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Virginia Journal of Education

Your Classroom

Have ‘Em Eating Out of Your Hand: Public Speaking Tips for Teachers

By John T. Morello

Teachers speak before groups all the time—students, professional groups, committees, governing bodies, community organizations. That doesn’t mean it always comes easily. A few fundamentals of effective public speaking can help in any of these situations: (1) put the audience at the center of the message, (2) be sure that your speech clearly reveals your commitment to the message, (3) understand the differences between speaking and writing, and (4) realize that managing public speaking anxiety need not be an impossible challenge.

Putting the audience at the center of your message requires that you learn as much as possible about the group you’re speaking to. Teachers know this—they know their students and adjust teaching approaches accordingly.  Outside the classroom, learning as much as possible about one’s audience, and connecting the ideas in the speech to them, is crucial.

What does the audience already know about the subject of the presentation? What else do they need to know? What kind of support or resistance t might you encounter? 

Another important factor is demonstrating your commitment to the message. One way is to reveal how actively involved with or affected by the topic you’ve been. This makes it personal and builds trust with your listeners.  If they believe that you’re personally invested, they’ll be more receptive to what you say. 

You can also demonstrate your personal investment by taking a factual approach. I’m not talking about burying an audience in a sea of statistics. Rather, it’s about revealing that you’ve thoughtfully prepared and presented information the audience needs to make whatever decisions they have to make.  If you’re unfamiliar to your audience, think carefully about the materials and information you use. If nothing else, this approach helps to build your credibility by revealing to the audience that you prepared well.

When it’s time to word your message, keep in mind the essential differences between speaking and writing. It’s best to think of a speech as a conversation, not a performance. With rare exceptions, the most effective approach is to carefully outline your remarks and speak from brief notes rather than writing the speech out word for word. Speakers who read their remarks create an instant barrier between themselves and an audience. You’re more effective if you talk to listeners rather than read to them.  

Keep in mind that oral style differs from writing: it is more personal, less formal, uses shorter words and sentences, needs to employ more repetition to be effective, needs to be more obviously structured in order for listeners to follow along easily, and needs to incorporate variety in order to achieve and maintain attention. 

No article about public speaking would be complete without some attention to managing public speaking anxiety. 

The first essential point is that the fear of public speaking is natural. No one succeeds in eliminating the anxiety.  Accomplished speakers routinely report that they get nervous before giving speeches—and they want it that way. It signals to them that the occasion matters.  In fact, accomplished speakers are more concerned when they don’t feel anxious before a speech. 

It also helps to realize that most speakers exaggerate the problem, thinking that they look and sound worse than they actually do. Studies done at Florida State University show that speakers rate themselves as significantly more nervous than audiences do. In other words, much of the anxiety you feel isn’t readily noticeable. 

It always helps to practice speeches out loud before giving them, and doing so before a trial audience helps the most.  This is the step most speakers avoid – and they shouldn’t. Practicing a speech out loud all the way through helps one develop command over it. 

Finally, it also helps to ask yourself what you’re nervous about and to develop a response to each concern. Worried about losing your place? Maybe the problem is that you aren’t fully sure about what you want to say or you don’t have clear speaking notes. Afraid that the audience might resist your message or ask questions you can’t answer? Remind yourself why you’re speaking and focus on how the message can benefit audience members. Rehearse some replies to potential tough questions. 

Morello is Associate Provost for Academic Affairs and Professor of Communication at the University of Mary Washington.


Know a Student
Who Could Use
‘Middle College’?

There’s now an option to help students you know who didn’t manage to get their high school diploma or GED. Created by the Virginia Community College System, it’s called Middle College, and it’s a three-semester program, aimed at individuals 18-24, and held on community college campuses. Middle College allows young people to increase their income and employability potential by simultaneously pursuing a GED, community college education, and a workforce certification in a college environment.  The model supports targeted remedial courses, access to workforce readiness courses, enrollment in community college courses applicable to a degree or industry-based certificate, and comprehensive support services, including workforce skills development and college and career readiness skills.
Middle College currently operates in nine community colleges throughout Virginia:  Danville, Germanna, J. Sargeant Reynolds, New River, Rappahannock, Southside Virginia, Patrick Henry, Thomas Nelson and Lord Fairfax.

The expectations for Middle College participants are that:

• 70 percent of students will receive the GED.
• Half of GED awardees will enroll in a postsecondary education program.
• Half will earn a Career Readiness Certificate (CRC).
• 70 students will enroll per program year.

To find out more, visit

Money from the
General Public

They call it “citizen philanthropy.”, an online charity that allows supporters of public education to help teachers and students, may be a lifeline for you and your students. Here’s how it works: Post your needs on and interested donors can peruse the site and decide which classrooms they’d like to contribute to.

For more details, go to

Funding Available
for Proven Projects

Want to engage your students in a cool project without reinventing the wheel? Check this out: Applications are available for the Elmer's Teacher Tool Kit grants, which go to certified K-12 teachers who want to replicate already proven projects in their own classrooms next school year. You can view the projects available for replication on the Kids In Need Foundation website now. These grant awards, sponsored by Elmer’s Products, Inc., are based on financial need, number of children who will benefit, and the teacher's commitment to complete the project. Special consideration is given to first-year teachers. To learn more, visit

Bully-Free School Buses

One of the most difficult bullying “hot spots” to supervise is the school bus. To help, NEA surveyed more than 5,000 members, and the results from the bus drivers that responded form the basis for the first of four briefs on bullying prevention. The four-page brief, “Bus Drivers and Bullying Prevention,” is online at Also in the works are similar briefs based on input from paraprofessionals, food service workers and clerical workers.

Hit the Road
This Summer

Global Exploration for Educators Organization (GEEO) is a non-profit that offers summer professional development travel for teachers. Sixteen programs with worldwide destinations are offered for the summer of 2012. Teachers may earn graduate credit (3 Indiana University credits) and professional development credit. Trips are 8 to 24 days long, are designed and discounted for teachers, and GEEO provides materials and the structure to help bring those travel experiences into the classroom. Trips are open to K-12 and university educators and administrators, as well as retirees. Non-educator guests welcome.

Call toll free at 1-877-600-0105 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. EST, seven days a week. Details are at:


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