I have long believed that public speaking techniques should be taught in school. Asking children to stand up in front of their classmates, even for one or two minutes, to speak on something that excites them, lays the foundation for future confidence. Lots of schools do this, but it appears that very few teach students to do it well.
So here I am, putting my money where my mouth is and volunteering my time to help students in local schools learn to present well. I am taking as an example the requirement for GCSE English students to deliver a five minute speech on a subject of their choice, but I have simplified my approach to make it easy to understand and put into practice even for primary school children:
- Pick a subject you find interesting
If you have a choice of subject, pick something you care about. That could be your hobby or sport, a book you’ve read or a place you’ve visited. For older students, what about picking an issue you have an opinion on?
2. Decide what you want to achieve
Every presentation or speech should have an end in mind. Do you want to sway your listener’s views on an issue, encourage them to try a new hobby, or simply teach them something?
3. Do some research
It helps to put a few facts and figures into your speech. For instance, if you were talking about your sport of hockey, you might find out how many people play in the UK and how many Olympic medals we have won.
4. Create a logical structure
Start with something that catches their attention, perhaps a surprising fact or a strong opinion. Then explain how you feel about it, laying out your views clearly in steps that lead to your conclusion. Finish with something that underlines your main point and will be remembered.
5. Write a script
I am not suggesting you read a pre-prepared script, but if you write a script then it will be easier to see whether it flows and how long it takes to deliver. It also gives you the opportunity to polish your language.
6. Practise a lot
The more you practise, the less nervous you will be and the better you will do. When you practise, do it out loud, standing up and preferably in front of someone. If you can learn your script, all the better, but even if you are using notes you will need to have practised.
7. Think about your posture
Stand still with your feet slightly apart, head up and shoulders back. Let your hands hang by your sides. Take a couple of deep breaths and relax. Then look around your audience and smile before you start.
8. Take your time
Speak more slowly than you normally would. Remember that your audience needs time to take in what you are saying, so pause for a couple of seconds between points. This also gives you time to breathe properly.
9. Look at your audience
You must make eye contact with your audience. If you are using notes, do not read them! Hold them in one hand at your side and only look at them during the pauses between sentences. Then you can put them away and look back up again before you continue speaking.
10. Enjoy it
Remember everyone in your audience is on your side; nobody wants you to fail. Public speaking is fun when you realise you can do it well.
I am volunteering to give up a day of my time each month to help young people understand how to communicate more effectively. This can take the form of workshops in schools or colleges, or one-to-one coaching for individuals with a specific need. To apply for this free of charge service, please contact me.