Teaching your child

Help your child conquer 'fear of speaking'

Help your child conquer 'fear of speaking'

August 23, 2002|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

So, what did you do this summer?

If asked on the bus, the question seems friendly and non-threatening.

But when turned into a classroom assignment, it can assume an ominous tone, especially if an oral presentation is expected.

Speaking in front of classmates might not faze some children, but to others, getting up in front of their peers is tantamount to torture.

What can we as parents do to help our children prepare for public speaking assignments?

First we need to push aside any fears that we have, suggests David J. Dempsey, a professional speaker and trainer and an adjunct professor at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.

Parents may unknowingly convey their fears to children.

"The fear of speaking is so prevalent in our society," says Dempsey, author of "Legally Speaking: 40 Powerful Presentation Principles Lawyers Need to Know."


But if a child can communicate his thoughts clearly, that will give him an advantage.

Here are the keys to a good presentation, Dempsey says, whether it's given in the classroom or the board room:


  • Think through what you're going to say.

  • Know something about the audience. How much will they understand? Are they familiar with your topic? How much background do you need to give? How much time do you have? Expect the best - whether it's three minutes or 30 minutes.

  • Be mentally ready. Picture yourself as confident.

  • What is the tone of your presentation? Are you trying to inspire, inform or entertain?

  • At the end of your presentation, what would you like to have accomplished? When planning, work backward so you can meet this goal.

Don't get into a situation where stress is maximized. Don't start preparing a report the night before it's due. Keep track of presentation assignments.

"If you are prepared to speak, your confidence will soar and you will have lasting, positive memories of your speaking experience," Dempsey says.


Organization is critical.

Classmates won't remember all the details of the presentation, but they will remember two or three well-developed points.

Your presentation has three main parts:

1. Tell them what you're going to tell them.

2. Tell them.

3. Tell them what you've told them.

  • Have a catchy opening. Make a surprising statement, deliver a quote or ask a question: "Have you ever been in a situation and didn't know what to do and didn't have anybody to turn to?"

  • Convince your listeners in 15 seconds that you're worth listening to. Don't shuffle papers. If you're going to memorize any part of the presentation, memorize the opening.

  • What is your purpose? Can you say it in one sentence? For example, "Classmates, I'd like to tell you three things about a book I read this summer."

    "Make only a few concise points; don't overwhelm your listeners with information," Dempsey says.

  • Think of your presentation as a conversation. Talk to the audience in the same way you would talk to a good friend in a one-on-one conversation. Try to weave it in story-like fashion. Make it engaging. Think about the teachers who made the biggest impression on you. They probably were good storytellers.

  • Eye contact is important, so look at the audience often and focus on the friendly faces - your best friend or the teacher - those people who will give you positive affirmation, a smile, a nod. Look at them early on and at key points.

  • Use few notes. If you take your entire presentation with you, you will read it, and not talk to your listeners.

Close strong. Summarize three or four points that you covered.


Be comfortable with what you will say and how you will say it before you give the speech.

Practice the presentation in front of a mirror.

Revise your written presentation so that you select colorful words and the points are clear.

Parents should encourage children to seize every opportunity to practice their public speaking skills.

"The sooner they start the better," Dempsey says. "Looking back at my background, probably the thing I benefited most from was when I had the opportunity to speak.

"Communication is critical. It is the most important skill students will learn at any level."

For more information, go to Dempsey's Web site,

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

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