When most parents reflect on their high school summers, they often remember their summer jobs. Whether babysitting, lifeguarding, or scooping ice cream, most high schoolers used to work at least part-time during summer breaks to earn extra money, work experience, and often a reason to get out of the house.
However, the current tendency for summer high schoolers is to not work outside the home. There are many reasons for this trend, but the primary one may be surprising. Teenagers are not less responsible or motivated to work than their parents. The main reason high schoolers report for not getting summer jobs is that they don’t want to speak in public.
Nearly everyone has a fear of public speaking. This brings to mind the old joke that people fear death less than public speaking and would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. While this is an exaggeration, for high school students the fear is real and it’s getting worse. A majority of teenagers would rather communicate through text or social media than speak directly to people they don’t know.
As students get older, they naturally become more fearful of public speaking. This current escalation may not only interfere with part-time summer employment, but also academic performance when school is in session. Much of high school and college curricula is moving toward class presentation as a means of assessment. In addition, many universities are adding personal interviews to the application process as part of admissions.
Ironically, as the fear of public speaking rises in high school students so does the need to develop such skills. Summer break is an ideal time for students to hone their public speaking skills, and parents can help them do so right at home.
Fear of public speaking is strongly reduced through preparation and practice. Parents have the opportunity during summer break to help their high schoolers through the process. Teens may resist the idea at first, but with support, direction, and potential reward, they will eventually embrace the chance to conquer their fears.
Parents can help their teens set a goal and a timeline for creating a presentation to be given to the family and/or friends. This may seem like a strange assignment for summer but following a step-by-step plan will lead to success for everyone involved.
- Establish that this summer presentation is for practice only, and that the audience is without judgment. Ideally, all family members could share in the public speaking by creating their own presentations, so the spotlight is not on just one person.
- Allow freedom in choosing a topic, and make sure that the presenter is interested and enthusiastic about it.
- Set goals for what the presentation should achieve. Should it be informative, entertaining, persuasive? Don’t forget to set and keep a deadline.
- Allow each presenter to prepare and organize their material, research if needed, and format their speech.
- Encourage use of multi-media visual/audio aids to enhance creativity.
- Establish practice sessions to increase confidence.
- Set up a reward for completing and delivering the presentation—whether it’s a gift card or another acknowledgement of public speaking success.
One summer presentation to family and/or friends is probably not enough to eliminate public speaking fear altogether in high school students. However, the preparation and practice can help them reduce future presentation and speaking jitters. With family support, direction, and potential reward, students will be more confident and experienced in public speaking, which will have lifetime benefits.