Speak Easy

Good public speaking skills will serve your child well.

Speak Easy

 

Does your child shuffle his feet, mutter, and look away when you introduce him to people? Does she mumble her way through class presentations, staring at the floor all the while? While these are normal behaviours for a five-year-old, you want your 10 year old to be more comfortable in front of others.

Speaking in public does not just refer to giving a speech or presentation; It happens whenever we are talking to others, whether an individual or a group. It’s important for a child to learn to speak with poise and effectiveness in public. Children who make eye contact and who speak clearly and with conviction and enthusiasm create a positive impression in those around them. This positive impression will improve their interactions with others in all areas of their lives.

The earlier a child develops good speaking skills, the easier and more effective the transition will be to activities involving speaking in adulthood, such as a job interview, chairing a meeting, delivering a report or giving a sales presentation. The ability to speak with confidence and polish can open the doors of opportunity for your child.

Children learn to use words by listening to those around them, so parental modelling of correct grammar and clear diction is important. Your child will probably speak the way you do, so it’s wise to listen to your own speaking patterns. Being willing to improve your own speech shows her that speaking is a skill worth practising. For example, many people say “um” or “you know” a lot. You and your child can change this habit by simply pausing to seek the right words. Short pauses give the speaker time to think and the listener time to grasp what has been said.

Self-confidence is the most important factor in relaxed, poised speaking. A child’s confidence for speaking in public starts in the home. When parents and siblings listen respectfully to one another, children develop confidence that they have something worthwhile to say, enabling them to speak with conviction. Help your child make eye contact when listening and speaking to others. Emphasize the importance of speaking clearly and using correct grammar. You may want to give her some standard phrases beyond “please” and “thank you”, such as, “I’m fine, thank you. How are you?”.

The skills that create smooth one-on-one conversations are the same skills that will give your child poise when speaking to a group. When he begins to do book reports and present projects at school, explain to him that speaking to a group is the same as talking to one person. It’s just that there are many “ones” and you make eye contact and say a little bit to each one at a time.

Teach your child that upright posture and a smile are key to a polished stage presence. Have him practise his presentation at home in front of the family. Provide feedback in areas such as expression, clear diction and speaking slowly enough to avoid slurring syllables together. Remember that speaking, like singing, is a highly personal activity. Be careful to keep the comments kind and constructive.

Children’s biggest fear when giving a presentation at school is that the other kids will laugh. Speaking in the face of that fear takes enormous courage. Parents can help by reinforcing the understanding that nobody else’s thoughts can affect whom a person is inside. A public speaking event is not a test of self-worth. Besides, people’s opinions say far more about themselves. It also helps to emphasize that the majority of people in an audience are not there to criticize the speaker. On the contrary, they want the speaker to do well. Speaker and listeners are partners in the event, not adversaries.

Every performer has butterflies before a performance. This is not “stage fright.” Butterflies are simply the body’s response to a situation that needs extra energy, a special edge. Tell your child to just breathe deeply and call it excitement. Butterflies will never feel pleasant, but they will help your child fly. As with everything, managing nerves gets easier with practice.

Remember that speaking in front of a group is self-exposure. Afterward, save specific critique for another time. What any speaker, especially a child, needs most after a presentation is loving acceptance, wholehearted support and a gold star for courage.

Author: Heather Stubbs

Heather Stubbs is a singer, actress, public speaker and presentation skills trainer. Her website is www.skilltime.ca, and she can be reached at heather@skilltime.ca.

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