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.
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.
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?