It was during my daughter’s toddler gym class that I realized it would never be too early to start encouraging public speaking skills, as each child was asked to take a turn stating their own name (queue the dramatic music). According to recent research, 74% of people have anxiety related to public speaking. Whether it be saying her name independently at circle time in gym class or doing show and tell at school, I felt there were things I could do to help her become comfortable with this skill, even as a kid.
I started thinking about ways to boost her confidence to speak publicly. I did some online research and found that most information on this topic was geared towards older children, so I developed my own techniques for boosting her confidence and encouraging public speaking.
Preparedness/role playing: Before seeing friends, family, etc. I would give her the heads up. For example, “We’re going to see Papa today! We should tell him ‘hello’ and ask how he’s doing today. That would make him feel so happy!” I also would play pretend phone calls (even more exciting when the pretend phone is my daughter’s foot). If it was Grammie’s birthday, for instance, we may pretend to give her a ring on the foot phone and wish her a happy birthday before actually placing the call.
Eye contact: Making eye contact is a tricky one for my girl. Either the eye contact made the conversation seem too intense or she was just too involved with whatever activity she was working on to hold a gaze. I’ve goaded her into eye contact by asking her what color eye’s someone has or telling her that people can tell that she’s really listening when she looks at them in the eyes.
Positive reinforcement: My daughter positively eats up remarks such as, “You were so brave saying your name loud and proud in front of all your friends in gym class” I often find that at the next gym class she speaks her name even louder and prouder.
Conversational involvement: It’s just natural for people who don’t know her well to ask me questions about her age, name, etc., so instead of answering on her behalf I turn and pose the same question to her, giving her the opportunity to answer.
Exposure: We’ve been to many shows at the Boston Children’s Museum, a cousin’s dance recital, and even taken in a street performance or two. Watching performances together gives me the opportunity to talk to her about how the individuals on stage are sharing their talents, showing confidence, bravery, and seem to be having a good time themselves.
After graduating from show and tell I know she’ll be moving on to class presentations and spelling bees, and then perhaps presentations in the boardroom someday. I can only hope that the conversations we’ve had and the confidence that I’ve tried to instill give her the skills needed for public speaking.