teaching kids (and yourself!) how to excel at public speaking

by Jessica Reynolds and Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed. 

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Did you know that when polled, Americans consistently rank public speaking as their number one fear, even above death (which is number two)? Why all the willies? Well, lots of reasons: fears of freezing up, going blank, being the center of attention, losing face….

So, when teaching our youngsters how to speak in front of others, we need to minimize fears and bolster confidence. Here’s how:

1. Pick an engaging topic. 

Whenever you are asked to speak, the organizer of the event will likely assign you a general topic to talk about, but you can present a clever or creative perspective or angle. Just because they tell you to talk about gardening, for example, doesn’t mean you have to give a step by step tutorial. Most people know how to plant a garden, but fewer people know secrets of fertilizing or the different fertilizing options. Maybe talk about starting a neighborhood share program where participants bring their fruits of their labor and mix up what is there, each taking a portion of what everyone contributes.

Opting for a creative approach will make you feel more confident in your material, and will also result in a highly engaged audience. 

2. Write out a plan. 

Put your speech into writing, even if you plan to talk off-the-cuff without reading your notes. Here’s how to start your plan:

Come up with a catchy beginning:

The beginning can be something like a joke, ice breaker or anecdote. In order to gain the audience’s attention, you need to make an impression in under one minute or people will begin to tune you out. Grab them early on and hold their attention for the duration!

Put the meat in the middle:

The middle of your speech should be the meat and potatoes of what you have to say. Use strong word imagery to connect with your audience. Visual aids can help you stay on point, like posters or PowerPoint. But, don’t write your speech entirely using these aids, or you will end up reading from your slides…a sure snooze-alert! Know your stuff, and present it communicatively with enthusiasm and animation. It’s also a good idea to make sure your visuals are easy to read at a distance.

Leave an impact with your ending:

Your conclusion should make an impact. It should touch the emotions of people in some way that they will always remember what you told them.

If you are speaking on gardening and composting, you can end with a story about how you learned to garden from your late grandmother, for example. Ending with a personal story makes what you have to say special and full of thought. Then, when people leave, they’ll take your knowledge with them–both because you presented it expertly and because you inspired them with a memory of your own. 

3. Prepare for all variables. 

As with anything, be prepared for the unpredictable. Think about all the variables that could hinder you from giving your speech. Technical glitches usually rank among the top snafus, so have a back-up plan just in case there are electronic malfunctions. You worked hard on this! Your words need to be spoken!

Then, dress for the occasion and be confident. Speak up! No one wants to struggle to hear you, nor do they want to look at a messy messenger. A crisp, clean appearance and well enunciated words will make you all the more successful.

And afterwards, celebrate! Congratulate yourself on a job well done. 

Jessica Reynolds loves spending time with her family and living life through photography and art. She has spent considerable time running her own businesses while raising her kids. Currently, she blogs for postersession.com.

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