PLEASANTON -- Melody Huang is only 15, but she already knows the butterflies-in-the stomach, sweaty palms reaction most people experience when they have to speak in front of a group.
Instead of suffering in silence, however, the Amador High School junior, along with fellow students Alice Deng and Shilpa Krish, made a study of public speaking and are now busy teaching area students -- and some adults -- how to stand and deliver.
"When we were in elementary and middle school, we were anxious and nervous giving speeches," she recalled. "We got a lot of public speaking assignments, but there were no lectures or courses on how to do it ... It was really nerve-racking."
To conquer their fears, the three friends participated in public speaking competitions organized by DECA, a national organization with local chapters that offers training to high school and college students interested in careers in marketing and business. Armed with newfound skills and confidence, Huang and her friends decided to share the knowledge.
"We thought we'd give back to our community and to those who want to learn public speaking," she said.
The three worked together to create RSVP Speech (repertoire, speech, voice, presentation), an ongoing workshop offering free public speaking lessons tailored to different age groups. The three girls designed the curriculum, marketed it with fliers and posters and convinced Pleasanton Library officials to give them the use of its large community room for weekly classes. Pleasanton workshops began last June, and RSVP recently began classes in San Leandro. Huang hopes to expand the program into Hayward, Fremont, Castro Valley and San Ramon. Classes range in size from about six to 30 participants.
Lesson plans change each week but always include basic information for new attendees and new concepts for continuing students. Topics range from the use of eye contact, gestures, posture and voice projection to the content and organization of an effective speech.
Elementary-age students learn through games and play, while older students and adults practice with impromptu speeches and discussion. Huang and the other instructors try to cover a variety of speech situations.
"A job interview is different from presenting in a classroom," she said.
While about 80 percent of attendees are elementary and middle school students, RSVP offers separate workshops for adults, who range from college undergrads to English learners to those simply trying to improve their speaking abilities.
Amanda Luo, 12, a student at Harvest Park Middle School in Pleasanton, has been to several RSVP workshops.
"I think it helps me," she said. "I like the fun games; I feel more comfortable answering questions from the teacher now."
Uyen Chan brings her daughters Isabelle, 8, and Helena, 6, to the RSVP workshops each week. The family moved to the valley recently from England, and she was surprised at the emphasis on public speaking in California schools.
"I thought it would be really good for my children to have a go at it," she said. "It's done very rarely in London."
The game-style approach to the children's workshops have been a hit with her daughters, she said.
"The students who lead it are so patient and not critical of the children," she said.
"Some people perceive this as a bunch of children teaching children, but they do it very systematically. It's a credit to them that they can control these kids and keep them motivated. And the children listen right to the end."
Her family has already seen results, she added.
"The first week of school they had to do short presentations on their names," Chan recalled. "My eldest sat down, wrote her own speech and presented it to me rather than the other way round. Before I would have had to coach her. It was totally different; she was a lot more confident. She thought she could do it."
The group has now added several middle school assistants to help with the program, said Huang, who wants to major in business administration in college.
"We definitely hope to expand farther," she said. "Public speaking is a very important life skill that will follow us our whole lives."
What: RSVP Speech workshops in public speaking.
Where: Pleasanton Public Library, 400 Old Bernal Ave., Pleasanton
When: 3:30 to 5 p.m. Mondays.
Where: San Leandro Public Library main branch, 300 Estudillo Ave., San Leandro
When: 1 to 3 p.m. Sundays.
For updated information, log on to rsvpspeech.wordpress.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.