Statistics have it that only 5% of the whole population is comfortable speaking to a crowd. I don’t know what constitutes a crowd, or what defines “public” but I want my children to be people who are comfortable speaking in front of people (regardless of the size of group listening). I want them to know their beliefs, to be able to clarify their thoughts and to be able to communicate them to other people.
I like my kids to do a formal public speaking course* but there are many skills that we can teach our children in the area of public speaking at home in the midst of regular family life. In fact the most important thing that parents can give each child is a sense of self-confidence. Our children need to know first of all that they are valued – not because they can speak well, but because they are! They are valued because God made them, loved them, died for them; they are valued because they are a part of our family! We need to encourage our children in their uniqueness so that they grow up knowing that they can step out and do whatever needs to be done. We need to believe in our children and this confidence will then begin to develop in them too.
Parents tend to have two reactions to public speaking – they either hate it or are okay with it. We can then either avoid encouraging our kids in this skill, or we insist regardless of our kids comfortableness. I think looking at the opportunities that family life gives us can find a balance between all these reactions. Mums and Dads can learn along side of the kids, and everyone can be encouraged regardless of their strengths and weaknesses.
Family Opportunities to learn to speak up
There are many family situations that naturally bring opportunity to build confidence and ability in speaking publicly.
- Initially we teach our young children to say words, to say them clearly, to use the right word in the right context
- We teach our toddlers to control their voice – inside voice, outside voice
- As we get our children to narrate stories we are teaching them to speak out, to share their thoughts, feelings and understandings.
- As we listen to our children weave incredible stories of their own imaginations we are telling them that what they have to say is important and worthy of a listener.
- As our children recite their first nursery rhyme, or memory verse, we have an opportunity to get them to stand still in front of us and present their “speech”. Of course, any proud parent will then get them to recite it in front of the grandparents or the neighbours!
- As our children tell us about their day, or tell other adults about a recent event or activity they are practicing speaking out
- Going shopping gives children the opportunity to greet the teller confidently, to ask for service or as an older child to put forth a complaint or return.
- Speaking on the telephone is a public speaking opportunity for the children to be clear on what they are going to say, being precise and articulating their words well
- Going to the library is a gentle place to teach children to speak up for their needs, to ask for help and to thank the librarian.
- Family Devotions is a time where children can read the scriptures out aloud, pray aloud and voice their thoughts and questions.
- Church, especially if you go to a family orientated church, offers opportunity to pray aloud, to read the scriptures, to use a microphone, to teach Sunday School or children’s talk.
- Saying grace for the family, and as they gain confidence to say grace when your family has guests.
- Youth Groups may give your older children opportunity to prepare a devotion to share.
- Homeschool Co-ops may give your children opportunity to share something orally, to lead a game or activity (giving instructions is an oral skill), or to teach younger children.
- At a family reunion (or church camp) you can gather around a campfire and the kids can present a song, a poem, a skit
All of these experiences, and you may be able to think of more, are valuable experiences in public speaking. Encourage your children to use their voices clearly every day.
There are three main aspects to confident public speaking:
- To control our body language – to stop the fidgets, to have eye contact, to use our hands appropriately (expressively but not over the top)
- To use our voice appropriately – to say the words clearly, to use the correct volume, to be expressive and enthusiastic
- To know what to say – to plan what to say, to be concise, to be clear, to use appropriate vocabulary, to watch words that don’t mean anything (um, ah, you know, like) to know when to finish speaking and start listening.
Being aware of these three skill areas you can start to direct and/or improve your children’s skills as they speak out in public (be it your own family!) I suggest that you work on one skill area at a time, for example body language, and whenever your children are speaking be aware of their fidgets, be aware of their eye contact etc and encourage them – even before they speak to you to stand still etc. Don’t make a big deal of this, just a gentle reminder will suffice and opportunity by opportunity confidence and skill will increase.
Of course, you may want your child to be able to prepare a speech and present it in a more formal situation. As a family you could
- Have speech nights together. This is a good way for the children to orally present their learning to Dad, to recite a memorized scripture passage, to put on a play/skit etc.
- Get together with other families for the sole purpose of giving your children the opportunity to present a prepared speech
- Join local drama group
- Older children can be involved in Children’s Ministry in your local church
There is only one thing more important than any of these skills when considering public speaking and that is to have something of substance to say!
Mere words are cheap and plenty enough,
but ideas that rouse and set multitudes thinking
come as gold from the mines.
But that is a whole ‘nuther blog post! But just quickly –
- There are times and places where silly talk, regardless of how funny, is not appropriate. Teach your children to discern the times and place for humour.
- Ask your children open ended questions so that they have to answer more than yes and no
- Give your children good stuff to think about – fill their minds with good literature, interesting documentaries, and have family conversations.
These things teach your children to think – and when they think they’ll have something worthwhile to say.
*The formal speaking course that I did with my kids, and other local homeschoolers was: Speak Up by Jeannie Fulbright. It was a very easy course to teach, and we had a lot of success in the skills the children learnt. One girl in particular at first class spoke so softly I couldn’t hear her (even though she knew me well). By the end of the course she chose to deliver 3 speeches on our Speech Night. Highly recommend this course.
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