Ever seen your confident, outgoing kid freeze when all eyes are on her? Stage fright is a common occurrence in children—in fact, experts estimate that up to 75 percent of people feel anxious about speaking in public. Helping your child improve her public speaking skills is easier than you may think, with tricks that work for an audience small enough to fit in your family room or large enough to fill a concert hall.
You can help your kid overcome the butterflies in her stomach and recite her speech with confidence with these eight tips for parents.
- Practice with Peers. Create a group of children about the same age to hone their presentation skills, because every speaker needs an audience. Have your kid practice speaking, and then listen to feedback from fellow participants and their parents. This exercise will help her feel confident in front of a crowd, pinpoint areas where she’s struggling, and share her own thoughts with other shy speakers. If the group has trouble beginning this exercise, offer up your own advice about how to keep your cool while speaking in public.
- Stay on Schedule. Your child’s group should meet regularly, about twice a month, for hourly meetings. While it’s okay to occasionally skip a meeting for a family party or sporting event, it’s crucial to have at least three or four children present to ensure they’re able to practice addressing an audience. Your kid’s improvement may be slow initially, but after six or more mock presentations, you’ll notice she’s speaking more loudly and clearly, standing up straight, and presenting her work with confidence.
- Reward Hard Work. Create a list of goals for the children of the group, and reward them appropriately when they complete each milestone. A goal can be anything from reciting a speech from memory or giving productive feedback to completing six presentations. Recognizing your kid’s progress with certificates, gold stars, or a sticker chart will foster a sense of pride for all of her efforts—and motivate her to continue practicing her speaking skills.
- Develop a Definite Program. Each group assignment should require at least one objective that the children must meet. Outlining a list of objectives for each speech—such as the type of presentation it should be, the speech objective, the structure of the presentation, and the use of audio or visual materials—should be done before the group is formed. This way, your kid and her peers will become familiar with the elements of a speaking presentation before they address a crowd.
- Give Feedback. While learning to give and receive constructive criticism is an important life skill, it can sometimes lead to hurt feelings or arguments that’ll prevent your kid from growing from small mistakes. Show the group to critique using a positive tone, such as saying “How about you…” instead of “You shouldn’t…” Remind them that these suggestions are meant to help one another become better speakers, not to break each other down. Comments can be given orally or written, whichever the kids feel most comfortable with.
- Take Advantage of Technology. Between smart phones and laptops, kids today have near-constant access to the Internet—so take advantage of it! Encourage your child to use her gadgets to prep for her presentations. Researching ideas online, watching videos, building Power Point presentations and listening to web casts are just a handful of ways your kid’s tech-savvy nature can help her improve her speaking skills.
- Observe Public Speakers. Sit down with your kid and watch the President recite a speech to the nation on TV, beauty pageant contestants answer questions, or other public figures address the masses. Talk about what the speakers do—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—and which are distracting.
- Take Notes. Don’t stress that your child memorizes their speech. Jotting down main points on index cards can be helpful if she freezes in the spotlight, or begins to ramble away from the main objectives of her presentation. However, she’ll need to practice enough so that she doesn’t find herself reading her entire script from cards, which can send the signal that she’s disorganized or unprepared.
By putting effort into helping your child become an effective public speaker, you’ll help her become more confident, self-reliant, and give her the tools she needs to communicate clearly with groups of people, whether at the playground now—or the boardroom later in life.
James Ocque is the author of "Spice Up Your Speaking Presentations," written to help people develop effective public speaking skills. His wide range of experience with public speeches gives him insight into the different types of skills required for the various types of presentations.