2 tips on teaching public speaking to primary school children, and why drama helps.

Recently, a friend messaged me and asked if I knew any resources to teach public speaking to primary school children. She then clarified the question and asked how they should craft a good speech.


In this video, I gave two quick tips. Here on this blog, I would add deeper reflections with more real life examples.

(1) To understand the context

– What is the purpose of the speech?

Giving a speech in front of the school assembly to talk about the benefits of a recycling campaign or getting the student population to vote for them to run for a leadership role in school is very different from a show-and-tell that students often do in English classes. The former tends to be more persuasive in style, but the latter is more entertaining (e.g. what they did last winter during their holidays)

– Is this a speech that rallies up the student population to taking on responsibility for the community (call to action), or is this a speech that is graded for an assignment (formative/summative assessment)? Or is this a speech that appears to be a ‘waste of time’ because the teacher has run out of ideas to engage them in the lesson?

Not only does the child need to know the purpose of their speech, they need to know why you want them to prepare and give a speech.

This may not be at a primary school level, but when I was teaching in a prison institution with mature students but with rather low English proficiency, I told them that we would start our English classes with 2 speakers to speak in front of the class – to practise their speaking skills, to gain confidence in public speaking (also to help them in their final examinations with an oral component), and to inspire the other inmates on what they had learnt or read in the last week. I told them that their grammar and pronunciation would not be assessed and evaluated, if they did not want it. It was then they felt more relieved as they were not judged.

This became the favourite part of the lesson (even though it was a pre-lesson) because my students wanted to stand up and talk – and many gave incredibly inspiring speeches. Slowly, their confidence grew, and so did their written competencies.

(2) To understand the needs of the audience

– What are the audiences’ needs and feelings around this topic?

In the video, I said that if they were to rally up the student population towards a particular campaign, then the speaker would need to identify the feelings around that situation. This is then followed by a strategy to address that issue. In other words, the structure of their speech would be a “problem – solution” structure. There’s an issue to be tackled or a problem to be solved.

But if the speech is about information and entertainment (like in a show-and-tell), then it’s more important to draw the audience in with emotional hooks, get them into your drama, add a few obstacles, conflicts and tensions, and they would be sitting by the edge of their seats waiting to know what happened next, and then, next…

Teacher’s Training

As you can see, there is no definitive way of teaching public speaking to children or getting them to deliver good speeches. I would say, it depends on the context and the kind of training you have as a teacher.

I am drama-trained, so I have a personal bias. I believe that when you get children playing with each other, doing things on their feet, they tap into their creativity and spontaneity, which then allows them to ‘talk’ about the rich experiences they had gone through in that process drama.

Let me give you an example:

“As you can see, boys and girls, the school is infested with rats. You might have seen them crawling and scuttling in the corridors. Many rats have died. You can see them in the toilet, in the classroom. Look, there’s one in the corner there. If we don’t do something about this, it will become a pandemic. I want to know if any of your brothers or sisters has developed a fever this morning.”

“Err… yes, sir, my little brother has a fever today.”

“Did your parents take him to the doctor’s?”


“Call your parents right now. Your brother needs immediate medical attention. If not, he might die. Does anyone else have a similar problem?”

Here, even though it is a hypothetical situation, I would get the students into a drama (role-play, if you like) with heightened emotions, so that they can now realise the gravity of the littering problem in school. They can now, still in role, write a letter or a speech that they need to deliver to the School Advisory Board, or the Ministry of Environment and Health, or the City Council.

You see, this speech (though written in a fictional context) becomes purposeful and meaningful, also because there is an intended audience (whoever can help them solve this rat infestation) – and how they can rally the students to clean up, or be sick.

Some books that use drama-based processes that are particularly helpful in getting children to be in role are:

    1. Drama and Traditional Story for the Early Years, by Nigel Toye and Francis Prendiville.

    1. The Primary Drama Handbook: An Introduction, by Patrice Baldwin.

  1. Learning Through Drama in the Primary Years, by David Farmer.

However, one of the most important books I’ve come across is a book published in 1909 by Robert I. Fulton (Dean of the School of Oratory and Professor of Oratory in the Ohio Wesleyan University) and Thomas C. Trueblood (Professor of Oratory in the University of Michigan). The title is Essentials of Public Speaking for Secondary Schools.

