by Steve Adubato, PhD

Many adults have problems and issues with having to get up and speak in front of others. This column has covered that topic in a variety of ways. But before most of us became adults who felt anxiety about public speaking, we were kids that experienced the same thing.

Recently, my son's 6th grade teacher asked me to come in and coach her students in preparation for their first oral presentations of the school year. In many ways, coaching kids is not very different than coaching adults. But if you can get kids to think of public speaking as something that doesn't have to be painful, the possibilities are endless.

So if you want to help your child get a head start in the communications game, consider the following tips for kids who have to "stand and deliver."

  1. Know your main message, which is the most important point you want to make in your presentation. If you haven't figured this out, neither will the other kids. They may forget some of the details of your presentation, but your message should be crystal clear.
  2. Be clear and get to the point. You should be able to state your main message in 20 seconds or less. Think about how quickly you get bored when another student is going on and on.
  3. Think about what YOU would want to hear if you were in the audience. Try to imagine your presentation from the point of view of the other kids. Do you want to hear lots of confusing statistics and facts that mean little to you? Neither do the other students.
  4. Instead of reading every word of a speech you have written out, make an outline of key words or phrases to keep you focused. Doing this will help you be more conversational and relaxed.
  5. When speaking conversationally, keep your eyes on the students in the audience. Look each one individually without staring. (That would look really weird, wouldn't it?) Don't just look at the teacher or your best friend in the front row. And whatever you were told about focusing on a spot on the wall above the heads of the other kids-forget it. That looks even weirder.
  6. Think about the kids in the boys and girls in the back of the room and make sure they can hear you. So, SPEAK UP! Don't shout, but project your voice and go slow.
  7. Stand up straight, but don't be stiff. Watch that rocking back and forth. And your feet shouldn't be crossed, they should be firmly on the ground. Try to move around a little bit instead of just staying in the front of the room. I know it is a little bit scary at first, but you'll get used to it.
  8. Use your hands to make a point or to gesture. That's what they are there for. DON'T put them in your pockets. DON'T play with your hair. DON'T be fumbling with your papers or your jewelry.
  9. Get into the presentation instead of just "getting it done." DON'T fake it. Show your enthusiasm for your topic. The other kids will like that. If you are having fun, so will they.
  10. Practice your presentation in front of your family and do it the way you plan to do it for real. The more you practice, the more comfortable and confident you will be when the time comes to "stand and deliver."

If you are a parent of a kid who has had an interesting public speaking experience, how did you help him or her deal with it? Write to me.