How to Teach Public Speaking to Children

Smiling young child in classroom.
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While the thought of public speaking makes many adults nervous, children might be able to overcome this fear by getting plenty of practice early in their lives. Take advantage of the flexibility of youth. With help, children might come to think of public speaking as a joy rather than a fear.

1 Make It Relevant

When working with children, enthusiasm is contagious. Choose a public speaking topic that relates to their lives and excites them. For example, if working on debate topics, pick an issue that most students feel passionate about, such as recess. If asked to come up with salient arguments as to why recess should be 10 minutes longer, you can bet you're going to get some thoughtful responses. By starting with a topic of interest, you will eliminate the anxiety-inducing scenario of being unfamiliar with or apathetic about a topic.

2 Offer Examples

Once you've chosen the topic, review the format of a well-practiced speech using several exemplary models. Give a speech of the same format on a similar topic and make note of the way that you introduce your topic -- usually through some sort of "hook" that grabs the attention -- as well as how you hold the audience's interest. Show videos of experienced presenters and point out elements of humor and stage presence that help the speech flow smoothly. Have students take notes about what they liked and what they would do differently. Ask them questions about visuals, pacing and the presenter's nonverbal communication.

3 Practice, Practice, Practice

Youngsters will feel most comfortable when they feel well-practiced. Allow them time to work with just a few of their classmates and require each listener to give two pieces of positive feedback. This will help build the child's confidence and will remove the jitters once he is required to speak in front of the class or a larger group. Encourage them to practice at home in front of parents, relatives and older siblings. By the time they get in front of their final audience, it should be at least the 10th time they've worked through their speeches and should be close to second nature.

4 Keep At It

By routinely giving speeches at a young age, children might be able to avoid the fear that plagues so many adults. Toastmasters offers eight-week leadership programs for youths to minimize nervousness and help them to present logical arguments. In your own work, ask students to fill out a debriefing questionnaire after their first speeches that asks them to rate their experience, paying close attention to how they felt during the presentation. Were they nervous? Did they feel confident about the subject matter? What would they do differently the next time? Without wasting much time, assign a second speech. And then a third. The more students have the opportunity to practice, the more they'll be at ease in front of a crowd and will seek out opportunities in the future.