After helping her young daughter build on her public speaking skills, Ayanna Crawford realized that learning this skill set would benefit other young girls as well.  

Soon after, Crawford founded Take the Mic, a program that helps children build their confidence and self-esteem by learning the art of public speaking.  

Crawford joined Zydalis Bauer to share more about the program and its impact. 

This interview originally aired on August 11, 2023.

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: After helping her young daughter build on her public speaking skills, Ayanna Crawford realized that learning this skill set may be something that other young girls needed, as well.

Soon after, Crawford founded the Take the Mic program, which offers sessions for children to build their confidence and self-esteem by learning the art of public speaking.

Crawford joined me to share more about the program and its impact.

Ayanna Crawford, Take the Mic: When my daughter was in third grade, she’d come home, you know, nervous — sort of crying almost — about the fact that she wasn’t ready to present her project because there was a portion of her project that she had to present with her peers. And so, I said, “Oh, no! We can’t have that.”

So, I just sat her down. We talked a little bit, you know, about public speaking. We talked a little bit about, you know, her fear and then ways that she could use in order to do this presentation.

So, with that being said, I knew that there is probably other students that might have needed some help. So, we actually formed a little group, and we got a couple of her friends, and we did a couple of like mock presentations just to kind of help them.

And she soared. Now she’s going to be a senior in high school, and she not only speaks in public, but she’s confident.

Zydalis Bauer: And so since 2014, this program has helped so many children and young adults build on their public speaking skill set.

Why is this such an important skill set to acquire and then foster?

Ayanna Crawford: We know in business and school and all types of work that we do, you know, the fear of public speaking, right? The fear of speaking to people that you might not know, the fear that you might not say the right words, right? The fear of not coming across clear and concise. And so, we all have that fear.

And so, it’s important that we start early in schools and in, you know, early childhood centers talking about public speaking, because it’s it affects every walk of life that we get involved in — whether you work at the grocery store, whether you work in a college, whether you are a teacher, a professor, you know, working with what you do as a — as a host of a TV show. You know, everything that we do has to do with speaking.

And so, we want to make sure that we are helping not only young people, but those that might need some understanding on how do you have those tools, how do you have great ways of sort of, you know, pausing, taking a moment and breathing and saying, “You know what? Let me reevaluate or let me take a moment and figure out what I want to say.”

Zydalis Bauer: You touched on that really nicely, you know, kind of bringing the point that it doesn’t matter what career you choose, public speaking is important.

I was actually really shy growing up and so, when I first decided to pick this career, I remember, you know, having to do public speaking, being like, “Why am I putting myself in this position?” But not really realizing that this is a good skill no matter which pathway you take.

So, can you talk about how the confidence of public speaking helps build self-esteem? Why do they go hand in hand?

Ayanna Crawford: That’s a great question! And I think for our program in particular, what we found was that, when girls have confidence in what they are saying, when girls have a message to say that they’re passionate about, that builds their self- esteem. That makes them feel that not only what they’re saying that they believe in it, but they convey it to — to whomever they’re speaking to.

And so, in anything that anyone does, if you’re passionate about something and you understand the idiosyncrasies of what you’re saying, and you yourself are very commanding of that message, then it comes across that way.

Zydalis Bauer: So, Ayanna, you currently are working as the state rep for Orlando Ramos, and you’ve also had a very successful teaching career in the city of Springfield, as well as being very involved in the community.

So, tell me, how were you able to build your confidence and grow your skillset in public speaking?

Ayanna Crawford: That’s a great question! And I kind of think about that in terms of my mother, my father, my aunts, my uncles, my grandmother, and the works that they did.

My mother was a nurse for 40 years. You know, she had to convey messages. She had to talk to people. Whenever we would go to the grocery store, I thought my mother knew everybody in the world because everybody in the world would always stop my mother in the grocery store and she would stop her grocery shopping and have a conversation and talk to whomever she talked to. And she would always — for me as a child, she would be warm, she would be smiling, she would have eye contact, and she would always pause and listen to the other speaker.

And so, that was sort of my interaction. How do you interact, for one, in terms of when you’re talking to people? But my mother was always caring when she talked and so, I saw that early on. It was it was a warm feeling that I recall growing up and wanting to have that for myself and then wanting to be able to teach that to others.

Because I think there’s an art to public speaking, there’s an art to conversations, and there’s an art to listening, because I think we often don’t do enough of that, right? We don’t listen enough.

And so, if we listen more than we’ll be able to share a message of hope to others because of what we hear from them.

Zydalis Bauer: And Take the Mic is — has after school sessions as well as summer sessions, and you describe it as a fun and interactive environment.

So, can you walk us through what a session looks like and how are you able to really encourage these young adults and students to open up and be themselves during these programs?

Ayanna Crawford: In the beginning, it’s sort of a little tricky, but we get them engaged. So, what we do is we allow them to do icebreakers. We know that icebreakers are a way to let your hair down a bit, get engaged, and get really sort of active.

And once we do that, then we sort of start off with our initial class, which is our introductory to public speaking. We do a PowerPoint presentation, we have the girls do interactive activities, role playing, and also, we give them some additional activities to do to showcase their public speaking. We might have them read a poem; we might have them read a tongue twister. We might have the read a short essay, you know, something to engage them and get them excited.

And then also within the program, we have a creative writing class, we have a computer class, we have a nutrition class that we do with the girls. We also have what to wear, what not to wear, health and beauty, because we believe that all those components, with your presentation and what you’re saying, also conveys a message, too. You know, and how you take care of yourself is also going to exude some of that positivity and that — that understanding in terms of your presentation.

And so, we also have guest speakers at each of the days that we are scheduled. So, we have professional women speakers that come and share not only their careers, but also how public speaking has impacted their lives and their careers. And so, it’s a wonderful thing to hear from other women in other perspectives and how public speaking has come about for themselves.

And then we have a ceremony at the end, where each girl will be able to present a topic of their choice on community service project, and they present it to their peers. And we all get to listen to the skills and their presentation at the end.

Zydalis Bauer: I can only imagine how powerful that presentation at the end must be, seeing the transition and the transformation of these children.

What has been maybe one moment from an individual or a group that you’ve worked with that has really stuck with you in a moment of transformation that you’ve seen?

Ayanna Crawford: You know, it goes back to my first initial program, and my first initial program was what we called a seminar. It was a one day Take the Mic seminar. We had about 45 girls.

There was two girls that weren’t sure if they wanted to come. They were very, very shy. Even in their peer groups with their friends, they didn’t really talk at all, nothing. And after our program, the parent and the friend said, “Oh my goodness, my friend is talking. She loved your program! It was almost as if you cured her from being shy. She loved it!”

And so, from that day on, she gradually gained more confidence in her own public speaking. She became a better speaker with her friends and her school and her parents. And for that reason alone, I knew that I needed to continue to do that. And that was in 2014.

Zydalis Bauer: And so now, eight years later, here we are still talking about this program.

How would you like to see it grow and what is the future of take the mic?

Ayanna Crawford: I think that we need to have a public speaking course in our schools. I believe that public speaking should be started at a very young age, whether it be first grade, second grade, but embedded in the curriculum.

I believe every child and every school around the country should have and offer a public speaking course. And I would love for Take the Mic to be in every school, in every district around the country. The skills that they gain as a public speaker is going to be so beneficial for them in the future.