How to Get a Wow (Not a Scowl) From Kids (Part 2)

The Public Speaker takes another look at speaking to an audience of children. Here are 10 more tips for keeping a school-age audience engaged. 

Lisa B. Marshall,
February 28, 2014
Episode #240


When I was a young student, I loved it when we had a break from the normal class schedule to hear a guest speaker. It was especially fun when we could ask questions and be involved in the discussion. Yes, I’ll admit, I was one of those kids who always had her hand up hoping to be called on or chosen to participate!.

Yesterday, my kids came home very excited because they has two assemblies in one day.  They were most interested to tell me about the woman who came in to deliver a talk in celebration of Black History Month. The woman was a child about their age during the time of segregation and she told personal stories of how she and her family were treated. I am sure these stories will stick with my girls for many years to come. 

Talking to kids is a big challenge. 

In Part 1 of this series, I gave you 10 tips on engaging a young audience so that your message is heard and remembered.  This week, I’ll give you 10 more tips to help you get a wow, not a scowl, from a group of children:

Tip #1: Ask Questions

Ask many questions along the way to gauge if the children understand and are following you.  By asking questions, you are getting them to contribute ideas to the discussion. You may be surprised by an idea they come up with that you hadn’t thought of.  For older children, it might be a fun exercise to have them write down questions anonymously and drop them in a pile for you to pick and read out loud.

Tip #2: Leave Plenty of Time for Discussion

Be prepared to get crazy questions as well. Just remember to keep your composure. Don’t embarrass anyone who asks a question or offers you an idea. Treat every member of your audience with respect and take each question as seriously as possible, even the ones you that almost make you laugh. That's not to say you can't be humorous and silly. Just like adults, children enjoy a lively discussion.

Tip #3: Set Ground Rules for Participation at the Beginning

However, make it clear when you will accept questions and when they have to wait. Do you want your audience to share their stories and experiences? If so, when? If you don’t have time for stories, let them know you would love to hear their stories afterwards. Enlist the teacher to help you enforce the participation rules.

Tip #4: Use Simple Sentences

As with adults, you don’t want to lose your listeners with complicated language. Be as direct as possible. Keep to one topic at a time so the kids can easily follow you.

Tip #5: Use More Vocal Variety than You Do with Adults

Keep your voice lively and clear, and keep their attention by emphasizing certain words with a louder or softer voice. In short, make your discussion almost as if you are telling a story from children’s book. Your goal is to use your voice as a way to get attention in the right spots.

Tip #6: Use More Facial Expressions than You Do with Adults

Try to make eye contact with members of the audience and be more animated with your hands. Smile, laugh, look surprised, and move your head. Stay relaxed and don’t be statue-like. Since you most likely won’t be using slides, you’ll need to keep their attention by using your body, arms, and face.

Tip #7: Use a Mantra

Repeat key catchphrases and main ideas several times throughout the presentation. Much like you would present to an adult audience, review the important items that you would like for the kids to remember and then create a short memorable phrase that captures the main point.  If you can use figurative language to make it more memorable, all the better.

Tip #8: Give them Something to Share at Home

Parents will probably ask their kids what they learned that day. Always leave your listeners with something to share with their families and something to get them to learn more about your topic. For example, if you are speaking to them about natural resources, give them an interesting fact about water and ask them to research where their water comes from in their town. Think of creative ways of providing incentives for them to learn more about you or your topic. For example, maybe you could create bookmarks and give one to each student.

Tip #9: Use the Names of as Many Children as You Can

Find out the names of students from teachers ahead of time, or have the students wear nametags so that you can use their names in your discussion. A personal touch like calling them by name goes a long way in impressing them and making them feel special. If they are at ease, you will be too, and your audience will be even more engaged.

Tip #10: Don't Sell Your Product

This final piece of advice comes directly from my daughter Daniela. She remembered a really bad presentation from a parent who explained car options available on the latest model of car he was selling. It’s so funny that even as young as age 8 kids don't want to hear a sales pitch! I think that's good advice for all of us to follow.

My final, and perhaps most important, piece of advice is to have fun sharing your knowledge. You may be surprised and learn something new about your topic or yourself! Everyone likes to be heard and to feel important, and if you remember to use a few of my 20 tips, I’m confident you'll get a wow and not a scowl!  As always, if you implement any of these ideas, be sure to let me know either in the comments portion of this episode or by sending me an email at publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com.

This is Lisa B. Marshall, Helping you maximize sales, manage perceptions, and enhance leadership through keynotes, workshops, books, and online courses. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.

If you're a fan of Michael Hyatt like I am, you'll want to tune into my new podcast, Smart Talk, for my most recent interview with Michael Hyatt. It's a bonus video interview. Also, check out my behind the scenes bonus video interview with Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl) where she talks about her exciting new card game, Peeve Wars.  


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