Lisa's column

NOV 23

November 27, 2001

10 steps toward better public speaking

Teaching your child - By Lisa Tedrick-Prejean

There's nothing better at this time of year than watching a children's holiday presentation - little Pilgrims with homemade buckles on their shoes ... Indians adorned with construction paper feathers ... shepherds in bathrobes ... angels with tinseled halos.

Some kids seem quite natural in front of a crowd. Others appear ready to run off the stage.

What gives a child confidence to speak in front of others? While personality can play a part - some people are born stage-ready - part of that behavior can be taught.

Here are ways parents can hinder or help a child's public speaking abilities. These tips come from Natalie H. Rogers, author of "The New Talk Power: The Mind-Body Way to Speak Without Fear!"; Mike Harsh, a humanities professor at Hagerstown Community College; and Fran Princehouse of Sabillasville, Md., Area 42 Governor, Toastmasters International, District 18, Hagerstown Club:


1. Don't correct your child's grammar or table manners in public.

If you do, the child will probably make the same mistake again.

"The shaming is so intense that no learning takes place," Rogers says. "When a child is relaxed, flowing, this is like tripping him."

It's equivalent to a piano teacher interrupting a student in the middle of a recital.

"Learning is always done in a slow manner where the child feels safe and comfortable," Rogers says. "Ask yourself: Does my child feel emotionally safe with me?"

Speak to the child privately at a later time in a loving, patient way.

"Parents who correct their children publicly are really shaming or humiliating their children," Rogers says. "They're encouraging a fear of public speaking in the future."

2. Read to your child and encourage your child to read to you.

"I firmly believe one cannot present in public successfully without having facts and figures - that is - without having something worthwhile to say backed up by real information," Princehouse says. "Reading is the base for successful public speaking."

3. Have a weekly show-and-tell session.

Family members can bring a toy, story or joke to the table to share with others. The rules should include: No taunting, no teasing, no interruptions, no criticism, no corrections. Make everyone feel safe in sharing their ideas. After each child reports, there can be applause or a verbal acknowledgment of what was presented.

4. Encourage conversation at the dinner table.

Prompt a discussion and help your child think by asking a question such as, "What two things that happened today were the most fun?" Harsh says.

Give your child time to respond. Don't put time pressure on him.

5. Don't push a child to get up in front of a crowd.

"A child who feels confident will offer to speak," Rogers says.

6. Tell your child not to take a deep breath before a presentation.

"It increases your adrenaline production and shuts down thinking," Rogers says. "You need very little air for speaking in public."

Instead, take a shallow breath and squeeze the air out, Rogers says.

7. Expand your child's Christmas list.

No, don't add items to it. Ask him to tell you what three items are most desired items and why, Harsh suggests. If he says he wants a toy because it is fun, ask him why it's fun. Or, if he says he wants to build something with it, ask him how he would build it.

This will help him begin to think and organize verbal responses in a structured way.

8. Don't answer for your child.

If someone asks his name or age, step away and allow him to answer.

At a restaurant, allow him to order for himself.

9. If your child has a presentation to make, encourage him to use you as a trial audience.

Provide positive feedback. Encourage the use of visuals. Make suggestions if he asks for them.

"Always accept and approve that child's performance and never criticize," Princehouse says. "The child will improve in a positive environment at his own rate."

10. Talk about your experiences with public speaking.

If your child seems nervous, assure him that at one time you felt the same way but you got used to it.

Or, if you have a fear of public speaking, don't pass your fears along to your child. Conquer them.

For help, check out Toastmasters International, District 18, Hagerstown Club. It meets the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month from 7 to 8 p.m. at Washington County Free Library on Potomac Street in Hagerstown.

For information, call 301-416-0119 or go to on the Web.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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