Kids and Public Speaking – So Smart They Had Me Laughing In The Aisle

I don’t know about you but I find little kids (by this I mean, pre-teens) fascinating.  They are adorable – most of the time.  I don’t have kids of my own but I have a nephew, 8 3/4 – when they’re that young, every month is important when stating their age – and he is a constant source of amusement and entertainment for the family.  It’s a good thing that he loves being the centre of attention because as the only grandchild in the family, he has taken centre stage since the day he was born.

I believe adults, particularly those without children, often under-estimate the intelligence of children. My nephew made it into the finals of his school’s public speaking competition for the second year in a row and I went along to show my support.  The kids were required to write their own speech that was to last three minutes and were given the following topics to choose from:

  • goals are good
  • manners matter
  • if I could rule the world
  • laughter

There were two groups of competitors: Stage 2 for 3rd and 4th graders and Stage 3 for 5th and 6th graders. My nephew was runner-up in the Stage 2 group.

I remember being in an inter-school oratory competition in 3rd or 4th grade in Hong Kong.  However, the culture was not conducive to thinking for ourselves so rather than coming up with our own speech, I remember being required to recite a poem – I think it might have been something by Walter de la Mare.  I don’t remember if I placed at all, probably not, but I remember being scared to death of the experience.  Years later, I competed in high school public speaking competitions and shaking at the knees every time although my teachers said they never noticed which was probably a good thing!  I have no idea why I would want to do such a thing except maybe I was just a sucker for punishment.

Today, I am still not a fan of public speaking despite having had some training and experience with it.  I can totally understand why it is one of the most feared experiences.  But as I sat watching those children speaking with such great poise in front of some 200 fellow students and teachers and parents, my faith in the next generation was restored.  Here are some of the things I learned about what kids think about and what worries them about the future:

  • goals are important so you have something to strive for and will put you in good stead for when you are grown up – as my nephew pointed out, if you remember to bring your folder to school now it may lead you to remember to bring money and credit cards to work! 🙂
  • manners matter – in the “old days” men would pull the chairs out at the table for women as they sit or leave and they always hold the door open for women and let them pass first (in my experience, I would be happy if people, male or female, didn’t expect me to hold the door for them!)
  • one particular speaker decided if she could rule the world she would send her parents to outer space – I’m not sure if her parents were in the audience but perhaps they should be a little bit worried.  In addition to turning everything into chocolate, she did also intend to fix our environmental issues but I was too concerned about whether I would possibly be beamed off into space as well to take notice of what other ails of the world she intended to fix
  • God created a sense of humour on the seventh day as he rested in his recliner watching Foxtel so that Adam and Eve would not be dull.  And contrary to popular believe, they were not kicked out of the Garden of Eden because they ate the forbidden fruit but because they used the snake as a skipping rope

Those primary school children spoke with such passion, drama, creativity and poise.  I was proud of all of them.  I hope they don’t grow up to become the boring adults I am all too familiar with, those who stand up in front of corporate gatherings spouting facts and figures as if they were reciting from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census.  I hope they will always find a way to turn the snake into a skipping rope and have their audience laughing in the aisles for years to come.


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