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7 ways to boost public speaking skills in primary

Help children discover their public-speaking talents with these seven pro-speaker secrets to enhance their confidence and impact…

Graham Shaw
by Graham Shaw
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The ability to speak in public is a valuable life skill, but how well people do it is often a matter of chance.

Some people believe you can either do it or you can’t. But public speaking can be taught effectively.

In fact, some simple techniques can transform a talk, speech or presentation – and anyone can learn how to use them.

And what better place to learn than at primary school?

By teaching just a few professional speaker secrets to your class, you can help children to raise their game when speaking to groups.

Here’s how…

1 | Use the ‘magic structure’

Following a simple yet comprehensive structure ensures a logical sequence that will answer the key questions in the minds of any audience.

Ask the children to think about the following:

  • Why should the audience listen? Create curiosity
  • What is your key message? Introduce your topic with your main idea
  • How? Bring it to life with examples. Explain how it works
  • What if (problems)? Highlight concerns or risks
  • What if (benefits)? Summarise your key message. Ask for any action the audience should take. Highlight the positive difference these actions will make

2 | Add a little sparkle and drama

Include something memorable that will grab attention, especially at the start. It might be a magic trick, visual illusion, an amazing fact or use of a prop. Whatever the children choose to do, make sure they relate it to their talk so the audience can see its relevance.

3 | Use fewer words

Researchers at the University of New South Wales discovered that people cannot read and listen at the same time. If the children are preparing PowerPoint presentations to accompany their talk, a single word or key message will work fine because it can be read in seconds. Otherwise, they can use more pictures, such as photographs or diagrams, because the audience will find it easy to look at these and listen at the same time.

4 | Stand confidently

When speakers move around for no reason, it makes it harder for the audience to listen. Shifting around can also diminish the speaker’s credibility. Instead, children should stand upright with their feet hip-width apart with toes pointing slightly outwards and stay still, unless they have a good reason to move. By standing in this confident way, they will increase their confidence too.

5 | Use gestures

Using gestures to explain ideas makes it easier to explain things and the audience finds it easier to understand. Children should beware of keeping their arms constricted to their sides and making tiny gestures. Instead, they should open their arms and allow gestures to naturally occur.

6 | Make eye contact

Eye contact can make people feel special because it seems like you are speaking just to them. Rather than asking children to sweep from side to side, ask them to make eye contact randomly as this will look natural. If the group is too large to look at everyone individually, they can mentally divide the audience into smaller groups. When they look at one person in a group, everyone in that group will feel like they are looking at them.

7 | Slow down for emphasis, speed up for energy

Ask the children to speak at a natural conversational pace. They can slow down to emphasise points and speed up to add energy. Dropping their voices into a lower and more serious tone at the end of a sentence will give weight to an important point. Tell them to breathe deeply and project their voice, and increase clarity by sounding the beginnings and endings of words.

Enjoy seeing the difference

Whether children are speaking informally or on special occasions, there are numerous opportunities to practice. As you share these tips, they will learn to speak with confidence whatever the situation. The skills they develop will serve them throughout their lives.

Graham Shaw is a former deputy headteacher and of The Speaker’s Coach: 60 secrets to make your talk, speech or presentation amazing (available on Amazon). Find him at and follow him on Twitter at @grahamshawdraw.

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