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A catalyst for community participation

Circulate San Diego exists as a multidisciplinary think-tank with expertise in policy and planning. We believe that policy and planning are interconnected fields and Circulate San Diego’s services are enhanced when we blend these two areas of expertise. An example of this collaboration is our public speaking training, a unique program we have developed to support community engagement in local land use.

Very few people have zero hesitation about public speaking. Chapman University did a survey which examined American fears and anxieties across a variety of topics - personal safety, the government, disasters and more. Overall, fear of public speaking is America's biggest phobia - 25.3 percent say they fear speaking in front of a crowd.[1] The fear of public speaking might be heightened for non-native English speakers, residents who don’t know the subject matter very well, or have never spoken in front of an audience before.

As a part of an on-going planning project with the County of San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA), Circulate San Diego’s Director of Policy, Maya Rosas, worked with the planning team to host two public speaking trainings with community groups in the cities of Vista and El Cajon. The trainings were intended to instill confidence in residents to speak in front of an audience and help prepare for involvement in local planning, such as speaking in front of City Council.

At these trainings, residents were provided with an easy-to-follow guide (shown below), designed specifically for each resident group. This guide includes a “Public Speaking Tips” section and a “What to Practice” section, which serves as a crash course to public speaking. These questions start simple, like stating their name and how long they have lived in their city. Residents practiced these first two questions to get comfortable with standing up and speaking in front of an audience. Each resident would practice the first item, stating their name, before adding the next. These questions built on top of each other as a repetitious process of each participant taking a turn speaking. This not only instilled confidence with each cycle of practicing, it allowed all of the residents time to observe and learn from others in the group and congratulate each other for each growing accomplishment.

After the group mastered their introductory statements, the group moved to practicing the next three questions, which required each resident to come up with their own unique answer to project-related questions. Using the training in El Cajon as an example, these questions were designed to help the residents prepare for speaking in front of City Council about an affordable housing project they have been involved with. These questions can be adjusted based on the audience and the intent of the training.

Benefits of these trainings include the social support from group members, a stress-free environment to learn a new or an unfamiliar skill, and to encourage more residents to participate in local planning and policy that directly impacts their lives. Another benefit is language development. In the cities of Vista and El Cajon, many residents who participated in these trainings are second language English learners. With Spanish and Arabic as the origin languages for most participants, public speaking is also about feeling more comfortable sharing your ideas and feelings in a language that is less familiar or practiced.

We strongly support public participation in all aspects of planning and empowering residents to become more vocal participants in their community. If you have a group that you think could benefit from our public speaking training, please contact our Director of Planning, Catherine Thibault at [email protected]