Ten-year-old Sophie walks up to the microphone, takes a deep breath and confidently speaks.
“I’m here to talk about what being a leader means to me. First of all, a leader always includes everybody and never leaves anyone out. Second of all, they listen to everybody’s ideas. Last but not least, a leader is somebody you can trust. A leader should be a good role model and somebody you can look up to. That’s what leadership means to me and that’s the kind of leader I want to be this year.”
Even though she’s practising in an empty gymnasium on this Thursday morning, there are a few things evident about Sophie’s speech: she’s not nervous, her delivery is well-paced and thoughtful, and the authenticity of her words comes through clearly.
Sophie’s skill isn’t an anomaly. She is one of 44 Grade 5 students practising their speech, all of whom have the same confidence and poise. The leadership speeches are an important moment in the Grade 5 leadership program.
“We want students to be intentional about their leadership and be able to name what that looks like for them,” says Kathleen Cook, Assistant Director of the Junior School. “We believe in children being authentic and going deep in their thinking. Having them go through a process where they can articulate their ideas means it’s going to be authentic. We want their words to be real and truthful and honest.”
Kathleen and the teachers run brainstorming workshops with all Grade 5 students to help each one thoughtfully think about and uncover what is most important for them to share with an audience.
“It’s not about what their teacher thinks, it’s what matters most to them so when they get up in front of the school they’re speaking from the heart,” she says. ” Part of honouring children and believing in what they can do is giving everyone the opportunity to speak, to personalize and think about where their gifts lie.”
On Friday, Grade 5 students read their speeches in front of their schoolmates, teachers and parents. By the time students are in Grade 5, many already have experience speaking to an audience. Students get introduced to public speaking as early as Kindergarten and gradually work up to the formal leadership speeches in Grade 5. This process is intended to make their public speaking experiences as positive as possible.
“Public speaking and good communication matters in leadership and leadership roles. We want them to have the confidence, skills and tools in their toolbox to be able to speak comfortably to an audience,” Kathleen says. “Many children have never had the opportunity to give a formal speech, so it’s important they have a first successful experience so they feel good about it.”
Here are 5 public speaking tips for children that help our Grade 5 speakers
Speak from the Heart
It’s easy to speak confidently about something you believe in – no matter if you’re an adult or child. Remind your child to stay true to who they are and what they know by sharing something honest and meaningful to them, instead of saying what they think their audience wants to hear.
Set Achievable Goals
Your child’s first great speech doesn’t have to be fully memorized or five minutes long. Help define what a successful speech looks like. Their first speech should aim to get them comfortable speaking to a crowd, so success could be a 30-second speech read completely from a card with no stumbling. Build on success by helping them set and achieve progressively more challenging public speaking goals for their next speeches.
Practice Makes Perfect
Encourage them to practise their speech. If they’re reading off a card or a script, this helps ensure that everything written out is correct. It also allows them to work on saying every word and sentence correctly.
A mix of excitement and nerves when speaking to an audience boosts adrenaline and your child can wind up talking 100 miles an hour. Encourage your child to slow down as they read – even speak slower than they think they should – so the audience can hear every single word they say.
Recognize your child for their achievement afterwards. Public speaking can be intimidating, so providing encouragement and feedback afterwards to highlight it as a positive experience will help give them even more confidence next time around.