Young People and Public Speaking

“Young people of today are the great leaders of tomorrow who will need a lot of confidence and charisma and this is just the right time to build that confidence and prepare for the spot reserved for stars.”

7-year-old Uche lives in Lagos and had always known he was going to be made a prefect in his school, but he never imagined that he was going to be the senior prefect. In fact, the whole school was shocked when Uche was announced as the senior prefect. As senior prefect, he had to give a speech at the moment! As he mounted the podium amidst cheers from students, the butterflies in his stomach multiplied, goose pimples suddenly appeared on his arms; and yet he was sweating all over. Receiving the microphone, he began his impromptu speech but 20 seconds later, he began to stutter and the next two minutes saw some students yawning and hissing while others engaged in discussions with friends. When the new senior prefect couldn’t stand it any longer, he dropped the microphone and dashed off the stage.

Cynthia was invited to speak in front of a large audience .As she walked to the stage, she was filled with overwhelming confidence and a deep mastery of what she was to discuss. The crowd looked very interested and eager to hear what she had to say. As she progressed, the audience leaned forward, smiling and nodding in approval. Finally, the speech ended and a standing ovation followed, with a good number of audiences shouting “Great job!” Just as Cynthia was walking off the stage, she woke up and realized that it was all a dream. Hissing she said, “I so wished it was true”.

At some point in our lives, we must have witnessed a speech being delivered. Some of us might even delivered one before, maybe in school, at church or somewhere. Public speaking is have one of the easiest things to do as it usually just involves you communicating your opinion on an issue to an audience. However, it is one of the most common phobias of young people the world over. Most young people shy away from activities that bring them to the attention of an audience. Many of these young ones have what they want to say, as most of them are very intelligent but how to convert thoughts to words is where the problem lies. Over the years thousands of people earn their living through public/motivational speaking while others make money by selling books on public speaking and leadership. Often times, when adults make decisions for the youth, the young people have their own opinion but since they can’t give voice to their thoughts, they make no contributions and accept things the way they are. There are also some young people who have stage fright but whose chosen career would require them to speak in public such as: lawyers, doctors, teachers, performing artists, authors etc.

What causes the fear of public speaking?

The fear of public speaking (stage fright) could stem from a whole lot of sources. Stage fright, like most anxiety disorders is believed to stem from a genetic disposition. Thus, some people are prone to stage fright by virtue of their physiology while others are not. For those who are not predisposed to stage fright, it could be a product of their way of thinking as regards the performance and a particular way of trying to handle it well.

Most young people tend to get scared at the thought of getting embarrassed or mocked especially if they imagine themselves forgetting what they ought to say, beating about the bush or mispronouncing words.

They tend to focus on themselves instead of what they are to talk about. They worry about their looks and voice. They worry about what people will think of them and imagine the audience to be predators. Thus, there is a rush of adrenaline to the muscles, the heart pumps harder and faster and all these finally get in the way of good speech. Some youth get scared that the crowd would realize they are shaky and conclude they are bad speakers. Thus, they see the performance not as a challenge or an opportunity but as a threat to them which they avoid at all cost.

Overcoming the fear

As someone once said, what failures see as stumbling blocks is what great people take as stepping stones’. Now, how do we overcome the fears and move to the actualization of our dreams?

The first step is to practice: If you fail to plan, you are already planning to fail and of course, Practice only makes you perfect. The more you practice, the more confident you become. You could start by using a mirror and don’t bother if people will think you’ve gone mad. Get tapes of lectures, watch the gestures of speakers and how they emphasize on some points then practice them yourself. If you can practice in front of a mock audience, maybe your siblings or your friends, then do so. They would give you great feedbacks and tips on how you can be better.

The next step is to record yourself: You could record just the audio or make it a video recording. This makes you become aware of the area where you need to do more work on. You may notice that you have trouble pronouncing the ‘h’ sound. ‘r’ sound or ‘ch’ sound. If it’s a video recording’ you could see the areas of non-verbal communication when you need to do more work on such as your smile or when you have to look serious. Have this in mind, knowing what you need to improve on makes the battle won already.

Ask people for feedback: Get people to listen to your voice recording or watch your video recording and tell you if they understand what you said. Ask them if you were to fast or too slow. Let them tell you if you made grammatical errors or if you mixed words together. The truth is when you ask people for feedback, they notice and tell you things you didn’t see while doing your own assessment.

Then write out your speech: Even when you don’t intend using notes for your speech, writing it down helps you improve on your grammar and would show you through when the time to deliver comes. Anything that is written down is made concrete. If you are typing on a computer with grammar checker, you may identify some areas that you weren’t even aware that you are making mistakes, thus increasing your vocabulary in the process. You could also pass your speech to friends for contributions and corrections.

Tips on public speaking

Now that you have overcome the fear of public speaking, what tips could make us better public speakers?

Speak with clarity: Speak with conviction as if you really believe in what you are saying and be very audible. Do not read from notes for an extended period of time although it is okay to glance as notes infrequently. Speak loudly, clearly, and sound confident. If you at any point make an error, correct it and continue with the speech (no need to make excuses and apologize profusely).

Body language: Maintain sincere eye contact eye contact with your audience and be sure you stand, walk and talk with the appropriate hand gestures and facial expression. If you are making a presentation, don’t over-dazzle the audience with excessive animations, sound clips or gaudy colors which are inappropriate for your topic.

Obey time limits: The mistake most young public speakers make is to ignore time limit. Some go over a minute or two while some wait until they are practically ushered off the stage. Most times, it is easier to add to a speech than to take out of it, thus people tend to go overboard. If it’s possible, have someone in the audience keep track of time for you and give you subtle clues. Keeping to time would help make you a better speaker and will get you more respect from your audience. It’s better to leave when the ovation is loudest.

Understand what you want to achieve: Before your speech, understand who you will be speaking to, their interest and values, how they are unique and what they have in common with others. You also have to understand what you wish to communicate and how best to convey your message. Also ask yourself why your target audience should listen to you and try to see the venue before the speech delivery so, you can have it in mind while preparing.


Many young people would sooner or later have the course to give a speech. It could be planned or impromptu and the only way to prepare is to practice consistently. A good number of us would end up with careers that require us to be in the spotlight and if we are still scared of public speaking; we might end up ruining our careers. Besides, the young people of today are the great leaders of tomorrow who would need a lot of confidence and charisma and this is just the right time to build that confidence and prepare for the spot reserved for stars. Young people should never be afraid of speaking in public as this is the major way we can air our views on issues that concern us.


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  4. (Accessed 25th May 2009)
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