Practice makes perfect in public speaking

Fostering opportunities to develop public speaking skills in youth.

The old adage “practice makes perfect” rings true when public speaking is concerned. With each opportunity to practice public speaking skills in real life situations, youth learn how to manage their inevitable nerves and build their confidence. Michigan 4-H Youth Development offers many opportunities for youth to develop and practice public speaking skills. Using the experiential learning model and following the three basic steps of do, reflect and apply, adults can help youth reflect on their experiences and better prepare them for their future.

Consider the following opportunities:

  • Participate in judging interviews. Many 4-H youth participate in county fairs and exhibitions that involve a conversation with an expert about their project. Youth participate in a simple interview to explain how they completed their project and prepared it for exhibition. While a one-on-one interview does not technically fit the definition of public speaking, it does provide youth with an opportunity to think on their feet and express themselves in a way others can understand.
  • Conduct demonstrations. A project area in many 4-H programs that is often overlooked is demonstrations. In this area, youth are challenged with taking listeners through a process or activity using visual aids. Cooking, caring for or showing an animal, and making a craft are all common topics for demonstrations. Encourage 4-H club members to hold a demonstration each month at club meetings in order to share knowledge and skills and practice public speaking skills. The Michigan 4-H Communications Toolkit provides lesson plans and activities to prepare youth for delivering a presentation.
  • Participate in 4-H meetings. 4-H clubs provide a non-threatening venue to share thoughts and ideas to plan activities. Simply seconding a motion is a non-threatening way for youth to begin finding their voice in a large group. This simple process builds their confidence for later making motions and participating in discussion.
  • Serve as a club officer. Youth who serve as president, vice president, secretary or treasurer of their clubs take on more responsibility in meetings and provide reports to the membership. This is a great opportunity to foster public speaking and leadership skills in youth. “Helping You Help Officers and Committees” by Michigan State University Extension provides a complete guide to officer roles and responsibilities in 4-H clubs.
  • Emcee a recognition program. When it comes time to award members for their hard work, make sure 4-H members are behind the microphone. Provide time to practice using the microphone, coaching on reading slowly and speaking clearly. 4-H programs provide a safe environment of supportive members and leaders who are usually willing to grant a little more patience and empathy for youth who are learning or practicing new skills.

Using the experiential learning model, it’s important for 4-H volunteers to help youth process and reflect on these experiences. Anytime youth are speaking to a group of five or more people, it’s considered public speaking. Call out youth’s efforts and provide them with encouragement and constructive feedback. Ask them how they felt about the experience and if they would like to do it again in the future. Then, ask youth when they think public speaking skills might be important in “real life.” Reminding them that public speaking is a part of almost any profession from interviewing to presenting to toasting awards or recognition.

Refer to “Developing public speaking skills in youth” by MSU Extension for tips on teaching youth about public speaking. Additionally, Michigan 4-H members will have an opportunity to increase their public speaking and other communication skills during 4-H Teen Spokesperson Training offered Aug. 22, 2016, in Mackinaw City, Michigan.

MSU Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program helps to prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas. To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, civic engagement, citizenship and global/cultural programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.”

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