Speaking off the cuff can be a daunting experience, even for some of the bravest little superstars out there. Show-and-tell and presentations are part and parcel of school life now, so all kids have to brush up on this. This is especially crucial if they are shy and lack confidence to begin with. Children often fear that their minds will go blank when they get on that stage. What happens then? Will they freeze or just ramble on and on?
Whether it is for a class presentation, an oral exam or something else, your child might be asked to speak on a topic without notice at some point. While an impromptu speech might seem like a cruel trick, the main goal is to build confidence, enhance communication skills and prepare your youngster for future life experiences.
Speaking off the cuff doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are 10 tips that can help your little one shine when speaking off the cuff.
1. Get Anxiety under Control
Anxiety can be a real buzzkill. When your child panics, their ability to think and reason becomes weakened and this will ultimately affect their performance. Empower your child to get a grip on their anxiety with these tricks.
- Teach them to redirect their thoughts from fear and panic to confidence and excitement.
- You can support your child by reminding them to take deep breaths before speaking. Deep breaths are also helpful at any point during the speech when they hit a bump or when they lose their place.
- Tell your youngster to use the time they’re taking that deep breath. Remember, the audience will be forgiving as far as this is concerned.
- Another helpful trick to overcome anxiety is to play out possible scenarios with them. This way, they are aware of what it will be like to stand in front of an audience.
- You can also practise some worst-case scenarios and explain to them how to overcome these with confidence.
2. Keep It Brief
It’s a good idea when speaking off the cuff to keep the speech brief and to the point. The longer your child speaks, the more likely it becomes that the audience will lose interest. Longer speeches also mean more opportunities to make mistakes and get flustered.
3. Spice Things up with a Little Humour
Humour is a great way to warm up to an audience. A good idea is to either encourage your child to tell a funny story or a joke to lighten the mood. Your child could try an appropriate knock-knock joke or perhaps say something like: “My name is Kim. How do you like me so far?” or “What did the horse say to the cow? Nothing! Animals can’t talk.”
Another way to convey humour is to imitate someone famous. A brief sentence from a good movie or a catchphrase from TV should be enough to get some laughs. When everyone laughs, your youngster will feel more relaxed. Now is a good time for them to address the topic at hand.
4. Always be Prepared
It may seem quite magical how some children stand up and deliver a polished speech right there and then. Are they really just ‘naturals’? What most people don’t know is that some of the best speakers in the world keep a small library of quotes, jokes, poems and personal stories on hand to use at any time.
They also have a simple universal structure (see tip #5) ready to use when responding to questions or statements. Your child should assume that they could be asked to speak at school at any time. It’s a good idea for them to have something prepared for various possible scenarios ahead of time.
(See also: 8 Ways for Kids to Ace the Show & Tell)
5. Structure is King
With an impromptu speech, the secret lies in the structure. A logical structure has an opening, a middle and a conclusion. Kids learn this when writing compositions. The same applies when speaking off the cuff.
Opening: The introduction should be used to capture the attention of the audience (more on this in tip #6).
Middle: After the introduction, your child can move on to the body of the speech. This is where they make their argument and explain why they feel the way they do. Your child should use examples to help the audience understand their point of view.
Conclusion: This should be used to tie all their ideas together in a brief summary. They could also repeat the question or restate the argument. Alternatively, your little one can make some suggestions for further action, or leave the audience with something that they can remember.
6. Captivate the Audience with the Introduction
Many experts recommend that your child pause and take a breath before starting with their speech, to show that they think before speaking. Then try one of these opening strategies.
- Some people start their speeches off with a personal story or an anecdote. When the time comes for your child to speak, a good idea is for them to tell the first story that comes to mind. They could also tell a story that relates to the topic. This is a wonderful way to connect with the audience.
- Another handy tip is for them to open the speech with a quote or a poem. If they start to answer a question by reciting a poem, your youngster will look incredibly polished and prepared. Everyone who liked the story, poem or quote will want to hear more! They will be on the edge of their seats, listening to what the speaker has to say next.
- You can help your child to find a quote from a famous person or from one of their parents to start their speech with. For example, your child could say: “My mom always says that you can only achieve your goals if you work hard.”
- More good advice is to ask an open-ended question to get the audience thinking. Your youngster could say something like: “Have you ever thought about your personal goals?” or “What do you think about animal rights?”
7. Audience Participation
Engaging the audience is a powerful strategy for speaking like a pro.
Youngsters can ask the audience a question and request that those who agree, for instance, raise their hands. People also like to chant. Your child could start reciting a cheer, perhaps something about their school’s sports team, and ask the audience to join in.
This way, they’ll get the audience to participate. Along the way, they might even get some helpful hints from the audience to guide their speech.
8. Adjust the Focus
Your child might need to adjust their speech to change the focus. They should not try to answer a difficult question right away or state their opinion immediately. This is a well-known trick that politicians like to use.
There’s nothing wrong with deferring to something else first, and addressing the topic later on during the speech.
(See also: 10 Ways your Kids can Love Chinese)
9. Stay in Control
It is essential for your child to stay in control of their speech. Sticking to the basics might help your youngster to sell any odd behaviour during their speech as something they were planning on. Think: “I meant to do that!”
For instance, if your kid gets stuck, they could pretend that it’s a meaningful pause. They should stick to what they know and try to stay enthusiastic.
10. Improvise with Confidence
Children should keep their body language in mind and speak clearly so that the audience can hear them well. Even if your precious child’s heart is pounding, teach them to strike a confident pose, smile and be the personification of confidence. Encourage them to be prepared to show their spontaneous side.
With these tips and a little practice, your little ones will soon be experts at speaking off the cuff!
This article was contributed by Dr Lisa Lim Su Li, Clinical Director and Senior Speech Language Pathologist at The Speech Practice Pte Ltd