Developing Public Speaking Skills and Confidence in Young Students
Public speaking is a task that many adults fear. The thought of having to give a speech or oral presentation brings on panic and fear in some students. Other students excel and seem to even enjoy it. I am reminded of an experience I had while judging an elementary school speech tournament. The event was storytelling. The children where told a story and then had to retell the story to judges. Most of the children had very average performance but two were memorable. One young girl forgot most of the story she was to retell but that did not hinder her performance. She made up the details she forgot and delivered animated and charming tale. The other child also forgot the story. He totally froze and did not say a word. Both children were obviously nervous but handled the situation differently. Preparation and training made the difference. With the proper training children are quite capable of delivering a speech or some other oration. There are several basics that should be taught.
One of the most important things to learn is to relax and breathe. While speaking in front of even the smallest audience may be frightening it does not have to be debilitating. As I often explained to my students no one has actually died from having to give a speech in class. It will get easier with practice.
Make eye contact with the audience. Smile and look at the audience. Despite what some may think audiences rarely bite. Making eye contact improves a presentation in many ways. First, the sound is projected into the audience and not muffled by a podium or other object. I have found that looking for a friendly face in the audience can actually have a claming effect. Gaining the audience’s attention is important and one way to do this is by making eye contact.
Being prepared for any speaking engagement is vital. Know your speech or presentation. This doesn’t mean you have to memorize your presentation. As a teacher some of the worst presentations I have heard where by students who failed to plan. Things did not go as smoothly as anticipated and this led to panic.
Speak clearly and at a normal pace. When scared it is natural to speak softly, rush or mumble. Slow down the pace. I have even had students write “slow down”, “breathe”, and “relax” in bright red letters on manuscripts as a reminder.
While public speaking can be a daunting task it is also a great way to build confidence in children. As a speech coach I enjoyed watching my students blossom as the year progressed. It is neat to watch the butterflies emerge from the cocoons.