Speak Up: Giving a Good Oral Report

It's true: most people would do just about anything to get out of having to speak in public, whether it's the standard "everyone in this class will give an oral report" situation or an acceptance speech for some nifty award you've just received. The knees knock, the heart pounds, and the words you've practiced and practiced and practiced fly right out of your mind. You find yourself resorting to reading from the index cards with your eyes down, your voice a droning monotone, and the sweat beading on your forehead. Yuck. Not a good situation. It's painful for you as the presenter and even more painful for your audience to watch. Here's a bit of advice for beginning public speakers.

Get Comfortable

Pick a topic that interests you. Sounds obvious, but many people just choose anything on the recommended list without thinking whether or not they have strong feelings about the topic. If you don't care, your audience won't, either. Try to not give a presentation on a subject in which you have absolutely no interest. Love shopping? A good topic to avoid would be Stop Shopping Til You Drop and Bring Back Family Game Night. Hate winter sports? Explaining the in's and out's of Canadian ice hockey likely isn't your hot topic. If you must use an assigned subject, do enough research to find an angle that interests you. Often, teachers will give some leeway here.

Have Something to Say

If the subject requires research, do your research. Sounds obvious, but if you skip that step--and many do -- you cannot be relaxed during your presentation. Once you have a bunch of facts and ideas pulled from reputable sources, sit down for your own brainstorming session to see if there are any angles that need more investigation. Digging deeper than absolutely required for the report gives you more to use in front of your audience. Try to have more material than you'll need in the presentation. And, don't forget to discuss the basics. Your speech could be explaining a process or a point of view to people who have no background in your subject. When you have finished your research and brainstorming, the books and Web sites listed below have specific suggestions on how to organize your report.

Be Entertaining

Once you are comfortable with your material and have organized it effectively, think about how you will perform it. Consider that you will, for all intents and purposes, be on stage. For you, it's either a time to shine or a time to crash and burn. Reach into the bag of actors' tricks to sharpen your focus and relax your mind. Simple breathing and stretching exercises can ensure that you're not too tense to give a good performance. When you practice your speech, pay attention to pacing. Tempting as it is to get the thing over with by talking as quickly as possible, your audience wants to hear distinct words, not a three-minute stream of sound.

A great way to get over your fear of public speaking is by telling stories. A good public speaker uses a lot of the same techniques as an awesome storyteller. Everybody likes to hear an interesting story, and experienced speechmakers will often weave stories into their speeches to capture the audience's attention. The library has many video recordings of talented storytellers using their skills to hold an audience's attention. Ghost stories are favorites to tell at Hallowe'en or anytime people gather around a campfire. The Scary Story Reader has forty-one bone-chilling stories to fire up your friends' imaginations. Equally interesting but less creepy collections are listed below.

For the Future

Speaking effectively is an essential asset to a leader, whether in the community or on the job. However, it's true that if your only experience with public speaking is a crash and burn oral report or two, you will be unlikely to succeed. You must look for opportunities to speak out, whether on school and community issues, in the theatre, on the debate team, or at your little brother's storytime.

In the Library

Click on any title to go to the catalog to place a reserve for pick up at one of our local branches.

Break a Leg! The Kids' Book of Acting and Stagecraft by Lise Friedman.
A comprehensive manual for acting and theater, discussing improvisation, voice projection, breathing exercises, script analysis, and technical aspects of theater production.

How to Debate by Robert E. Dunbar.
Presents the formal rules and structures of a debate with ideas for giving rebuttals to arguments and making a strong delivery. Includes a glossary of debate terms.

How to Give a Speech by Margaret Ryan.
The focus here is on how to give speeches in front of a class on an academic topic. Ten chapters give a complete outline of how to compose and deliver an effective presentation.

I Want to Be an Actor by Ivan Bulloch & Diane James.
An introduction to various acting skills, including tips on gesture, improvisation, showing emotion, body language, costume, and dealing with stage fright.

The Pro/Con series.
The twelve books in this series lay out arguments, both for and against, popular topics on the environment, government, economics, U.S. foreign policy, and more that can be useful in preparing for speeches or debates.

Public Speaking from the Boy Scouts of America,
A short book (44 pages) that gives an introduction and tips on public speaking. Part of the BSA's Merit Badge series.

Stories in My Pocket: Tales Kids Can Tell by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss.
Kids of all ages can become confident, polished storytellers. The introduction provides enough information for the novice storyteller to begin using the 30 stories included here. Grouped into four sections by level of difficulty, each story includes specific suggestions for facial expressions, pacing, gestures, emotions and body language.

The Storytelling Handbook: A Young People's Collection of Unusual Tales and Helpful Hints on How to Tell Them by Anne Pellowski.
A selection of unusual, easy-to-tell stories from around the world is complemented by advice from the author on the art of storytelling, an extensive bibliography, and a concise history of storytelling and oral tradition.

On the Web

Presentation Tips for Public Speaking
http://www.aresearchguide.com/3tips.html
A member of Toastmasters International (a group devoted to the practice of public speaking) gives a brisk overview of how to be a good presenter.

These groups encourage young people to develop their public speaking skills as part of their programs:

4-H Youth Development
http://www.fourhcouncil.edu/
4-H stresses public speaking as part of its goal to develop leadership skills. In our service area, 4-H clubs are based in Spotsylvania, Stafford, and Westmoreland counties.

Boy Scouts of America
http://www.scouting.org/
Joining the Boy Scouts is one good way to learn a lot about many useful skills and areas of knowledge, including public speaking.

Boys and Girls Clubs of America
http://www.bgca.org/
"Club programs and services promote and enhance the development of boys and girls by instilling a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging and influence." Click here to visit our region's local Boys and Girls Club.