public speaking

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What is public speaking?
Public speaking involves talking in front of a group of people, usually with some preparation. It can be in front of people that you know (e.g. at a family celebration) or a crowd of strangers. Unlike a presentation there normally isn’t a lot of opportunity for interaction between the audience and the speaker – the speaker speaks, and the audience (hopefully) listens.

Speeches have different functions. These include being persuasive (e.g. trying to convince the audience to vote for you), informative (e.g. speaking about the dangers of climate change), entertaining (e.g. a best man’s speech at a wedding) or celebratory (e.g. to introduce the winner of an award). Some speeches may have more than one of these aims.

Why is public speaking useful for students?
Most people, at some point in their life, will need to stand up and speak in front of a group of people. Teaching students the necessary skills for doing this will therefore help them to do this more successfully. As a result of the practice, students often report an increase in general confidence as well as a marked sense of achievement. Many students get incredibly nervous the first time they have to do a speech in front of their classmates but with practice the nerves subside and they usually begin to enjoy the whole process.

Working on public speaking also helps to develop students’ overall fluency and requires them to consider how they speak as well as what they say. This is useful for speaking in any situation, public or otherwise.

What techniques can we teach our students?
a) Ideas / content generation
Lots of students find getting started quite difficult. It’s a good idea to give students either a type of public speech that you would like them to do, or a particular topic. It’s often useful to get students working in groups at the planning stage, helping each other to come up with ideas.

Showing students a variety of ways of making notes of ideas works well as not everyone likes the same methods. These could include mind-mapping, making lists or writing ideas on post-it notes and then arranging them on a piece of paper into groups.

b) Structure
Stress the importance of having a beginning, middle and end and keep reminding them of this. You might then like to give them a standard introduction to use for their first speech. For example, “Good evening. My name is x and today I am going to talk about y. I will talk about three main areas, x, y and z’. This then gives them a focus for the structure of the rest of the speech. It can seem a little dry, however, so once they get the idea it’s worth experimenting with different styles of beginning – e.g. using jokes and anecdotes.

Many students are so relieved to have got to their end of their speech that they rush the conclusion or sometimes completely forget to do one. Again, a suggested format may help them to summarise what they have said.

c) Body language
There are various statistics for how much of our communication is done through our body language – they seem to hover around 70%, which is a massive chunk, so some work in this area is a very good idea.

Posture: Doing an activity where you get everyone to stand up and then suddenly ‘freeze’ works well. You then ask everyone to stay still but look around at how everyone is standing. Then try getting everyone to stand straight and well-centred, behind the podium if you have one to use. You’ll be surprised how many people rock from side to side or slouch. Sounds pretty basic but it can make a big difference to how confident and in control someone appears to be.

Gestures: One way to practise these is to give out some sentences with key words in them, such as “I caught a fish and it was this big!” or “there are three important reasons why you should vote for me”. Ask the students to practise saying these sentences while standing up and work out what gestures might be the most appropriate. Stress the...
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