…Without scarring them for life.
Sweaty palms, cracking voices, going blank: Just the thought of speaking in front of an audience can give many kids a nasty case of nerves. But the reality is that no matter what grade level or subjects we teach, the need for our kids to feel comfortable talking in front of a variety of audiences is very real.
Our students’ futures insist upon it — because whether they’ll be video-conferencing with a global team of coworkers, pitching sales to clients in a boardroom, or informing their local HOAs and legislators of impending concerns, this life skill is a must-have.
Here are our anxiety-free tips on how to raise up our students’ public voices.
1. Start small. Even if you’re working with older learners who’ve been taught to research and write essays, you’ll find that having them develop and deliver knowledge in a speech is a whole different ball game. Take baby steps and start with small chunks leading up to bigger projects. For starters, you might begin with 30-second mini speeches, nonverbal practice, and impromptu exercises with smaller groups.
2. Lead with examples. Expose learners to a variety of successful public speakers by inviting them into your classroom and watching videos. Make sure to provide written copies of speeches when appropriate and include examples of other students their own age succeeding.
3. Provide structure. Perhaps the most common problem when it comes to students developing public speeches, is floundering with a topic that is too broad or too narrow. Help students focus their speeches with channeled research, outlines, rubrics, peer review, and conferencing. Kids will still take ownership of their topic while receiving important guidance.
4. Teach independent skills. There are a lot of hearty pieces that fill in the public speaking pie. To set students up for success, break down unique skills such as physicality and body language, appropriate word choice and tone, and emotional connection with the audience. Each slice is a lot to keep in mind for a budding orator, and purposeful practice with each will show improvement over time.
5. Be human. We all know teachers who still struggle with public speaking. Just think about the nerves you had before your first meet the teacher night or the last time you were asked to speak at a staff meeting. Take away the judgment — and consider grading only on individual growth. Empathize with students, no matter their level of bravery, while showing them that preparing for and speaking to a group is a life skill that anyone can get better at. Just like any skill — cooking a meal, riding a bike, learning a new game — presenting gets easier with time and experience.
Boost your class’s speech-crafting confidence by engaging them with useful, enjoyable practice, and you’ll be nurturing and refining an ability they’ll use throughout no matter where life takes them.
Heather Sparks is a writer, educator, and mom of two. An Arizona native, she holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a master’s degree in gifted education from Arizona State University.