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Help kids find comfort in front of an audience

October 13, 2006|by LISA PREJEAN

Last year when I was making a presentation to the other faculty members at our school, my skirt pocket caught on the easel, the white board crashed to the floor, and the easel collapsed in a heap.

As I was picking up the mess and trying to continue the thought I was presenting, one of my co-workers politely mentioned that a sturdier easel was available if I needed it for future presentations.

I thanked her and joked, "Yeah, but then I wouldn't get as much exercise."

It was my feeble attempt to save the moment. It's not easy to make a presentation to your peers.

I thought of that presentation recently when my 11-year-old balked at an extra-credit assignment involving an oral presentation. The assignment required coming up with a commercial for a cereal. He wrote a wonderful script but then crumpled it into a ball when he found out he would have to read it in front of the class.

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"Since public speaking is the No. 1 fear of adults, it's important to get kids comfortable speaking before groups," says Silvana Clark, a professional speaker and the author of 10 parenting books.

Children should be encouraged to perform before grandparents and other adoring relatives, Clark recommends. "Just singing 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' and having people applaud gives children self-confidence."

Here are some other suggestions from Clark; Susan Smith Kuczmarski, author of "The Family Bond: Inspiring Tips for Creating a Closer Family"; and Paul Lawrence Vann, president/CEO of Laurel Wreath Communications Inc., a professional speaking, training and speaker coaching company.

Begin "mini-speeches" at dinner or while in the car.

Give each family member a topic based on their age.

"Your 10-year-old could give a speech on 'Why I need a raise in my allowance,'" Clark says. "Have parents give mini-speeches on silly topics like 'Why our entire family will spend a month at Disney World this summer.' The idea is to be light-hearted."

The best way to overcome nervousness is to have the child practice giving the talk in front of a variety of audiences, says Kuczmarski. These might include not just parents and siblings, but also aunts and uncles, and even neighbors.

Overcome the "ummm" habit.

Use your home video recorder to show the child her "ummm" habit, Kuczmarski suggests. When observed by her, she will become more aware of it and can then self-correct it.

Or, simply record the presentation on a tape recorder, suggests Vann, author of "Living on Higher Ground." Let the child listen, and over time he will be able to speak without "ummms."

"Do what many Toastmaster groups do," Clark recommends. "If someone says 'umm' or 'ahh' during a speech, they have to pay a 5-cent fine."

Prepare well.

Make sure your child is prepared for the oral report. Have her practice ahead of time. "Try to include a prop that goes with the report," Clark says. "Teachers are impressed, and students have something to hold onto during their speech."

Don't expect perfection.

"View each oral report as a sequence of assignments to get the desired result," Kuczmarski says. "With more practice, and with additional reports, there should be less nervousness over time."

Relax.

Basic relaxation exercises defeat the butterflies people often get prior to delivering a speech, according to Vann's suggestion via e-mail. He says:

"Taking a deep breath, neck roll exercises, and a deep knee bend or two will do the trick.

"The key is to work with children to get the butterflies to fly in the same formation."

Have fun.

"Parents place too much pressure and stress on the child, and this only causes more nervousness," Kuczmarski says. "Reduce the stress, and nurture a 'have fun' attitude. Parents too often transfer their nervousness to their child.

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

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