I am not sure if Essentials of Public Speaking for Secondary Schools is out of print, but Amazon
seems to hold some copies. While this may not be for primary school children, it is a very technical book that breaks down public speaking to its elementary basics. They talk about the following in great detail, with specific exercises:

  • vocal apparatus (lungs, trachea, pharynx, nasal cavities, mouth, diaphragm, etc);
  • pronunciation (phonetics, vowels, articulation, syllabication, accents);
  • emphasis (emotion, pulsation);
  • time (pause);
  • movement (slow, moderate, rapid);
  • quality (orotund, nasal, falsetto, guttural, pectoral, aspirate);
  • stress (final stress, compound stress, radical stress);
  • pitch (cadence, melody, inflection);
  • action;
  • body and gestures (supine, clasped, reflex, prone, averse, clenched)

Hope this helps.

If you have any questions on public speaking, storytelling, education, personal development, branding and marketing, business and academic presentations, drop me a note on www.facebook.com/EdChowCoaching and put a #AskEd hashtag.

Or you can comment below.

Till then, speak well… because your voice matters.


PS. If you do not have a public speaking and storytelling coach, you should find out how having one can expedite your business growth.


Edmund Chow is a drama educator and a three-time award recipient in public speaking. He has just completed his PhD in Drama at the University of Manchester. He trains and coaches corporate executives, public speakers, educators, and entrepreneurs through strategic storytelling.


Roleplaying: The Key To Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking

“Do you know what I found?”
“No, what did you find?”
“Don’t blink.”
Tommy puts his hand into the bag and gets ready to surprise his brother with…


Roleplaying is one of the easiest ways to get people to overcome their fears of public speaking.

Theoretically, this is because you are playing another character. And when you are playing X, you are non-X. If you are playing Romeo, you cannot be yourself (Tommy). If you are playing yourself (Tommy), then your own insecurities will show up and you become more self-conscious of who you are, rather than trying to engage your audiences with your message.

When you play another character (or if you put on a role), you avoid the fear of being judged and criticised as you are. For example, if you were acting a timid character and you were seen shaking (even if it was a real visible nervousness on stage), it is interpreted by your audience as you playing that timid character. If you are being loud and boisterous on stage, you are only seen as a character and not yourself (thus get away with ridiculousness and even the occasional rudeness). Again, roleplaying helps the audience to see you as a character, and so you avoid the harsh judgements and criticisms as who “you” are. They could only “judge” your character’s actions, unless, of course, the character is so famous (e.g. Hamlet) that when an actor who plays him badly, it will be seen as an actor not clearly fleshing out Hamlet’s desire for revenge.

Putting on a character is like putting on the Emperor’s new clothes. You become bolder. You become stronger. You become whoever you want to be, conjured from your imagination. These could be stereotypes from fiction (e.g. evil stepmother, big fat pig, cunning wolf, the magician, Prince Charming, damsel in distress, hunchback), but they give you the permission to “play” a new role and be comfortable in a different skin, in a different voice.

But this is only the process.

This means that this is a process during the rehearsal phase, not the performance phase. You don’t “act” when you are on stage as you do not want to lose that sense of authenticity as a speaker. You don’t want to appear unnatural because the sense of flakiness can be seen from miles away, and unless you are a professional entertainer, you will appear gimmicky and unreal. So, how do you act and not-act at the same time?

On performance day, you would need to be vulnerable and honest as yourself. But in order to do so, a long process of discovery has to take place. Lee Strasberg, a famous American director born in Hungary-Austria (now Ukraine), who was most known for his Method Acting once said:

“The human being who acts is the human being who lives.”

But the one who acts is also the one who does, and feels. In other words, before an actor could play a role so well, he would need to understand the character’s strengths, flaws, motivations, desires, and all the back-story needed to flesh out a most convincing portrayal. But to be convincing requires personal work, a deep intense excavation and exploration of your own inner world, your own demons and angels. It is a process of stripping  away those layers of fears, of insecurities, of judgement, and allowing your body to feel free again, for your voice to express again. And this can only be done through drama games and activities that open up different senses: the kinesthetic, the auditory, the visual, the olfactory, the gustatory, the vestibular.

