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 teacher's 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. 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 topic requires research, do your research. Sounds obvious, but if you skip that step—and many do—you cannot be relaxed during your talk. Once you have a bunch of facts and ideas pulled from trustworthy sources, sit down for your own brainstorming session to see if there are any parts that need more investigation. Digging deeper than absolutely required for the talk gives you more to use in front of your audience.
Try to have more material than you'll need in the talk. And, don't forget to discuss the basics. Your speech could be explaining how something is done 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.
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.
For the Future
Speaking well 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 can change that, however. You must look for opportunities to speak out, whether on school and community issues, in a play, on the debate team, or at your little brother's storytime.
Check out these children and teen resources/eResources to improve public speaking or oral presentations.
On the Web
Presentation Tips for Public Speaking
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
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
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
"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.