Public speaking skills are critical for career success, and this is something that even grown-ups struggle with. How, then, can we as parents help our children to become better public speakers?
Below is a comment from one of our discussion threads, which might resonate with parents:
“I see many classes in Singapore try to teach public speaking, through building confidence on stage. But none really focus on the content and delivery of the speeches — essentially, how to communicate to audiences efficiently and persuasively. From my perspective, these are the skills our children need to be really good communicators and future leaders.”
Can we help our children to improve their public speaking skills in daily life, without having to enrol them in an enrichment class? Yes, but it certainly requires time and dedication.
“Public speaking is something you can’t learn by watching videos on YouTube or reading about [it],” says Darren Tay, who, in 2016, became the first Singaporean to emerge winner at the World Championship of Public Speaking. “You have to keep practising.”
For Tay, that practice resulted from being part of the local Toastmasters club, where members gather regularly to give speeches. Members also give one another feedback on different aspects of presenting, such as eye contact. Toastmasters clubs for under-18s are known as “Gavel clubs,” and you may enquire about these clubs here.
For children who prefer to hone their speaking skills at home, here are some suggestions.
Learn How To Tell A Good Story
Most of us know that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but what makes a story good to listen to?
According to executive coach and speaker Kristi Hedges, a compelling story should have some of the following elements:
A moral or purpose
A personal connection to the storyteller
References that the audience understands
Conflict or vulnerability
A sense of achievement
If your kids are writing compositions in school, you can highlight to them that some of the same principles apply when drafting a speech.
For instance, they can aim to write strong introductions and conclusions for their speeches, which will help to make the speeches more memorable. They can also think about personal stories to include in their speeches, such as a struggle that they’ve overcome. When editing their speeches, they should weed out details that don’t help in driving a point across to the audience — include only the information that matters.
Use These Simple Guides
Here’s a pro tip from Matt Abrahams, who runs communication and presentation classes at Stanford University. He encourages parents to introduce two acronyms to their kids to help them with their public speaking.
First, when preparing for the presentation, kids need to have a MAP for themselves and their audience, and this consists of:
Memorising key points Anticipating questions, and preparing answers Providing a handout for the audience
During the presentation, kids should have a BLAST, and this involves:
Breathing deeply before the presentation begins Looking at the audience Attention to one’s posture Speaking loudly
“Talking” with hand gestures
These are the guides that Abrahams himself has successfully used to help children deliver better presentations.
Make Practice Fun
Whether your child is preparing for an informal show-and-tell session or an all-important project presentation, practice makes perfect.
“Parents can boost confidence by listening to their child practise [a] speech many times,” says educator and author Katherine Pebley O’Neal. “They can remind their child to make eye contact and to smile. The final two or three run-throughs should be met with only praise.”
One way to give constructive but gentle feedback is to use puppets as models, says public speaking coach Stacey Marshall. For instance, if you want to demonstrate the difference between mumbling and speaking clearly, you can create different voices for two puppets and ask your child which puppet he would rather listen to.
But what if your child is reluctant to deliver a speech to you, perhaps due to self-consciousness or fear of criticism? You will have to think out of the box to turn the practice sessions into positive experiences for your child. For instance, you could ask your child to practise in private, in front of a mirror or a front-facing camera.
“My daughter had a class presentation to prepare for recently. She felt stressed about practising in front of me, so I suggested that she could practise in front of her younger brother or her best friend,” says a mother. “It was more of a show-and-tell, where she had to talk about items of personal significance. After the presentation, we talked about the different items that she could’ve brought to better capture the audience’s interest, such as items that were handmade or less commonly seen.”
“For my son, we’ve recorded him giving speeches using the Snapchat app, which comes with wacky filters and ‘voice changers.’ It gives everyone a good laugh watching the replays! At the same time, he can assess if he’s loud enough, as well as check his posture and mannerisms.”
Create Opportunities To Speak Up
You don’t have to wait for a class presentation to help your child hone his or her speaking skills.
“My son’s teachers have given me the feedback that he speaks too softly when addressing the class,” says a mother. “So I’ve asked them to give him more opportunities to speak in class, such as by calling on him regularly to answer questions and giving him additional chances to read aloud. At home, we’ve set up a reward system — if we receive any positive feedback from the teachers, my son will get to buy a new book.”
You can also find ways to weave public speaking into your family rituals. For instance, at family gatherings on special occasions, family members can take turns to talk about what the occasion means to them. Or, if someone is celebrating a milestone birthday, you can encourage other family members to prepare tribute speeches, and lead by example yourself. If your family is religious, you can ask different family members — including the children — to lead prayer sessions.
Over the dinner table, do give your children complete attention as they share their stories, and listen to their views as you share yours. Be interested in what they have to say, by asking them questions and encouraging them to elaborate on their viewpoints. Show them that it’s perfectly acceptable to hold a different opinion, and ways to disagree respectfully. Make time for this, as it is the habits ingrained in daily life that will have the most impact on your child.