Jan 10 2018
by Ashika Sethi
At CASA of Travis County, we speak up for children who’ve been abused or neglected. This means that one of the main requirements of a CASA volunteer is to occasionally speak to a judge in front of a courtroom full of people. While it’s imperative that CASA volunteers use their voice to speak up for children – the act of public speaking can be a fear for many. One of the reasons those interested in becoming a CASA volunteer are hesitant to apply is due to their fear of public speaking.
There’s no denying that speaking in front of a courtroom, especially to a judge who has a lot of power in the situation, can be quite an undertaking. However, there’s little to be nervous about if you come to the courtroom prepared and practiced.
That’s why we’re here - the staff at CASA are trained to help guide volunteers with figuring out what to say in court and how to say it.
When a prospective CASA volunteer has finished training, they are placed with one of our Child (or Teen) Advocacy Specialists who helps guide them through the case they are appointed to. Before a court hearing, our volunteers have spent hours learning about the case, the child or children, and their family. Nobody speaks in the courtroom on behalf of CASA without knowing every minute detail about the case beforehand.
From there, our Child Advocacy Specialists help our volunteers meticulously plan what to say before a court hearing and rehearse their speech multiple times. It is the CAS’s job to make sure our volunteers feel comfortable with what they are saying to the judge and practice how they plan to say it.
Some of our staff members have specific tactics and tidbits of advice to give to our volunteers. Family Finding Specialist Elizabeth Throop tells her volunteers to practice in the bathroom mirror beforehand. “I tell my volunteers to practice in the mirror, and then practice in front of me,” says Elizabeth. “I always tell them to look at the judge when speaking and pretend everyone else is gone, like they are just giving an update and recommendations to the judge. What’s helpful is that both of our judges seem to smile at CASA and are always very kind to us.”
For Teen Advocacy Specialist Diana McCue, perseverance is key. “I think that desensitizing yourself to the fear of public speaking by continuing to be brave and get up there is a helpful tip,” says Diana. “I had tons of fear of public speaking in my first few months in court but rarely notice the fear anymore! I think the fact that volunteers continue to advocate and speak in court even when facing a fear of public speaking is just more evidence of how much they care about their CASA kids.”
When all is said and done, hours of preparation and practice may not alleviate all the butterflies in the pit of your stomach when the court date rolls around. Take this tip from The Balance as a possible way to reduce stress before the speech: “The most fearful moment of any presentation is the one minute before your stage entrance. Use the tactic of elite athletes by visualizing a positive outcome and using deep belly breathing to reduce stress and build confidence.”
When fighting nerves, it’s important to remember why you signed up to become a volunteer in the first place. It can help to remind yourself of the astronomical impact that your voice and advocacy can have on child’s life.[CL1]
We don’t grow as humans without undertaking opportunities that scare us. Becoming a CASA volunteer might just be that undertaking that helps you become a more confident and eloquent public speaker.
We encourage you to speak up for the children in our community, even if your voice trembles a little at first.
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