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Inculcating Public Speaking among Children

Children differ from one another because of their personalities, which they develop, as they grow older. Some children are extroverts, friendly with all and with a good command of their language (usually the language spoken at home); while some are introverts and meek when interacting with others. The first group is largely confident of themselves and tend to speak their opinions. This group does not hesitate to take to the stage when the time comes. The second group is inhibited in its actions and words, as they are ill at ease in front of others. However, this does not mean that they cannot come out of their shell.

All children cannot be distinctly grouped into extroverts (public confident) and introverts (public shy). Some children may be extroverts but find it difficult to face a large audience. They hesitate to stand up alone and speak on a dais. This group of children can also be helped to improve their public speaking skills.

Right from the early days of a Montessori or play school, toddlers are encouraged by their teachers and caregivers to participate in school activities. This helps draw out the child from his shell by being sociable. Group participation is a way to improve the confidence of the toddler. Further, various events such as fancy dress competitions are held to encourage the child to adopt a different role and (maybe) stand up on a small podium in front of an audience, consisting of peers and parents.

As a child grows older, class participation helps in building a child’s confidence, as he has to speak up in front of at least 20+ children and the teacher. Over the years, this helps in strengthening the child’s speaking and communication abilities. As a child enters the primary level, other occasions such as elocution contests and annual day functions mandate the participation of children wherein ‘public speech’ is involved. It may be argued that only the best are selected for such events, but nonetheless, every language class also has some amount of learning and recitation involved. For example, poems/songs are learnt and recited/sung either individually or in a group.

For children who hesitate to participate in class or speak in public, there are several ways of encouraging them. The common denominator for all these methodologies is practice. Whenever a child has to participate in an event involving public speech, his confidence can be built in the following way:

First Step - Learning by rote (if the speech is small or is a poem/song)
Second Step - Practising in front of the mirror without any other audience
Third Step - Reciting in front of a parent/s who can guide the child in stance, posture, and pronunciation
Fourth Step - Reciting in front of a larger audience, for example, the whole family

Going step-by-step improves the confidence of the child as practice helps make perfect.

There are formally structured classes as well which help children gain confidence over themselves. Drama classes help the child modulate his voice and use expressions; vocabulary classes help develop the vocabulary of the child to articulate himself better; and, reading classes wherein the child reads aloud to a group of children. Such formal classes also help the child although the test lies in the child getting onto the stage and ‘facing’ an audience.

It must be remembered that children should be given the opportunity to speak up (albeit in a positive way) whenever possible as it helps them give their opinions and does not inhibit them. However, all children need not become great orators as adults but must have that inner confidence about themselves and should not hesitate to speak in public.