Part 2 of 2
In Part 1 of this blog we talked about the importance of teaching children public speaking skills and using The Fun Theory to make the experience enjoyable and effective. The last thing anyone wants is to raise a child who suffers from glossophobia – the fear of public speaking. Today, as many as 75% of people have glossophobia, and studies show that many people fear public speaking more than death!
None of us want our children to contribute to these statistics. Rather, we want them to feel strong and comfortable whenever they are speaking and especially when they are speaking in front of a group. In case you doubt that children can be poised and confident in front of a group take a look at this famous video clip of Severn Suzuki who spoke at the United Nations Earth Summit when she was just twelve years old.
In addition to her powerful message, which is still relevant today, did you hear the strength of her vocal delivery including her word choice, clear enunciation, strong inflection and pauses? Did you see the passion in her delivery?
While you may not want your children to be quite as assertive as Severn, you do want them to be confident and poised and to hold their own on issues that are meaningful and important to them. Children who feel comfortable speaking to groups tend to speak out more often, volunteer for leadership positions and meet challenges head on. In fact, developing public speaking skills is just as important as learning to read and write. That’s why “show and tell” is such a popular activity in the early grades. But there is more that we can do to help our children master this all important skill.
When teaching young children the fundamentals of public speaking there are two important areas you can work on every day: Vocal skills and body language.
Here are a few pint size tips I have used as an actress, teacher and parent. I am delighted to pass these on to you.
· Read out loud to your child: Research tells us that there are many benefits to reading to your children. When it comes to public speaking, reading is a hidden resource. If you enunciate clearly, vary your pace from slow to fast and use expressive pitch and inflection you will heighten your child’s interest in the story and teach these important vocal skills by example.
· Emphasize key words: When words in the story are colorful, descriptive and emotional, use added stress to make them sound dramatic. Change your volume (speak louder and stronger or softer and lighter) depending on the word and context. Vary your pace and alternate speaking fast and slow. Pause often and make those words come alive!
· Have your child read to you: When children are old enough most love reading to their parents. When they do read to you encourage them to speak carefully and say each word clearly. Then, ask them to “play” with the words in the story and bring them to life. Ask your child such questions as, “How can you say this like Max would say it?” or “How can you sound happy, sad, excited or afraid?” Encourage your child to say a word the way it sounds (buzz, swish, cool) and to explore variations of expression for each word.
· Add sound effects: Vroom, chug, boom, screech! Sound effects are a natural means of expression for many children. They love hearing and making sounds. And making many different kinds of sounds gives them an opportunity to practice creative expression and build confidence. So tune up your inner Thomas the Steam Engine or Roary the Racing Car and bring the story to life by using sound effects. Invite your child to play with sounds whenever they read out loud.
Teach Body Language
· Take turns standing up and reading a page out loud: This is a wonderful activity to do with your children but it may be too stimulating to do right before bed. Start early in the evening so there is plenty of time to unwind. Select a favorite story and play “round robin” by taking turns and having each member of the family read a page of the story with dramatic energy and flair. Just this simple practice of standing in front of one or two people will give your child the experience of being in front of a group.
· Play “public speaker”: Children love to role play. They play doctor, ballet dancer, truck driver and chef, so why not encourage them to play “public speaker”? Ask questions to help them learn how public speakers behave when they speak to a group. Encourage your child to stand up straight and not fidget or pull at their clothes or hold onto their hands or arms. Ask them to open their arms away from their body and use big gestures. And make sure you encourage them to smile.
· Use everyday conversation to teach body language: Remind your child to make eye contact whenever they are speaking to someone. The dinner table is a great place to help them learn to do this. When they learn this skill at any early age they will not be uncomfortable using it as they grow.
Teaching public speaking skills to your children requires a great deal of commitment and consistency over time, but it doesn’t have to be a chore. You can teach the fundamentals in a seamless, playful and loving way…and have fun doing it. Before you know it, your children will grow up to be confident and competent young adults capable of standing in front of any group… even at the United Nations.