School speeches are a dread for many students. Writing them is hard and performing feels like a really vulnerable experience. Currently in New Zealand many school speeches are written like an essay and children are asked to memorise or at least have them on cue cards. Schools choose topics that are challenging and students end up spending significant time just coming up with the topic, quickly trying to find and structure information and the actual skills behind speaking to an audience never get taught. Our middle and senior students have limited opportunities to present to their peers with often students believing only those extroverted will be successful. Funny and entertaining speeches are rewarded, and many students have only one opportunity a year to stand in front of their peers and speak - and they quickly learn it feels hard.
There is no other game or academic pursuit where students would have so little instruction
-where we just expect them to perform.
Speaking confidence comes from foremost learning how to structure and deliver a speech and then from multiple opportunities to practice those skills. Students of all ages need quality tuition to help them understand a speech is not an essay, the best speakers are engaging but not always funny and most of all we feel secure in ourselves when we have had the opportunity to learn skills and practice them. A speech or talk is not about the speaker- it is about the audience and knowing how to meet their listening, interest and knowledge needs. We feel much less vulnerable when we realise we are not on ‘show’ rather we have something important or useful or even joyful to bring an audience and can do so in our own authentic way.
Ten Feet Tall teaches extempore speaking which means to have a planned structure, but the speech is presented in our own words. Cue cards are thrown out the window as we remove barriers between us and the audience- creating talks and visual aids that have the audience in mind. Ten Feet Tall's students start speaking from Year 1-3 weekly on a range of topics, and our focus at this level is to weekly have students presenting to their peers and working on their delivery skills. In safe encouraging environment students are excited to share their ideas with their peers and work on a different delivery skill each week. Standing tall, presenting with a loud voice, eye contact, gestures, thinking of what the audience might be interested in - these are all skills that take time for students to learn. There is significant research and understanding in how to engage an audience and yet many teachers are still encouraging their students to look to the back of the room when they present or picture the audience in a funny way. Our students learn to love presenting their ideas in a supportive environment with trained teachers that know how. Dare I say it – our students actually enjoy speaking to an audience well before they realise the adult world does not.
From Year 4-6 we continue to work on delivery skills, but our focus is far greater on the audience – what will they know? What will they be interested in? How can we adapt our information, demonstration, visuals to suit the needs of the audience? Once our students have begun to think like this, they can then embark on preparing a range of talks. From Year 4-13 our students prepare over 20 different types of talks for different audiences – these are ‘world ready’ skills that last a lifetime. Of central importance at Middle School level is being able to deliver a Social Speech. Most of us at one time have had to thank a speaker, introduce a speaker or welcome a visiting group. Students Year 7-10 work with us on being able to structure and deliver their talks in an honouring way both in planned and impromptu contexts. It is at this level; we focus on improving the content of their speeches and presentations especially how we can delivery meaty- important content in a way that keeps our audience with us. Our students are taught to prepare a range of visual aids including slides. And there is no ‘death by PowerPoint here’. Our students are learning from the latest research to guide them in preparing slides that their audience can enjoy. Our Senior Students write a range of speeches that are simply not covered at school and are vital for their career success: tribute speeches; reports; persuasive speeches; presenting an opinion– these are skills that help our students to move ahead of their peers. We love working with our students on their talks and especially love seeing them grow in confidence; with many of our students competing in School Speech Competitions and winning National Scholarships.
Ten Feet Tall is on a mission to change the face of how we teach children to engage an audience in New Zealand: working with one student at a time and keeping the focus on the audience. Ten Feet Tall has so much to give to our community in this area, and we love that through the process of developing a talk: each child realises they do too!