referring to the type of event where about 30 seconds in you think to yourself, “This is going to be tough to sit through,” and a few moments later, “How was this person allowed to address a crowd in the first place?” In situations like this, no one expects to see the likes of Winston Churchill gracing the stage, but is it too much to ask that the speaker display at least some rudimentary knowledge of the principles of good public speaking?
Luckily, the expert instructors at Brain Power are there to help high-potential students overcome the obstacles public speakers typically face. To do so, they have developed an innovative academy that currently caters to kids as young as 9, arming them with the knowledge and accelerated skill set necessary for achieving success in public speaking, something that will serve them well in all aspects of their lives, whether it be at school, university, in their personal lives, or in their future careers.
Brain Power’s Public Speaking Academy is led by Dr. Jenn Chenkin, a charismatic speaker and dedicated teacher, who earned a master’s degree and a PhD from Queen Mary University of London (UK). Dr. Chenkin joined Brain Power in 2018 as a member of the Language Arts faculty; she quickly realized that students were lacking basic knowledge and skills in public speaking. Consequently, she quickly pivoted to prioritizing the following three competencies: building confidence, communicating clearly, and persuasion.
“We focus on these three areas, but with an emphasis on persuasion,” says Dr. Chenkin. “Persuasion engenders the belief that students can positively impact the world by convincing other people to consider their measured and thoughtful perspectives. Likewise, confidence is so critical at this age. The more often these kids get up and present in front of a group of their peers, the more rapidly they see that they are saying something worth listening to. This is how you change the world: by convincing other people to believe in your ideas and show that you can be a leader.”
Brain Power offers courses that are led by PhDs, a faculty that possesses specialized knowledge about their field of study and are thus able to impart that experience to the students through a thought-provoking curriculum that develops students into problem-solvers, creative thinkers, solid writers, passionate speakers, and empathetic listeners. For the last 30 years, the program has been operating out of its headquarters in Vaughan and more recently out of Hamilton, with a variety of courses that expand academic horizons, support admissions to elite programs, and provide access to stimulating extracurricular activities. Brain Power’s newest location, in Toronto, is slated to open in September 2022 at the Prosserman JCC building (4588 Bathurst Street in North York).
In contrast to its competitors, Brain Power caters to kids who have a learning level of three to four years above their age group and are looking to develop their critical thinking and communication skills. The Public Speaking Academy’s first course is offered in two-hour sessions at either Brain Power’s facility in Vaughan or at its new Toronto facility. This course was originally offered to Grade 9 students, then to Grades 6 through 8, and now to Grades 4 and 5. Eventually, Brain Power will offer the course to Grades 1 through 12.
Brain Power’s research shows that children as young as 5 are expected to communicate complex ideas to their peers at school. Therefore, introducing them to the basics of public speaking at a young age is important. “Gaining public speaking skills helps students perform better at school, where presentations are becoming a ubiquitous component of academic evaluation,” says Brain Power’s CEO and instructor Vanessa Serra Iarocci. “Our course also provides the foundation that will eventually help students achieve successful admission to elite programs that increasingly require videos and interviews versus just standardized tests.”
“THIS IS HOW YOU CHANGE THE WORLD: BY CONVINCING OTHER PEOPLE TO BELIEVE IN YOUR IDEAS AND SHOWING THAT YOU CAN BE A LEADER”
It is no secret that young people are living in a borderless world where learning to communicate effectively and to persuade others across many time zones and cultures is the real differentiator. To prepare students for this reality, Dr. Chenkin sees a great benefit to group learning rather than one-on-one instruction. “To excel in the art of public speaking, observing others is crucial. Group learning makes for fun and spirited engagement and, in the process, kids make friends,” says Chenkin. “We provide a safe place for students to experiment, and there’s no greater pleasure for an instructor than to see them come out of their shells. We are also teaching students to become empathetic observers; for example, they learn how to give positive reinforcement to other students who struggle to execute a particular task.”
There’s little doubt, therefore, that to become successful, young people will need to be exceptional public speakers. This proficiency will ensure that they ace school-admission interviews, where they are expected to project confidence and be able to communicate their ideas clearly. As they become adults, this skill set will prove vital for success in job interviews — to persuade employers that they are the best candidate for the job.
“Kids today spend a lot of time in front of screens, a concern that we all know is at the forefront when it comes to the impact that technology has on our lives,” observes Dr. Chenkin. “The pandemic has only exacerbated the difficulty that a lot of kids are having right now in learning how to read facial cues and expressions to engage and empathize with those around them. Public speaking is about more than just standing up and presenting information — it is about understanding the nuanced ways that we express ourselves through body language and tone of voice. We use these same cues to decode the world around us.”
More than just drills and tests, textbooks and graphs, Brain Power’s innovative curriculum is carefully engineered to teach these critical life skills and set high-potential students on the path to success.