Public Speaking: 10 ways that parents can support their quiet, sensitive child to cope
Tens of thousands of children are faced with what is probably the greatest challenge of their lives - public speaking in school. For some, standing up in front of a class and delivering a 2-minute presentation strikes terror in their hearts to the point that they become ill. It can be like jumping off a cliff. In fact, many adults say that they would prefer to jump off a cliff that speak in public.
The thing is, there is absolutely NOTHING WRONG with these children. They are likely to be introverts or in other words ‘thinkers’. Between a third and half of the population are introverts. Unfortunately, western culture and our educational system favours extrovert characteristics to the point that introverts often feel obliged to act against their true nature as though they were extroverts. This has become much worse in recent decades. We know that prolonged acting against our true nature leads to compromised immune system, resulting over time, in excessive stress, burnout and cardiovascular disease.
Research conducted in the U.S. suggests that the majority of teachers believe that the ‘ideal student’ is an extrovert. An introverted child’s reluctance to participate in class then is seen as anything but desirable. While I have no doubt but that there are many compassionate teachers out there, our education system doesn’t seek to understand or meet individual needs. It is therefore up to parents to prepare their quiet, sensitive children to survive and thrive within the school system and beyond. I have identified 10 steps that should help.
While we can fall anywhere on the introvert/extrovert scale, a quick and easy way of checking which camp you fall into is to ask yourself ‘where do you get your energy – being with groups of people or being by yourself? Introverts are not anti-social, they are just different socially. They love one-to-one conversations and dislike small-talk. Public speaking is usually challenging for introverts because their brains are wired differently to those of extroverts. They need to think things through very carefully before speaking and often have an intense dislike of answering questions on the spot.
So how can quiet, sensitive children cope with the enormous anxiety-producing challenge that faces them when they have no choice but to speak in public or answer questions on the spot?
Step 1: Identify if your child is, in fact, an introvert. Here are some of the characteristics.
- Does you child prefer to celebrate birthdays on a small scale, with only one or two close friends or family members?
- Does you child enjoy time to himself?
- Does your child dislike conflict?
- Is your child sensitive to sound, light and stimulants generally?
- Is your child less motivated by money and status that other children appear to be?
- After being with a group, does your child need his own space to regain energy, even though he enjoyed the event?
- Is your child persistent when it comes to solving problems?
- Is your child particularly focused when he cares about a project?
- Is your child less of a risk-taker than many of his peers?
Answering yes to some or many indicates that your child is likely an introvert. Remember that introvert/extrovert is a spectrum and as such we can lie anywhere within it. Some people may have an equal mix of introvert and extrovert characteristics.
Step 2: Educate yourself about the wonderful gift that introverts bring to the world; their ability to think deeply, forge great relationships and very importantly their potential gift for leadership. Read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. She also has a Ted Talk.
Step 3: Help your child understand how introverts and extroverts differ fundamentally - preference for certain levels of stimulation. It might be worth mentioning that some of the greatest thinkers the world has seen were introverts (Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, George Orwell and Stephen Speilberg, to name but a few) and that introverts also make great leaders - one reason why mastering a skill such as public speaking is important for the future.
Step 4: Help your child stay true to his own nature by not forcing him to do things he doesn’t want to do, particularly if it relates to spending a lot of time as part of a group. Support the idea of he having his own space and engaging in the things that energise him.
Step 5: Let your child know that speaking in public is very challenging for many people, that there is a way of becoming comfortable with it, but it takes time.
Step 6: Speak to your child’s teacher once you become confident that you understand your child’s personality better and what his needs are in relation to speaking out and participating in class.
Step 7: Gradually introduce your child to the art of public speaking. Do this over months, not weeks. Set manageable goals and plan how best to achieve them. Best if you can come up with a plan that involves the teacher. You might consider attending a Life Coach to help you achieve your goal.
Step 8: It is important that your child gets to choose his topic, as introverts can have boundless energy when focused on a project they care about. In this way, he is more likely to be willing to share information.
Step 9: Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice every element of the presentation to the point where it is learned almost off by heart. Encourage the use props as much as possible to help deflect attention away from him.
Step 10: Finally, accept that the event will most likely sap his energy to the point of exhaustion. However, the sense of satisfaction will be amazing. It is quite literally as big an achievement as scaling Mount Everest or sailing around the world but tougher because the activity goes against every fibre in his body. He is battling against his ‘fight or flight’ mechanism as if he were in fact fighting for his life. Can anything be more terrifying? The great thing is that it sets him up with the confidence to conquer other challenges, few of which will be as daunting.