Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers


April 20, 2020

If the mere thought of public speaking makes your students wish they could fly out the window, they’re not alone. Many people say it’s one of their top fears. Yet nearly everyone has to do it, whether they’re making a presentation at school or work, responding to questions at a job interview, or agreeing to “say a few words” at a social gathering. The ability to speak in front of others has new significance in these unusual times, as students and teachers alike meet via videoconference. Many find themselves virtually in front of dozens or hundreds of people, with their own face staring back at them from the screen.

Don’t let your students’ fears hold them back! Your 21st CCLC program is the perfect place to give reluctant students the individual attention, support and practice they need to become confident speakers. Here are some ways to help them stand and deliver, whether virtually or in person:

Assure students that “nerves are normal.” Even experienced speakers like actors, teachers and politicians often feel nervous before a presentation. Share tips for feeling prepared and in control. For example, students can write a script or cue cards; practice on their own; and ask a teacher, friend or family member to listen and give feedback. If you know community members who are good speakers, invite them to share their secrets for getting past the jitters.

Provide direct instruction. Help students see public speaking as a set of skills that can be developed by anyone willing to try. Show them ways to select or write engaging material, and to deliver or perform for a target audience. If there’s a speaker’s bureau or Toastmasters club near you, consider partnering with members.

Share models and demonstrations. Share short YouTube presentations on various topics of interest to students. After each one, ask if there was anything they especially liked or disliked. Prompt them to look for things like the speaker’s confidence, energy or enthusiasm; audience awareness; clarity of speech; vocal variety and volume; pacing, movements or body language; and selection of words and images. Focus on just one or two aspects at a time.

Provide opportunities for practice. Start small. One-on-one interviews, small-group activities, and full-group discussions allow students to practice speaking in a familiar, low-stress environment. Readers theater is a good way to get students used to speaking in front of others. Community projects and showcase events give students a chance to speak in front of family members, school-day staff and others. You can match speaking opportunities to each student’s age, interests and skill level so that everyone gets a chance but doesn’t feel overwhelmed. For example, students might deliver a short scripted welcome message on family night, perform an original “spoken word” poem during a variety show, explain and demonstrate the results of a science project or be part of a panel discussion. (Remember, all of these things can be done virtually during this time of school closure.)

Create a low-stress, high-support environment. Some students may jump at opportunities to speak and perform in public, but others may want to run in the other direction! There are many reasons some students may not feel ready or willing to speak in public. For example, some might feel extremely self-conscious because they stutter or have some other speech or language disorder, don’t speak English as their first language, or have severe anxiety. Group presentations that include nonverbal roles like writing a script, creating a visual aid, providing tech support or serving as a sign language interpreter give everyone a chance to participate. By giving students voice and choice, you can provide opportunities and support without making them feel pressured.

The ability to speak in public is a literacy skill that can benefit every student. See Y4Y’s new Literacy course for tools and resources related to speaking and the three other components of literacy: reading, writing and listening.


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