Face your fear: Speak before an audience


Our high school students have been preparing for a speech meet next week. Because I'm their English teacher, I've had the privilege of listening to more than 60 of them give presentations in class.

It's amazing how much you learn when you have to critique others. As I've been writing notes - most of which are positive, by the way - I've considered how I come across to my classes.

For example, when I write, "Don't keep shifting back and forth from foot to foot," I remember times when I've done that in class. Have I modeled an appropriate stance for my classes?

If I tell a student, "Slow down. It will be easier to enunciate," I think of the times I've rushed through explanations or have quickly given assignments.


When I suggest keeping hands out of pockets, I recall the times that my hands have rested in my pockets, too.

As I'm telling my students how to improve their speeches, I'm reminding myself of areas that I need to polish.

Most of the time, we don't notice what we're doing until someone else points it out to us.

It would be nice to have a large mirrored area for practicing speeches, but that's impractical. Besides, I think most young people would be too self-conscious to practice in front of a mirror.

Parents can help by being a supportive audience.

Whenever one of our children is scheduled for a presentation, we can listen, provide constructive suggestions and listen again. It's useful to provide more positive comments than negative ones. It is human nature to shut down when the balance is the other way.

Here are some things I like to share with my students and, of course, with my own children:

o Maintain eye contact. If you look in the eyes of the audience members, they will feel connected to you.

o Speak slowly, so your speech is not dotted with words such as "um," "uh," "you know" and "well." You will sound - and feel - more confident about your material.

o Vary your pitch, volume and speed to reflect the meaning of your words. This will keep the audience's attention.

o Use, but don't overuse, gestures. Too many planned gestures make a speech appear staged, not natural. Gestures should naturally occur as the speaker responds to the content of the speech.

o Your facial expressions will add much to your speech if they also occur naturally and correspond to your spoken words.

o Taking a step? Give it purpose. Don't move or sway aimlessly. This gives the impression that you are unsure where your speech is headed. A step to the side to signify a transition can be effective. So can a step forward for emphasis.

o Be enthusiastic. If you are eager to share your speech, the audience will be eager to listen.

o Feeling nervous? Most people won't realize how nervous you are. Don't tell them. Just do what you have to do, say what you have to say and sit down. You might be surprised, but you can do this. You can give a speech. And the more you do it, the easier it becomes. You'll still be nervous, but you'll know that you made it through one speech. You'll make it through another.

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

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