Education: practical advice on preparation and speaking skills
The sort of topics that could be covered are discussed on this page and sample resources are provided on this page
Preparing the talk and the room
- Structure and contents. See the topics page.
- Method of presentation: speech, white board, flip chart, PowerPoint. With Juniors it can sometimes work well with pupils on the floor and the speaker sitting on a chair in story teller mode. In this case there will be no PowerPoint presentation so prompt cards would be appropriate.
- Pros and cons of PowerPoint. The Marmite of Office products - some hate it, some love it, some are bored to death with it.
- Good v bad PowerPoint: a consistent, clean, simple and uncluttered image - no multiple typefaces and things flying around. Try to include diagrams or images to break up the text - but don't fill your presentation with images, one or two in total will be enough - it is ideas you want to get across. Keep text short to make key points for you to expand on. Change text colour to highlight specific things.
- Avoid quotations if possible - after all, you are an original thinker and you are showing them that they can think for themselves. Pupils will probably never have heard of anyone you quote so why bother with the quotation marks? Use your own thoughts and ideas - it's your presentation!
- Use a remote control for PowerPoint - this allows you freedom of movement away from the keyboard. If you don't have a remote you can ask a pupil to be your button presser each time you say "Next".
- Take an object with you - a good fossil is always useful.
- Allow time for questions and discussion. If the room does not have a clock you can take an egg timer, a clock of your own, the timer on your smartphone or tablet - you can even ask a pupil to tell you when a certain amount of time has passed or when a certain amount of time remains.
- Tell the class if you are taking questions as you go along or at the end. Tell them you want hands up if they have a question. If you are taking question as you go along, and a question will set you off on a tangent, say "That is a brilliant question, I will save it to the end - don't forget to remind me."
- Apologise because you won't have time to learn all their names. Ask them to tell you their name the first time they ask a question. Use the name in your answer - it's all about building connections.
- The teacher will know who works best with whom so, if you intend to do any group work, make sure the groups are established before you start. Consider "work with your neighbour" or individual work to save time. Make sure they have any resources required: pens, paper etc.
- Check the layout of the room. Rows of tables may prevent you moving around. Primary schools use "islands" of tables so 6/8 pupils sit together. Islands allow the teacher to reach individual pupils.
- Think of it as "performance skills" - you are performing, not just speaking
- Dress. Obviously you can wear what you like but a really formal suit puts you in the same league as Jehovah's witnesses. You need to be neat, tidy, relaxed and not "an old fuddy duddy". Young people will judge you by how you look - so clean your shoes and trim your hair (and beard if you have one!)
- Voice projection - a pupil at the back may have hearing difficulties! Your voice must command attention - without bellowing!
- Don't "um" and "ah". A pause to collect your thoughts is perfectly acceptable, "umming" and "ahhing" isn't. Don't be afraid to make a joke about it - "I've completely forgotten what I was going to say - what did I say last?" Check your prompt cards or move on to the next slide to get back into synch.
- Smile, smile, smile! Try to present an enthusiastic but relaxed image from the start.
- Look into the whites of their eyes! Move your eyes round the room but look at pupils, not walls. Don't focus on any one pupil for more than a second or so (it can be intimidating or show favouritism) - keep looking around.
- If you become conscious that pupils are talking or being distracted, just stop, say nothing, look directly at them, wait until they are paying attention, then continue. If this doesn't work don't sanction the pupil, that's not your role, ask the teacher to intervene.
- Modify your style - monotonous is boring, monotonous will cause them to disengage brains. A change of style keeps interest and focuses attention on key messages. It is possible to be really heavy and serious at one moment, and then completely relaxed the next. Think of it as the equivalent of underlining or emboldening in written text.
- Don't read from a script and don't read from the screen showing the PowerPoint slide. You can glance at each slide as it comes up - that may be enough to keep you on course.
By all means have aide-memoire (prompt cards with key words in large text) - but don't keep looking down - it gives the impression you don't know what you are talking about or you haven't prepared properly.
- The most boring presentations are those where the speaker reads the words on the screen. Don't do it.
Talk round the ideas on the screen or break up the points on a slide using the "Custom animation" function so you reveal one line/idea at a time. That stops them reading ahead and lets you expand on the point as you talk.
- Interact with the class. Insert the odd question and ask for hands up. Take one or two answers. Don't dismiss an answer - if you think the answer is silly try rephrasing the question to lead the pupil to a better answer. If you get a really good answer say so - "that's the best answer/point I have heard in weeks - well done - brilliant." You will see the glow on the pupil's face - and the others will know they will be rewarded (verbally) for making a good contribution - it encourages them to respond.
- Move about. Never stand directly in front of the whiteboard but never stand frozen to the spot. You can wander about - even walk to the back of the class if you wish! This is all part of the dynamism of a lesson - holding attention