Beating the Case of the Ums…

by Elena on August 28, 2012 in Education

Public speaking. Presenting in front of groups. It is something that I love to do. Yes, I admit it, I am one of those people that are fueled by the energy of an audience. Whether it was back to school night at school, speaking at a PTA meeting, sharing educational strategies with a staff, or presenting on topics related to developing independent thinkers and writers, I was lucky in the last twelve years to have opportunities to be a presenter.

teaching public speaking to kids | Ciao Mom

The reality is though, is that not everyone loves to speak in front of groups. Some people dread it. From children to adults, there are those that cannot fathom or stomach public speaking.  And while the skill of public speaking, as far as looking at your audience, speaking clearly, and loudly enough for people in the back row can be taught…it is not always easy. The sooner a person can learn to be comfortable in front of a group, the better.  In fact I would go so far as to say that starting elementary age students out with practice and strategies is the best way to catch them before they even have the opportunity to learn to become anxious. Because seriously, young children…(most of them that is)…love to talk.

Three Strategies for Public Speaking 101

The first strategy I taught my students to practice speaking in front of a group was their voice level.  We practiced talking in a one inch voice, so that only a person very close to you could hear you, a six inch voice so that the person on the other side of the table could hear you, and then the big one…the wall voice.  My students would practice standing on one side of the class, and they would talk to the opposite wall as if it (the wall) was listening. They loved practicing this and over time, many of the voices became stronger and more confident.

Teaching Kids to be public speakers | Ciao Mom

The second strategy for public speaking that my students learned early on was to NEVER say the word “Um…” We talked about the fact that um is not in the dictionary, and is a break in whatever story they are telling.  We came up with replacement words for um (“so” was one of their favorites), asking rhetorical questions, or actually engaging the audience by making things interactive. Because asking a question to a group is a great way to take the spotlight off the speaker, as well as making things more engaging for the audience. The best way to beat a bad case of the “ums” was to record a student speaking so that they could hear how many “ums” they used, because most people barely even realize that are saying it.

The third strategy for public speaking confidence was to let students work in cooperative groups. Now, it should be noted that a cooperative group is where every person in the group has a role. It is not a one man show with a few other people flanking the sides.  Even if it is a small role, someone that is less confident has the time and support of their group to build their public speaking stamina until over time, they become more at ease in front of the group, on their own.

These three strategies work just as effectively with adults as they do with children. The trick is that children are naturally more flexible and willing to step out of their comfort zone as long as they feel supported and safe in their environment.

The truth is that not all people are natural born public speakers, nor do they need to be.  For some, it is enough to be able to stand up confidently and share their voice when they need to.

For those of us that love it….well…we can still hone our practice as well. Thinking about our pace, how we engage our audience, and how much we move around or gesture with our hands (I am a big mover when I am speaking…and the hand gesture thing…I am Italian after all.)

What about you? Do you love to speak in front of audiences? Or maybe not so much?

Ciao Mom

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Suebob August 28, 2012 at 9:06 am

I’m a Toastmaster. I’m sure you’re aware of Toastmasters – a worldwide, member-driven organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills in a fun, supportive environment. I really believe in the program because it has helped me so much.

I do enjoy speaking in public, and I enjoy getting better at it. I like your ideas for teaching public speaking, too. I’ll have to try the wall voice thing if I work with kids.

Jo-Lynne {Musings of a Housewife} August 28, 2012 at 9:41 am

I don’t love it, but I do it because I know it’s good for me. I definitely try to beat the ums, but my biggest fault is talking too fast and stuttering b/c my mouth gets ahead of my brain! LOL.

Sherry August 28, 2012 at 10:06 am

Great pointers. I don’t mind public speaking.. I get a little nervous. My son age 11 does not even get nervous. I am make sure he does some acting classes so that he does not loose the ability due to nerves. I think it is so important to speak in front of large crowds in general it make you more out going and easy to talk to. People put themselves out there if you do.
Thanks for sharing.

Jenny August 28, 2012 at 11:37 am

I was a Communication major in college, and my favorite class was Business and Professional Speaking. It was eye opening. Our professor videotaped us during our presentations which was wonderful feedback. He would provide us with his feedback, and then we would review the videotaped version together. I had to adapt my public speaking style a bit because I was used to acting on stage. So I tended to use poses instead of walking around at first. I love speaking in public now even though it makes me nervous. It’s a great rush.

Frelle August 28, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Thank you for the pointers and for sharing your thoughts and experiences about speaking!

Jessica @FoundtheMarbles August 28, 2012 at 6:43 pm

I love to moderate, but don’t enjoy giving speech-like presentations. I get really nervous and it takes a good few minutes for me to settle down. I was just invited to speak at the PA Conference for Women in October so I may need some of your tutoring!

hchybinski August 28, 2012 at 7:49 pm

uhm. . .those are excellent tips!! =) I don’t mind speaking in public or before a crowd. . .my dream is to be a Broadway star. . .LOL


julie August 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Such a great post. Like most teachers, I, too, love public speaking. But always need reminders to practice my skills

ConnieFoggles August 30, 2012 at 11:44 pm

Can you say panic attacks? I still have a terrible fear of public speaking and even speaking on videos. Your tips are very helpful and I’ll try to give them a try.

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