For 99.9% of high school students the thought of giving a speech or presentation in front of their teacher and 30 judgemental peers conjures up all sorts of nasty feelings.
And it’s no wonder.
High school is a pressure cooker of social acceptance at the best of times! Embarrassing oneself in front of your classmates is something to be avoided at all costs.
What makes it worse is that presentations seem to come about so infrequently at high school. If teens had to give small presentations every two weeks or so based on what they’ve been learning they’d find public speaking a lot less scary over time. But sadly, this doesn’t appear to be the case.
Why your teen needs public speaking practice
Universities and Colleges are very fond of presentations! Most papers have some sort of presentation-giving or speech-giving element. Third year university students can even have at least two public speaking engagements for each paper!
This is alongside the fact that in general, being an equipped public speaker and presentation-giver is an invaluable skill no matter what you’re doing in life. Whether it be school, uni, the workplace, or a job interview.
Further, public speaking is an important aspect of many professions. Doctors need to present cases to colleagues. Litigators need to stand up in court and argue their point. People in the corporate world need to be able to speak to their employees and colleagues, get up and speak at share-holders meetings, and pitch ideas.
In light of how important it is for your teen to start working on their public speaking skills, here are our absolute must-do’s when it comes to giving speeches and presentations.
1. Put away those notes!
Some of the worst speeches/presentations are given by people who read; read off cue cards, off a computer, or off the slides of their presentation.
The best speeches are given when people talk to the audience just like they would if they were having a one on one conversation with a good friend.
Your teen wants to know the content of their speech/presentation well enough so that they only need to be prompted by a few notes to be able to talk freely about each point. This will allow them to engage the audience much more effectively.
It’s also pretty impossible to make your voice sound anything but monotone when reading off a piece of paper. It is important that your teen’s voice projects to the back of the room and is easy to listen to with good use of intonation.
2. Eye contact
Another reason reading a speech off a piece of paper is so awful, is because it eliminates the chance of your teen making any decent eye contact with the audience.
And no eye contact = no rapport = bored audience.
Your teen doesn’t need to memorize their presentations off by heart, but a good rule is that they spend more time looking at the audience than they do their notes or slides.
3. Keep a slow, steady pace
We remember practising our speeches in front of our parents at high school. The thing they had to remind us of most often was to “SLOW DOWN!!”.
Almost everyone talks faster when they’re nervous. Some people do it to the extent it becomes comical. Don’t let this happen to your teen. They need to speak slllloooowwwwllllyyyyy.
They’ll probably think it sounds ridiculously slow when they practice. But this is what you want because they will speed up during the real thing.
4. Pause often.
Good public speakers take their time, and they come across very relaxed.
Their pace is steady and they pause often, especially after sentences and certainly after they’ve finished a point.
Again, when your teen is practising taking long pauses it might sound ridiculous to them, but they won’t to the audience. Pauses give the audience time to absorb what’s been said and it creates anticipation.
There is nothing worse than a continuous stream of verbal diarrhea…
5. Ums & Ahs
Um, this probably one of the, ah, simplest points we make here, but um, um, it’s also one of the most important, ones. Yeah…
Ums & ahs creep into most of our vocabularies on a daily basis — when we’re on the phone, when we’re asked a direct question, and especially when we’re nervous.
You may have noticed however, that good public speakers don’t um and ah. Every sentence is crisp, flows in logical manner, and um- ah- and like-free.
Eradicating these nasty little speech-isms from your teens speech may be quite a task, as it’s particularly difficult to cut them out when you’re under a bit of pressure. But as always, practice makes perfect.
6. Slides – The Do’s and Don’ts.
We mentioned above that your teen really should avoid reading off their PowerPoint slides if they’re going to use PowerPoint for their presentation. But more than that, it’s best that the temptation isn’t there in the first place, and that their slides are minimalist.
A good rule of thumb is no more than 10 words per slide.
Slides are a visual tool — and should remain that way. They should sum up what your teen is saying in one short sentence or a few very brief bullet points, and perhaps be accompanied with an appropriate image.
They should NOT be used to explain something — your teen needs to do that verbally. So no full paragraphs. No slides filled with boring writing. No reason for the audience to take their eyes off your teen!
The exception is when a slide is needed to show something that can’t be verbally explained, like a video, a table, or a graph.
If your teen has printed off something to give to their classmates as part of their speech or presentation, make sure they hand it out at the END of their speech.
If they begin their presentation by handing something out, everyone’s going to spend the entire speech reading (but probably fiddling) with it and not actually pay any attention to what’s being said.
Of course, if the handout needs to be given out first because the audience needs to use it during the presentation, that’s fine. But this isn’t something we’d recommend doing unless absolutely necessary.
Getting good at public speaking and giving presentations is not something your teen is expected to accomplish overnight, especially if they’re a bit shy.
But we strongly suggest they make the most of their high school public speaking opportunities, because if they’re going to college it can be a really important component. The best thing is for them to practice speaking to you, just as if they were doing it in front of their classmates.
Image Credit: eStrategy Blog on Flickr