How to Help your Teen Cope with Public Speaking
The truth is most people are scared of public speaking. Glossophobia is the proper name for this fear, and it affects an estimated 75% of all people of all ages. It’s no wonder that a teenager may also feel a strong sense of anxiety and dread when it comes to public speaking that is increased by their completely normal teenage anxieties about standing out, making mistakes in front of others, or just not being super perfect at things.
Public speaking is almost unavoidable, and while it may be tempting to try to get out of it that isn’t the best plan. Regardless of what career your child pursues public speaking will eventually be a part of it and learning to cope with the anxiety it causes and practicing the skills needed early can really help them stand out as an adult.
Why are they afraid?
Public speaking causes anxiety in most people, but it’s hard to pin down why. Scientists think it may be a combination of the kind of anxiety that we get when we feel people are watching us and a real fear of being evaluated on something that your teen feels that they aren’t good at.
While a speech can cause most people to dip their toes in the anxiety pool, for some it is worse than that and they may even begin to have physical symptoms beyond butterflies in the stomach. The longer they anticipate having to get up and speak the more that anxiety grows and the bigger the problem becomes.
Some kids are afraid of talking in front of people at all. This includes being called on in class to answer a question or being asked to read out loud in front of peers. Practicing for these situations can be tricky to try at home, but it is important.
Letting your child order for everyone at the table when you go out to eat can be a great way for them to practice speaking up, and improvise some of the skills they will use when doing public speaking, including being purposeful when they speak, remembering what they wanted to say, and responding to questions from the audience (the waitstaff). Even though the prospect of this may be overwhelming for your child remind them that you are there if they need your and that the waitstaff isn’t grading them.
The first step to overcoming problems with public speaking is to eliminate as many of the factors causing the anxiety as possible. Learning to over prepare can help your child feel less anxiety about forgetting their speech, pronouncing words wrong, or other slip-ups that are keeping them awake at night.
Start with a topic that is easy for them to talk about, one they may already know a bit about. Then make an outline of the speech, it should have a beginning, a middle and end. The beginning should introduce the topic to the audience, and each point in the middle should build on the previous, then the end should sum everything up. By outlining the speech and then working on writing it your teen is giving your child a chance to figure out a natural flow for the speech and that will help them to avoid losing their place and forgetting what they were saying.
Once the speech is written it’s time to start practicing it. Memorizing it word for word isn’t a winning strategy for most people. It is better to focus on the main points and the ways your teen wants to express them. This allows your teen not only to ad-lib if your teen gets lost or confused but helps your teen keep your note cards simple which can help your teen to avoid using them as a crutch and just reading them monotone to the audience.
Public speaking is 50% relaying information and 50% performance. Using a mirror or video to practice can help point out areas where body language and eye contact can be improved. Using body language and eye contact with your audience can help your teen appear less awkward and nervous and can also help them to mentally gloss over any imperfections. These things can be practiced and should be. Use your hand gestures wisely to help emphasize your speech points, and to keep your teen from not knowing what to do with their hands. Writing out a script for gestures that aligns with the speech can also help kinetic learners to remember when to say what.
Practice alone at first, and then in front of a trusted adult or two after that. The more times your teen gives your speech before it’s time to actually give the speech the better your teen will be at it. Remember that school is for learning and nobody expects perfection but with a bit of preparation, your teen can definitely outshine their peers.
Showtime advise for teens
Make sure to get plenty of sleep before a speech, well-rested people are better at dealing with anxiety than sleep deprived ones. Do a double check to make sure your teen has any props or materials your teen needs like note cards, or presentation posters.
Try to remain relaxed and use mindfulness exercises to help if anxiety starts getting too bad. Accept feelings of anxiety as valid, take deep breaths, and mentally go through your speech to help assure that your teen knows what is happening and when.
Remember that it is going to be over soon. No matter how your teen does, it’s okay. Even if your teen is being graded, your teen is their harshest critic. Your teen and your trusted family member are likely the only ones who know what a perfect run through will look like, so try to focus on hitting the main ideas and forget the notion that your teen has to be absolutely perfect when they’re making your speech. As long as your teen gets up there and does their best they will be great.
After the speech
Immediately after the speech or as soon as your teen can make a list of everything that they did well and a few things that they want to work on. While it’s fresh in their mind they’ll be able to find the real criticism. Try to avoid going over and over any small mistakes your teen made. Just acknowledge them and then move along with life. Getting bogged down with a few minor slip-ups is not going to make your teen a better speaker, it will only add to the baggage they carry into their next speech.
Every speech will be a new learning opportunity and the more your teen does it, the better they’ll become. Be kind and gentle with your teen and your teen will help them on their road to public speaking success.