Why public speaking is important for students?

If you have ever given a speech, you probably remember this feeling.  I remember as a 17 year-old teenager, standing in front of 30 strangers huddled in a  tight room meant for only half that size. It was also the middle of summer, and the air conditioner was struggling to keep the heat from roasting us.  I was already sweating, thinking of how I would pitch my idea to create a mentorship program. My t-shirt stuck to my back, and my palms were sweaty. I looked down at my notes, then my glaze drifted around the room.  As I made eye contact, each person peered my soul, as if evaluating my worth. Then I started…

Learning public speaking is a nerve-wracking adventure, but it’s one of the most important skills to develop.  Whether you want to be a teacher, a businessman, or a scientist, public speaking will help you or your child be successful.  

And yet, we don’t really learn public speaking formally in school.  We spend so much time learning writing and grammar, but most of us don’t really invest time to become great verbal communicators.  Occasionally I meet parents who don’t think public speaking is important because students are not graded on it. However, that attitude is short-sighted.  Your child may not be graded now on public speaking, but her ability to communicate definitely affects her performance as a student, and it will certainly impact the trajectory of her career and life.

Why is public speaking important?

Numerous situations in school require students to speak up in front of classmates and teachers.  These include oral reports, in-class reading, joint projects, assemblies, sports, school plays, school clubs, and even fundraisers requiring door-to-door solicitations.  While some kids appear to take to “be naturals”,, others tend to be fearful.

Aside from just being able to impress others, there are many underappreciated reasons all students should work on public speaking.

(i) Proficiency in public speaking will improve communication skills
Public speaking involves verbal as well as non-verbal communication, both of which are essential in getting your message across effectively.  As children grow older, many teachers grade their students based on oral presentations for book reports, project presentations, or debates. Students with good public speaking skills stand out in a group and earn higher grades.

(ii) Public speaking can be a great self-esteem booster
By learning how to effectively speak in public, your child will be able to increase her own self-confidence. Did you know that public speaking is one of the most prevalent fears in the world? By speaking publicly on a regular basis, your child will enable herself to master this difficult skill.  In doing so, she will be less inclined to stumble over her words, and she will build confidence. She will raise her hand up more confidently in class, speak up if she has something to say, and engage in healthy debate when needed.

(iii) Being a good speaker is helpful to being an inspirational leader
Even if your child does not hold an official leadership position, effective public speaking can help her become a thoughtful leader.  One’s ability to lead is closely entwined with one’s ability to connect with and motivate one’s audience. The greatest leaders of our time are frequently also some of the best speakers of our time.  In fact, their ability to speak clearly, compellingly, and charismatically are a big part of how they became leaders in the first place. If you aspire to follow in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Thatcher, Thich Nhat Hanh, or Mark Zuckerberg, developing public speaking skills helps people understand your mission.  Followers need to know why they should work so hard and sacrifice their time and energy for this cause. Public speaking helps others feel and understand this.

As a side note, Mark Zuckerberg was not a good public speaker when he first was CEO of Facebook, and he has worked incredibly hard at this skill over the years.  Find old YouTube clips of his interviews and compare them to recent ones. Even CEOs of the biggest companies can keep working to improve. If they can work at it, so can the rest of us.

So, how can we help our children become better public speakers?

#1. Turn fear into fun
Creating a fun, silly buzz around public speaking can set your child at ease.  Instead of emphasizing perfection in the task, making public speaking a game reduces fear.  We suggest getting rid of the term “public speaking” altogether, and naming the activity something less intimidating.

In our house, we like to let my son and daughter compete to tell us how their day was, and the “winner” gets to tell us first.  They first play rock, paper, scissors to see who gets the right to go first. Then, the sillier, the better. Sometimes it turns into nonsensical songs or ridiculous fictional stories, but we encourage it all.  (It is hard as parents who want to know about their school when they only talk about recess, but we let it come naturally.) The more at ease your child is, the better the results.  You can refer to some fun public speaking activities here.

#2. Focus on message before technique
We often rush into teaching kids into public speaking techniques. However, techniques can be built up as we go.  Instead guide them on creating a message that is worth listening to. A great speech actually includes many of the same traits that we referred to in the 6+1 Writing Traits.  It needs to consider elements including the central idea, the structure and organization, the voice, and the audience.  Where should we begin the story? What key details are most juicy? Are there any pivotal twists that we should build up?

#3. Observe great story-tellers
Search Youtube and websites for great speeches and presentations. (Personally, I enjoy watching past American presidents, particularly Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  I study Clinton for his folksy storytelling that makes people feel so comfortable. I study Obama for his eloquent rhetoric that ties lofty ideas together in powerful, moving ways.)

I find that reflecting on what makes great speeches effective is the best way to internalize these lessons.  Sit together with your child and discuss: Was it a good or a poor presentation? Why was it good? Why was it poor?  How loud do they speak? Are they enunciating? What’s their body language like? Paying attention to their actions can help your child identify which strategies are effective.

#4. Use that smartphone to record and practice
We record lots of videos in our household where the kids get lots of practice giving “public” speeches, including Ian reflecting on his effort and strategy in soccer and Estelle reading aloud The Duckling Gets a Cookie.  We record and they love watching and laughing at themselves being silly, and it makes them comfortable with others seeing them too.  It becomes a point of pride when their friends laugh at their videos, so they are excited to record more.

Even if you don’t post the videos publicly, we find that the mere act of recording and reviewing it yourself is a great way to do the reflection in a safe environment.  It feels really strange at first to record yourself, but it’s a fantastic way to practice.

#5. Listen, talk, discover
Encourage effective communication with open-ended, interesting questions.  With very young children, ask lots of questions about the world around them that can’t easily be answered with a yes or no.  Fill their everyday world with wonder, so they become eager to talk to you about it. While driving, walking or on public transport, ask your child to describe as much of her surroundings as she can within one minute.  Get her to think about shapes, colours and actions. Your child will begin to speak more clearly and sharpen her observation skills, which are essential for speaking well.

#6. Give good feedback
It is important for all humans to feel progress, but especially for children who might be nervous or reluctant to try new things for fear of making mistakes.  We tell parents to be balanced in feedback, and never just focusing on errors. Always talk about what went well, as well as what could have been better. Note improvement over time, so that children connect their practice with the results.

Equipping your child with the life skills to speak confidently will not only help her in school, but also empower her in any situation she encounters.

Tony Ngo
Chủ tịch và Đồng sáng lập Everest Education


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