Public Speaking Success: Speaking to Groups of Children

students by guillermo ossaChildren can be the most delightful human beings one day and seems like the spawn of the devil the following day, but one thing is for certain, children are unpredictable. This adds a new twist to public speaking when your audiences are typically made up of children (or worse, the dreaded teenager). The good thing is there are a few steps you can take to avoid the majority of problems you can run into.

There are a number of situations where your audience may be made up of all (or a high percentage of) kids. This includes being a children’s entertainer, tour guide or presenter at a museum or other attraction, just to name a few. In some cases, you might have a presentation that’s geared towards kids in school such as bullying, adjusting to changes in life or more grown up topics such as applying for financial aid, preventing drug & alcohol abuse or relationships.

Problems that can arise speaking to groups of youngsters fall into two categories: bad behavior and shyness. Bad behavior is self-explanatory – we’ve all witnessed more than we’ve cared to. Shyness is more of a challenge as it can range from not acknowledging you as a speaker to jumping away when you try to connect with them. So here are some tips to help you deal with both challenges.

  • If at all possible, insist that a parent, teacher or other adult responsible for the children be present during your speech. Kids are less likely to cause trouble when a parent (or another adult in a guardian role) is present so consider this preventive medicine.
  • If a kid assumes a heckler type role or becomes too disruptive, request that he or she be removed immediately. While in a few cases, this may encourage a few others to follow suit, in most cases, it will prevent others from doing the same thing.
  • If you’re speaking about a mature topic such as sex or alcohol, prepare yourself for the ways kids might react.
  • Avoid being too hip with your language. Kids will not take someone who is over 30 seriously when they use slang and other language that is not typically used by someone their age. It’s even worse when they use outdated hip language like “groovy” and “far out.”
  • Keep your presentation G-rated unless the group is made up of teens.
  • Never randomly call on children – instead, ask them to raise their hands and then call on them. Some kids are shy and may just want to listen.
  • Pay attention to the kids’ body language. If they start getting fidgety, then they’re starting to get disinterested or tired. Try livening things up or wrapping up.
  • Avoid overdoing it with your gestures, body language and voice. You should do this in most speaking situations but it’s especially important when presenting to kids who will mock your exaggerated gestures.
  • Use age appropriate stories, expressions and humor. Kids might not be familiar with pop culture references that date back more than a decade or grown-up topics such as the economy or downsizing.
  • If you’re giving a presentation for the first time, practice it in front of child in the target age group to get feedback. They might be able to point out things that people in that age group might not understand.
  • Ask questions to get them involved and verbally reward them when they add to the discussion. Sometimes kids have a story to share, know the answer to a question or simply ask a great question. It’s great to reward this behavior as it will encourage more of it.
  • Be well prepared. Kids are less forgiving than adults and a far cry from your average Toastmasters audience.

In general, speaking to kids requires a bit more preparation and a lot of patience so many speakers avoid kids like the plague. But the rewards are well worth it – you have the opportunity to positively influence them. Imagine being the one that got them interested in a subject that later becomes their career or discouraging a kid from participating in risky behavior that saves his or her life. So as much as it seems challenging to present to younger audiences, don’t write them off just yet.

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2 thoughts on “Public Speaking Success: Speaking to Groups of Children

  1. Pingback: Public Speaking Tips and Techniques [2009-08-29]

  2. Lisa Braithwaite

    Speaking to high school and middle school students is how I taught myself to be an effective speaker! Engaging an audience, authenticity, dealing with hecklers… so many aspects of public speaking are more intense and critical when speaking to kids.

    I disagree with one thing: I rarely had a teenager removed for heckling (and many of my audiences were in continuation and probation schools — not the most willing audience). Most of the time, I was able to convince the heckler that I really wanted to hear his opinion, as long as he was willing to be respectful. Sometimes they just don’t know the appropriate way to say what they want to say.

    Or I would use humor (not humiliation) to show the heckler that I could take it. Sometimes it’s just a test!

    Many or most hecklers just want to be heard, whether teenager or adult. I always take them seriously and treat them as though they really have something to say.

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