Monday, February 21, 2011

The blog's youngest public speaking fan (age 6) shares her first-ever talk

UPDATE: While Jenny would appreciate the promotion, she is actually still 6 and not quite 7. We regret the error.

(Editor's note: Writer Becky Ham, who reports for The Eloquent Woman on research about public speaking, told me that her 6-year-old daughter, Jenny Ham, had to give her first oral report in school--and wound up turning to The Eloquent Woman blog to answer her questions about public speaking. I asked Becky to write about it, with Jenny's permission, and they shared this account and one of Jenny's practice videos. Becky reports that Jenny was astonished to learn that adults have the same questions and fears about public speaking that she did. This post includes links to the posts she used to prepare. Here's how it went.)

My daughter Jenny just finished her first public speaking gig, a short presentation to her second-grade class about the Native American tribe of her choice. She came home excited—but a little unsure—on the day they received the assignment:
Me: Did your teacher give you any tips on speaking in front of everyone? Did you talk in class about how to give a good speech?

Jenny: No, I think we’re just supposed to be wigging it.

Me: Do you mean…winging it?

Jenny: Yeah, that’s what I said.
From that promising start, she spent two weeks researching, writing and practicing. Jenny said her biggest fear going into the talk was that she wouldn’t be prepared. She was determined to make lots of eye contact “so I won’t look boring.” She wondered if it was OK to say “um,” like some of her classmates. She was surprised to see how fast she was speaking after watching herself on video.  She also became a big fan of deep breathing before starting her speech.

On the big day, she felt “nervous at first, then OK.” Her favorite part was “being up at the front of the class by the teacher’s desk” and “having all the attention on me.” And while she said preparation and practice were her least favorite parts of the project, she admits that it paid off when it came time to answer questions at the end of her talk.

Interestingly, Jenny insisted that the girls in her class were more prepared, more lively, and less likely to read directly from their papers than the boys. (While she didn’t accuse the boys outright of having cooties, I suspect there may be some second-grade culture at work behind this observation.)

I’ve been watching her video practice again, and I’m struck by how the lessons she’s learned will stay relevant far into her speaking future.Well, most of them, anyway. She’s missing her two front teeth, and we had to talk about what to do when your words come out in a whistle.

Readers, do you remember your first talk or oral report? Share your memories in the comments.

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