Youth Leadership Development - Teach Public Speaking

Updated: Apr 29

The Wall Street Journal published a story about three African American males sending reporters flooding the gates. Their prison debate team, sponsored by Bard College, beat the debate teams of Harvard, Cambridge, and West Point. While the success of the prisoners isn’t surprising (I witnessed the overflow of potential working in corrections almost 30 years ago) each victory magnifies the significance of teaching public speaking skills to youth.

All in all, life is a series of presentations. You present to get a job. You present to sell an idea. You present to raise awareness and money. You present to get a raise. You present to win souls – from the pulpit or one-on-one.

Even employers deem public speaking a 21st century workplace skill. When it’s developed, the doors swing open.

One member of the debate team consulted a candidate running for office upon release and now serves as government affairs and advancement officer for the Bard Prison Initiative. Another works as accounts payable analyst at an investment business in Midtown Manhattan. Not too shabby!

Let’s be honest – youth don’t jump for joy to stand in front of the class. They duck and dodge sitting down. My roaming up and down the aisles randomly asking questions, for example, kept teens on pins and needles wondering where I’d stop.

Think back to when you attended high school or college. As soon as the instructor mentioned presentations, vitality seeped out the room like a vapor. Group presentations caused additional stress. Although you didn’t face the crowd alone, personalities clashed and a faithful few performed the work.

The greatest fear of all

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that public speaking anxiety or glossophobia affects about 73% of the population. It ranks ahead of death, spiders, and heights as the most common phobia. So, how do you hook youth?

As a training consultant, I’ve discovered that people usually fear what they don’t understand. Whenever my radar senses resistance, shifting gears becomes priority. Unless everyone’s on-board, the project stalls or worse- loses momentum.

Likewise, a teacher knows when the energy in the classroom falls flat. Nothing close to pulling a rabbit out of a hat revives it. Meanwhile, students’ opposition to learning increases.

The backdoor approach, nevertheless, empowers me to systematically break down the issue creating a smoother path to the front door. Yes, moving forward requires going backward first.

In any event, level the mountain by removing the sting. Reshape their perception of public speaking. Be creative!

Ease them into the task with the strategies below. You have the ability to reverse the tide. Turn the mountain into a molehill.

Take the sting out

  • Study the field

Research motivational speakers and investigate their earning potential. Why motivational speakers? Almost everyone fantasizes about becoming one and breaking into the field isn’t rocket science.

Whatever you overcome contains wisdom for others – your mess becomes the message. Like everything else, it goes back to presentation or what I refer to as packaging and positioning. Package the material and get in front of the right audience.

  • Discuss the advantages

Writing and speaking skills reap big rewards. If you don't believe me, how do presidents fill their coffers after leaving office? They write books and hit the lecture circuit.

Youth would be more enthusiastic if they knew the perks - speaking pays well. Anyone with an expertise has something to say.

  • Use Poetry

Poetry was written to be read aloud. Mix it up. Read the works of famous poets. Or, read the works of students. Take turns reading.

  • Read a play.

Like poems, plays offer a unique format. Change characters after each act to involve more students.

  • Tell stories.

Aim high – a story a week strengthens the meek. Options spark creativity.

  • Explore interests.

What makes you comfortable teaching your subject matter? Talking about your expertise and passion is second nature. Encourage students to discuss their interests.

  • Share tricks of the trade.

Explain ways to improve presentations with handouts, demonstrations, questions, and technology. Teach youth how to use Power Point effectively.

  • Make it fun

Give a prize to the student who finds an innovative way to make a boring topic intriguing. A college professor taught history using themes, costumes, and decorations to make the classroom reflect the period. Everyone flocked to take his class, and he won professor of the year award.

  • Recruit help.

Why not contact your local toastmaster group, chamber of commerce, or college to solicit help? They supply speakers and people who can teach a module or two.

  • Do round robins.

In high school, one teacher stipulated that we read everything out loud – plays, poems, and books. It loosened me up.

  • Introduce technology.

When you think about the matter, technology makes public speaking easier – definitely entertaining. You can create colorful backdrops, videos, a PowerPoint presentation with audio, and more. All eyes are on the technology – not glaring at you.

  • Identify strengths.

Study the attributes of each student and point them out. You’ll build confidence.

  • Recruit speakers.

By inviting speakers into the classroom, you kill three birds with one stone. Students acquire information about different topics, note diverse presentation styles, and develop contacts.

In brief, the techniques meet students where they are. Taking them to the desired point is painless when they are engaged and unflinching.

“Excellence is not a destination; it’s a continuous journey that never ends.”

- Brian Tracy


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What You Will Gain:

  • Breathe life into your topic

Uncover creative methods to meet different learning styles and teach critical concepts leaving students hungry for more.

  • Maximize success

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  • Engage and Behave

Investigate proven strategies to capture attention minimizing interruptions that throw you off track.

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Two heads are better than one. Get a fresh perspective.


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