How to write a speech for kids

How to write a speech for kids is straightforward, truly! Once you've gained some experience you'll find it fun, as well as hugely rewarding.

Silhouette of happy kids holding hands

You follow exactly the same steps as you would when preparing a speech for adults but with minor, yet crucial variations. You'll plan, make an outline, write up your notes, prepare cue cards if you need to, rehearse and finally, deliver your speech.

However because you are speaking to children you'll need to adapt some of the processes. Follow my 3 part outline, and you'll be fine!



How to write a speech for kids

Part One: Background & audience research

Part Two: Techniques to gain & hold their attention

Part Three: Rehearsal

Whoops, that went down like the proverbial lead balloon: - traps for the unwary



Part 1: Background & audience research

Cartoon of a happy boy holding bunches of balloons

Your first step is to consider your audience.

  • What age are these children?
  • What backgrounds do they come from?
  • What background do they have in relation to your topic?
  • What common experiences do they all share that you could use as stepping stones into your material?
  • What level of vocabulary will they readily understand?
  • What grabs and keeps their attention?

To get all the answers, ask the person or people, who invited you to speak.

Ask also:

  • How long you're expected to speak for
  • What the purpose is behind inviting you to speak
  • If the group has members with special needs you should be aware of like children who are deaf, sight impaired or emotionally fragile


Once you've got that information you're ready to begin shaping your material.

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Part 2: How to gain & hold attention

Bear in mind the following as you plan:

  • Keep the structure simple and clear: introduction, body of speech, conclusion.
    Kids, just like adults, appreciate knowing what is going on and knowing why they're being asked to listen.
  • Use conversational language rather than formal. In your mind choose a child to address your speech to. This will help you keep it 'real'.
  • Limit the number of main points you wish to make about your topic to one or two.
  • Keep the formal part of your speech brief.
  • Allow time for, and encourage questions.
  • Relate the topic back to themselves, their experience, from the beginning. This gives them an anchor, a place they know and understand. It lets them know you understand them too.

Cartoon of a happy girl

Kids love to laugh

Use humor and personal storytelling to get your points across.

Children of all ages love stories, especially personal ones. A story told well, with humor, will grab their attention faster and hold it longer than any other technique I know. Make it relevant, add characterization (voices and appropriate body language) and you'll have every child listening.

You can find out more about incorporating stories into your speeches on these pages:

Vocabulary choices, questions & props

Vocabulary

  • Use specific words rather than general ones. 'I love being outdoors' is less evocative than 'I love puddle jumping, building a bonfire at the beach...'
  • Use inclusive words: 'we' and 'our' as well as personal ones: 'yours', 'you'
  • Vary your sentence length and your word choice to keep it interesting to listen to. Children, like adults, appreciate variation.

Questions

Use interactive questions to ensure they're following you throughout your speech. 'Have you got that? Nod your heads if you have.'

Props

Where possible incorporate 'showing' as well as 'telling'. Take along things children can see and perhaps handle. This gives your speech another dimension. And don't be afraid to break out your silly wig, or a clown's nose ...
Check this page on using props well in speeches.

Once you have the basic outline of your speech planned you're ready for the next step.

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Part Three: Rehearsal

Now you're going to trial your work.

Rehearsal will help you identify what you've done well and where you need to fine tune.

If you can, practice in front of several children of the same age and background you're going to talk to. If they're old enough to understand, ask them before you give the speech, if they can help you make it better and collect their feedback at the end.

If they're not old enough, look for cues like looking away, looking puzzled, talking through it, or wriggling. If it's too long and without relevance or connection to them they'll soon let you know! Before you go on to finalize your speech incorporate your changes.

If you'd like pointers on how to rehearse you'll find them here:

Do try and give your speech without a word-for-word script. It might feel safer for you but for children, listening to you read is not as effective as you talking to, or interacting with them, directly.

Use cue cards if you can.  Rehearse until you know it fluently and the cue cards are merely a safety net should you need them.

And finally run through the checklist below.

These are the pitfalls I've either fallen into myself or watched others tumble down. Knowing will help you avoid them.

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Whoops - traps for the unwary

Learning the hard way - when it doesn't go like you imagined it would and a great chasm opens beneath your feet which you're rapidly disappearing down - silly wig and all.

Cartoon spoof of  Munch's scream painting

At least part of the hole you've dug for yourself could be caused by:

  • assuming that because a child is a child and you're an adult you automatically know more than they do
  • patronizing your audience through using either over-simplified or baby language
  • talking over their heads by using either non-explained jargon or a vocabulary beyond their experience
  • not rehearsing and then finding that your speech doesn't flow logically, it's too long, doesn't have enough relevance so the kids are bored, or that the props you brought don't work as you wished and the stories you planned fall flat.
  • introducing inappropriate subject matter for the group or an individual in the group. Always check.
  • trying to fit too much information into the time allotted.
  • inadvertently making fun of a child's comments and concerns therefore shaming them in front of their peers.
  • exploiting their trust and naivety by presenting material persuasively that is ultimately of no benefit to them and at worst destructive
  • getting flustered by bit of spontaneous child behavior (talking while you are talking, wriggling ...) and not knowing how to handle it and move on with ease
  • not having established the rules of engagement at the beginning for asking questions, handling props, or any activity involving interaction ...

There is a common sense remedy for all of them. Trial your speech in rehearsal! And if it helps get a trusted and experienced colleague in to give you feedback!



An extra resource
Here's another useful resource on how to write a speech for kids, or speaking to children, from the Toastmasters International Magazine. Well worth a read!






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