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4-H offers youth public speaking opportunities

By By Beth Randall
Nov. 4, 2001
What comes to your mind when you hear the words "Public Speaking?"
Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of most people more than speaking in front of an audience.
Believe it or not, when I was younger (much younger) I was very shy. I was even nervous to answer a question in class, much less talk to a group of people. As a teen, 4-H helped me overcome some of my public speaking fears.
I will never forget my first visual presentation at Club Congress. For those of you not familiar with 4-H, a visual presentation is a speech with posters and other visual aids. The title of my presentation was "Which Came First, The Chicken or The Egg."
Positive experience
Even though I had practiced for weeks and was prepared, I can still remember the feeling I had as I sat in that classroom at Mississippi State University waiting for my turn. I get nervous just thinking about it now!
Well, the good news is that I did quite well with my presentation. I placed first. That positive experience gave me the confidence to try again. Each time I made a presentation it became easier to face an audience.
Stage fright is a perfectly normal response when addressing a room full of strangers. For youth, what may be more terrifying than speaking to strangers is giving a class presentation to peers. In either case, the key to successful public speaking is being prepared.
Before writing a speech, first make an outline. Your speech should consist of three major parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. In the introduction you should have an opening that catches the audience's attention. The opening may be a startling statement or fact, a quote, a poem or an appropriate joke or story. You should also give the audience a preview of the speech. In other words, "Tell them what you are going to tell them."
The body of the speech should include the main points that you want to make. Be careful not to overwhelm your audience with too much information stick to about three main points.
In the conclusion of the speech, summarize the main points before giving the closing. The closing should be an appeal for action from your audience. Tell the audience what you want them to do now that they know this information.
Think through your speech and ask yourself a few questions: Is your presentation in logical order? Does it make sense? Have you gotten your points across to the audience?
When speaking in public, the delivery of the speech is very important. The visual image that you project will determine how seriously you are taken. Your clothing should appear natural and well suited to your personality, portraying the image you want to project. Avoid wearing distracting clothing or jewelry.
Use notes sparingly, and you may want to write your outline on index cards. Shuffling big pieces of paper can be distracting to the audience. Reading your speech word for word could cause the audience to question whether or not you actually wrote it yourself. Use notes only as a reference.
Walk to your position confidently, then take a moment before speaking to make any adjustments with props or the microphone. Look around and get a feel for your audience. Establish and maintain eye contact throughout the speech. Remember: You are the speaker begin your talk when you are ready. Speak with authority as if you believe in what you're saying 100 percent. Speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard and understood all the way at the back of the room.
Using body language effectively is necessary for a successful delivery. Your gestures and movements should be natural and used to add interest and depth to your talk. Use good vocabulary, enunciation and pronunciation. Pronouncing clearly and correctly is also important. Nothing shoots the credibility of a speaker more than mispronouncing an important name or term.
Practice, practice
Practice makes perfect. Give your speech over and over by trying it out on your family, in front of the mirror, or even saying it to your dog. Practice will give you freedom from your notes and help you decide the kind of body language that you're comfortable with.
When presenting your speech, act confident even if you don't feel that way, and the next thing you know you will be self-assured. Expect the unexpected and keep your cool. The microphone feeding back with a piercing squeal, or dropping your props are mishaps that are bound to occur. Remember that this happens to even the best public speaker.
The more times one talks in front of a group of people, the easier it will be next time. 4-H offers youth many public speaking opportunities, and you can contact our office at 482-9764.
Beth Randall is the 4-H Youth Agent for Lauderdale County. She may be reached at 482-9764, or e-mail her at