I can only speak for myself, but I become a lot more nervous when I am asked to come and speak to a group of young, pre-high school, kids. I’m not quite sure why this is – perhaps it’s because I don’t believe that they know about importance of public speaking and will be willing to follow the “rules” that my adult audiences do. You know what I’m talking about: they can turn out to be unpredictable, demanding, and boisterous. All too often the young audiences that I talk to have to be there – they are not there because they want to be. Talk about a tough crowd!
It’s All About The Visuals
When you are presented with an opportunity to talk with a young audience, you have to start by putting yourself into their shoes. Yes, this may have been a long time ago, but still you have to try. Kids are not like the adult audiences that we normally address. You need to think like a kid – sorta goofy and not an adult. You want your audience to treat you like an equal even while they understand that you are not like them.
You want your young audience to enjoy themselves while you are making your presentation. You need to understand that at their age they don’t have the ability to sit through a speech and listen to you. What you are going to have to do is to come up with ways to keep your audience stimulated and entertained. One of the most important things that we need to realize is that instead of trying to use words to connect with children, we need to take the time to work visual elements into our speech.
You need to use humor in any speech that you give to young people. This will cause them to laugh and will help to keep their attention on what you’ll be saying next. The younger the audience is, the more important the visuals will be. As the age of your audience gets older, you can start to use fewer props and start to use more words. You need to be very careful and not sacrifice your content in order to entertain your audience.
Keep It Moving
When we are addressing an adult audience, we can take our time and develop our ideas. Many of the ideas and concepts that we present to adults are complex and we need to work to introduce the new ideas to them. Once they grasp the new ideas, we can share with them how the can apply these ideas to the problems or situations that they are currently facing. However, when our audience consists of young children, this approach is not going to work.
The problem that you will be facing is going to have to do with attention. Your young audience is simply not going to have the attention span to stay with you as you slowly develop a complex idea. Since your audience is not going to change to match you, you are going to have to change to match your audience. The younger your audience is, the faster the pace of your speech is going to have to be and the more animated you are going to have to be while you deliver your speech.
Your adult audiences may be able to last through a 90 minute presentation; however, your young audience won’t be able to make it. Your presentation to them should last no longer than 45 minutes. If the presentation is being given outside, you’ll have to make it even shorter because you are going to be competing with other distractions for your audience’s attention. One thing that you’ll have to be careful to not do is to speak too fast. We generally speak at about 150 words per minute. Children can only process roughly 124 words per minute. If you speak too quickly, they will become overwhelmed and will start to tune out what you are saying.
What All Of This Means For You
As speakers we know that we have to adjust every speech that we give in order to meet the unique needs of our audience. What this means is that when we are asked to make a presentation to young children, we need to once again think back to what it was like to be a kid and make sure that our presentation matches what they both need and want so that they can experience the benefits of public speaking.
In this type of presentation, we need to keep in mind that children process their world though sights. That means that we need to take the time to work a lot of visuals into our presentation. If we spend too much time talking, they’ll just get bored and tune us out. We also have to hurry things up. This does not mean to speak faster – children won’t be able to follow us if we do. Instead, we need to keep the pace of our presentation moving along quickly.
The good news about presenting to young children is that it can be done. However, as a presenter you are going to have to take the time and make sure that you understand how they see their world. Once you understand this, you can then take steps to adjust your speech and make sure that it contains the visuals that they’ll want and that it moves quickly enough to hold on to their attention.
Question For You: What do you think that the maximum length of a speech to young children should be?
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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!
What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
One of the biggest problems with being a person who has given speeches before is that all too quickly people will start to think of you as “that person who gives speeches”. It really doesn’t matter if you are comfortable doing this or not, the simple fact that everyone knows that you’ve done it before means that if they have a need for someone to give a speech, they are going to come looking for you. Nowhere is this going to be more evident than when it comes time to make a toast.