Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
January 15, 2001
Leadership course has something for all
It addresses the number one fear: Speaking in public
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Lawyers and business executives are not the only people who need public speaking skills. It's a skill that would also best benefit housewives, parish priests and seminarians.
"It probably should be a prerequisite for seminarians," said Pat Bergstrom, an instructor with the Christopher Leadership Course. "What's the point of having something good to say when nobody hears?"
Instructor Terry Connelly added, "When you're speaking someone has to be listening. Every time a priest gets up there in the pulpit, people have to be listening to what he's saying."
The 10-week course helps participants to overcome the fear and gain the confidence to effectively speak in public.
The course is relatively low-key. Participants are offered a safe, non-competitive environment to develop their public speaking skills.
"We're just trying to help people improve their lives," Connelly said. "Help them to feel comfortable in front of other people."
Which makes the course relevant for the regular public speakers as it is for those who would not normally need to address an audience.
Even housewives benefit from the program because they need to effectively communicate when they are out in the community. Communicating effectively and with confidence is a great benefit even for tasks as simple as going to Safeway for groceries, said Bergstrom.
The program was developed in Detroit in 1951 by Maryknoll Father James Keller, the founder of the Christophers.
The course was first offered in Canada in 1953 and has been in Edmonton for 19 years. Although the course is associated with the Catholic Church simply because it was begun by a priest, it is non-denominational and invites Christians and non-Christians from all walks of life.
There is a certain amount of spirituality in the course, said instructor Gisele Roy, "but it's very subtle."
The course takes its name from St. Christopher. Participants exercise enthusiasm, the course's motto, and often reflect on the Christopher prayer, "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." In many senses, a lack of confidence in public speaking leaves many people in the darkness, said the course instructors.
Connelly attended the course 15 years ago and has been back every year as an instructor.
Once a stutterer, he now speaks with a natural confidence, making everything he says, however impromptu it may be, seem well rehearsed.
In fact, many of the instructors speak in a similar manner. There are no long pauses or repetitive phrases when they speak. Neither are there excess conversation fillers. They get to the point quickly.
"Sometimes we're saying a whole lot of things that aren't necessary," Bergstom said.
Connelly added that an effective speech uses the idea of "stand up, speak out, shut up and sit down."
"If you want your talks to be immortal, don't make them everlasting," Connelly said.
Public speaking is the number one fear in North America, which is the reason for the numerous courses available through Toastmasters, Dale Carnegie, and Grant MacEwan College.
Roy remembers her first day in the course where everyone introduced themselves.
"I could see the terror in some people's faces just saying their names," she said. "One woman had to stop, she was in tears because she was so afraid (to speak publicly)."
The course is also a means of fellowship, support and has a community service aspect. At the close of the course, participants are asked to choose a Christopher Project, anything from volunteering in a hospital to walking dogs at the SPCA.
Random Acts of Kindness, the Gleaners Association and Jim Henson's Muppets were results of Christopher Projects.
The course offers basic techniques in giving simple speeches from introducing a guest speaker to properly presenting and accepting gifts.
"These are examples we can use in our everyday lives," said Linda Karenko, an instructor.
For more information on Christopher Leadership courses, call 468-6498.
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