Coaching Confidence: How to Help Your Child Approach Public Speaking

Speaking in front of an audience can be just as nerve-racking for a self-conscious kiddo as it is for an adult. Just as you do with every other activity your child tries, from an early age coach, encourage and support your youngster’s efforts to express herself confidently in front of an audience.

“Public speaking is a skill that is rarely taught, but is so valuable in the adult world,” says Katherine Pebley O’Neal, a 5th grade teacher and author of the children’s book Public Speaking: 7 Steps to Writing and Delivering a Great Speech. “If we teach our young students how to engage an audience with confidence, they can use the skills to enhance and benefit any profession they choose.”

In today’s high-tech environment, kids will need to gain communication skills across mediums more than ever. More employers now conduct video interviews or ask job candidates to turn in video introductions. Despite our society’s growing reliance on text-talk, our kids must still learn how to speak on the phone effectively, present in front of a group, video conference and communicate professionally to audi-ences across social media. And kids who have learned to express themselves well will stand out in a competitive job market.

“Things are changing in our educational paradigm where it’s not just go to school and get a job,” says Sarah L. Cook, co-author of The Parents’ Guide to Raising CEO Kids. “Kids need to have some entrepreneurial skills to even land a job. They need to be able to engage with people confidently. Public speaking allows them to show that confidence.”

Flutters of Fear

Physical signs of limelight-related stress include uncontrollable shaking, hyperventilating, sweating, flushed face, and even short-term memory loss. Why is public speaking scary?  “It’s a fear of failure,” Cook says. “It’s a fear of public rejection. Are people going to laugh at me? Are they going to boo me? Are they going to ignore me?”

Here’s how to help your child grow more confident presenting in front of an audience:

Use technology. A child’s first and friendliest audiences include her family and friends. Frequent invitations for her to talk on the phone or the webcam to relatives can ease even a shy child’s initial communication inhibitions. Also, use your video camera and ask your kids ques-tions. This strategy helps kids get comfortable in front of a camera.

Open the floor at mealtime. Suggest each member of your family take turns reciting a joke, story, prayer or poem during dinner. Listen carefully to your kids and acknowledge their efforts. When a young child feels listened to, his confidence in expressing himself blossoms.

Encourage show-and-tell. Show-and-tell is an excellent introduction to public speaking in a friendly group setting. Most kids love to take something meaningful to them and share it with their friends.
Seek out organized opportunities. Depending on his interests, enroll your child in activities like drama, scouting, science fairs or 4-H. These activities offer leadership roles in a supportive environment that require participants to get in front of an audience.

Practice, practice, practice. Preparation and practice is necessary to succeed. By writing out what they’d like to say ahead of time and creating visual aids, kids can learn to organize their thoughts.
“And if they can present their information with pizzazz, the entire class will actually learn something from their efforts,” O’Neal says. Your child will have more fun presenting if her audience is engaged, too.
Encourage your kids to practice their presentations ahead of time, whether in front of a mirror, the family or a video camera.
“Parents can boost confidence by listening to their child practice his or her speech many times. They can remind their child to make eye contact and to smile,” O’Neal says. “The final two or three run-throughs before the performance should be met with only praise.”

A True Phobia?

Nervousness before a presentation is normal, but if your child is paralyzed with fear, skipping classes and avoiding extracurricular activities that require public speaking, consult with a child psychologist. Cognitive behavioral techniques like challenging negative thinking, breathing and relaxation exercises, and supportive coaching can help.


Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband are the parents of two school-age boys. Her latest book is Happy, Healthy & Hyper-connected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.

Guest Contributor