Public Speaking Tips for High School Students

Gabrielle Applebury
Girl smiling and speaking in front of class

Public speaking can feel nerve wracking. Being prepared can help you excel in all different types of public speaking scenarios.

Public Speaking at School

You may be required to public speak at school. These situations can range from small public speaking audiences in the classroom to speaking in front of the entire school. Based on your level of comfort, there are a few tricks you can use to keep yourself organized and well prepared.

Speaking in Front of Adults

If you are speaking in front of administrators, parents, or other adults, your tone and word choice will be a bit different than if you were speaking in front of just your peers. When talking to or pitching an idea to adults, remember to:

  • Be well prepared with several talking points. These can be printed out to help jog your memory as you speak, or used as a general guideline to go over before speaking to them.
  • Create a slideshow or handout to help you stay on course and focused, while providing your audience with a helpful visual aid.
  • Make eye contact with everyone you are speaking to as you talk, just as you would in a one-on-one conversation.
  • Slow down your word pace, as you may speak more quickly if you're feeling nervous.
  • Remember to pause and take deep breaths. Even though it may feel like you're pausing for too long, it's just a few seconds so you can regroup.
  • Practice your speech in front of other adults and ask for honest feedback.
  • Adjust your language so it appeals more to the adults you are speaking to.
  • Don't be afraid to stand out and do something creative for your presentation. This may mean bringing in props, dressing a certain way, and using music to emphasize your speech.

Speaking in Front of Your Peers

You may need to speak in front of your peers in a classroom setting, at an assembly, or during a grade-wide presentation. To do a great job, remember to:

  • Adjust your speech so it appeals to your peers. This means shifting your language, tone, and speaking style so your audience feels connected to you and better understands your topic.
  • Have someone else read your speech and put yourself in your peers' position. Note how well you receive your speech, what needs to change, and what comes across well.
  • Ask a few peers for their opinion on your speech topic. Notice what their feedback is.
  • If you're raising your hand in class, or asked to read something aloud, take a deep breath beforehand and imagine you're alone. If you make a mistake, just pause and give yourself a second.
  • Remember that practicing will help you feel as comfortable as possible. Whether you're speaking in front of a large audience or small, take as many opportunities as possible to practice doing so.
  • Your peers may enjoy a more interactive speech, so you can consider ways to bring them into the conversation like asking for feedback, seeing if they have any questions, or asking them a few interesting questions. This way the focus can shift off of you for a few minutes and you can act as a facilitator.

Public Speaking at an Event or Debate

You may be asked to speak if you're in a club, on the debate team, have a classroom debate, or at a science fair. These audiences will often be mixed with both adults and your peers.

Student in debate club library

Preparing Your Argument

If you're asked to prepare for one side of an argument or debate, you'll need to plan accordingly. Consider:

  • Preparing both sides of the argument so you can better anticipate what your opponent may say and write your talking points accordingly. Have a friend or family member help you practice and if possible have a few people watch so you can get in some public speaking practice to add a little more pressure.
  • Have someone time your argument rebuttals and have them count down as you give your response. This can help you work quickly under the pressure of time.
  • Tape yourself giving your opening argument and critique yourself. You can also have trusted friends and family members give you feedback as well. Do a few takes and note which ones seem the most convincing and why.
  • If possible create as much pressure and stress as possible by psyching yourself up and practicing your talking points. This way when the real event happens, you'll be good to go.
  • Make sure your notes are organized and highlight areas you tend to forget or stumble on, so your eyes will focus on them if you need a quick refresher.

Creating a Cohesive Speech

To create a moving speech, think about who you are speaking to, what points you are trying to make, and what would appeal most to your audience. You can also:

  • Record your speech and time yourself doing so. Listen back to a few takes and decide which one you think works best.
  • Practice reading your speech to yourself in front of the mirror. Practice making eye contact, looking around the room, and finding your place on your paper or notecard.
  • Have your speech memorized if possible and practice going through your entire speech over and over again. This means, even if you make a mistake, you keep going as if you had an audience present. Remember, they won't know you fumbled.
  • Imagine yourself doing well and connecting with your audience. Continue to hold this image in your mind until your speech is done.

Keeping Calm

It can feel scary and maybe a little awkward to give a speech. To help yourself remain calm:

  • Know your speech cold, that way even if you feel anxious, you can go into autopilot and recite your speech.
  • Practice deep breathing prior to your speech and during if possible.
  • Hold a positive and relaxing image in your mind prior to getting up in front of your audience.
  • Remind yourself that this public speaking experience will be over soon and it's just a little snapshot of your day.
  • Come up with a mantra for yourself to recite before your speech. Use it to ground yourself and stay calm.
  • If you're so anxious that you feel unable to speak publicly, consider seeking out a counselor to help you reduce your uncomfortable symptoms.
  • Give yourself a butterfly hug before you begin speaking. A butterfly hug is when you cross your arms and place each of your hands on your shoulders. Very, very slowly alternate tapping lightly on each shoulder.
  • Close your eye and imagine yourself breathing out all of your fears and imagine yourself doing well during your speech.
Audience clapping for a teenage girl on stage

Doing a Great Job

You will probably be asked to do some public speaking throughout your high school career. Be sure you are well prepared and remember that practicing often and remaining calm can help you do so successfully.

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Public Speaking Tips for High School Students