Monday, April 18, 2005


Parents complain that schools beg for parent volunteers, but then never call for their help. Or they complain that they are only offered opportunities to raise money for more TV’s and a new playground, when the old ones are fine, and what they really want to do is help enrich the academic experience.

Sometimes, you have to take the initiative. Here’s one way, from my series, “Show ‘n’ Tell for Parents”:


My Mom, the Speech Coach

Q. Our sixth grade has a big speech contest, but the teachers don’t have time to teach the kids much about how to prepare. The kids whose parents do it for them always win. How can we change this?

With parental involvement! Public speaking is one of the most important life skills, but it is another one of the features of public schooling that is getting short shrift because of the standardization of American education and overemphasis on test scores.

Get together with other parents and propose a short-term Speech Club to the sixth-grade teachers and principal. Parents will provide the curriculum and give the kids tips and practice as they embark on their research and speech preparation. Schedule it to meet at school three or four times about 45 minutes before the school day begins. Use the time to give the kids a short-course in speech techniques:

-- Choose a topic that fascinates you and narrow the focus just as tight as you can make it, so it’s interesting and unique.

-- Set a goal or purpose for your speech. What ideas are your top priorities for getting across? What are you trying to prove?

-- Research the topic thoroughly, but tell only the best 10 percent or so of what you know. It should be new to your audience, too.

-- Write a “skeleton” outline with just a few words representing each key concept. Put these key words on note cards. Memorize the order of the outline; don’t write your speech out. Give your speech based on your outline, not by memorizing words you’ve written. That’s not speaking; that’s reading aloud!

-- Start with a bang! Get right to the point, then prove it.

-- Visuals are key. Use charts, pictures, models, comparisons, demonstrations, drama, expert testimony . . . think 3-D.

-- Rehearse a lot, ‘til you can give your speech in your sleep.

-- End with a bang! Make them laugh, feel touched or energized.

Homework: The two-audiotape guide, “Speak For Yourself” from Learn, Inc., is meant for adults but applicable for school speech tasks.

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