Through drama exercises, a trained drama educator or theatre director would help you to discover these:

  • find the ‘true’ intention of your character
  • express and emote the appropriate feeling
  • be playful and vulnerable
  • work as an ensemble, in collaboration with other actors and technicians

I remember performing in a piece of theatre once, titled ‘The Other Me’, where I was literally stripped to my underwear, with pieces of fabric tied around me as the co-actors walked in a circumference, almost mummifying myself in a push-pull constricted way. I had to deliver a painfully honest monologue. During the rehearsal, I tried different methods to portray that character, through various ways of crying, shouting, whispering, but my director did not like the portrayals. He didn’t feel it was authentic enough. I was probably too self-conscious of being scrutinised in the buff, hence the lines that I had delivered were stilted.

Even on the actual day of the performance itself, the last rehearsal was “barely average”; my character’s monologue did not have enough impact on the audience. Quietly, my director stopped all the activities, took me aside privately and told me to go into MY own inner recesses, to tap into my very dark place, a place that had a mix of horrifying and desirous images, fearful and liberating feelings. I was there in the imaginative world for a few minutes which seemed like Hell forever. He turned off all the lights and told the co-actors to wait for the cue. Blindfolded, I was ushered back to the stage (during the rehearsal – which was just 2 hours before showtime. Just imagine the stress!) and I delivered my lines from that emotionally complex world. Convoluted images of imprisonment, bondage, lust, sex, desire, pain, death, hell, judgement day, intimacy, freedom and confusion oozed out effortlessly from my mouth.

And then I felt it.

A hushed silence.
I knew my audience (my co-actors and directors) felt it too.

I opened my blindfold and cried.
We knew the impact of those words of self-condemnation as spouted by that character. He became believable, finally.

And I had to recreate that memory 2 hours later for an actual paying audience, to make them feel the same way my ensemble felt in the rehearsal room.

That’s “peeling away”. I had to peel away “myself” to reach my core before I could put on that character’s story. And when I did that, I became authentic both in role, and in person.

After that intense process as an actor, there was nothing else I might fear. I had, ironically, become so true and vulnerable as a person that if I were to stand naked on stage, those vulnerabilities I had would have transmuted into other forms of energy needed to create an impactful delivery.

Public speakers, of course, do not need to go through an acting process. But there are processes that are less frightening than what I had gone through. Here are some of the photographs from a masterclass I facilitated to teach entrepreneurs to embody authenticity and structure their stories from a truthful and engaging place.

It was serious fun, seriously.


Masterclass (Pair Activity)Masterclass (Pair Work)Group ImprovisationGamesSleeping ExerciseBag Exercise

George Bernard Shaw once said:

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”


Some of the participants shared their testimonials with me after the masterclass:

“Thank you, Ed. You have something, Ed, it’s not a skill set; it’s more than that. I don’t know. I can’t put a finger on it. Perhaps it’s what shines through when something is done with passion.”

“It was an amazing experience. I’ve been to workshops for public speaking in the past but THIS really makes a change in me. Its about taking stories like when we are kids […]”

“Before the workshop, my confidence […] was around 20 percent. But after today’s workshop, I can say with confidence that my ability and skill to share my story has increased to 65 percent.”

“I really recommend that if you want to learn some strategies that will help you take your presentation to a higher level, I would recommend come to see Ed. It’s been a worthwhile experience. It’s brilliant. Ed knows what he’s doing.”

“The training is key. Everything we learned today, the drama, the character, how to engage with the audience are very vital for my business.”

“To be honest, before I came, I was a bit anxious and afraid because I was not very comfortable sharing my story […] I was scared. I didn’t know what to say. But finally […] I’m very happy that I did it because I realised that drama and acting is very important when you’re doing public speaking. Because […] I have to do many presentations for my business, I realised that I really needed this session. Thank you, Edmund.”


This very powerful, experiential Masterclass will take place in Manchester on 30 August (Sunday) from 9am to 5.30pm.  Register now to secure a place. Only limited to 10 spaces.

Online Interview: Public Speaking Tips

In a late night interview with Oto Winkler, founder of Go2Max Lifestyle, Edmund Chow shares his views on the following questions that was posed to him:

  • how to overcome public speaking fears
  • how to introduce guest speakers (if you are the host)
  • how to develop a stage presence and make the audience love you
  • how to relax before coming on stage

The above interview is 36 minutes long. Here are Edmund’s answers in brief:


    Answer: Recognise what the fear is and where it comes from

    – If it’s because of a lack of knowledge in the content area, you would then need to brush on your specialisation before going to speak to an audience.
    – If it’s because this is the first time you’ve spoken to a large crowd or heard your voice amplified through the speakers, practise speaking and singing in the microphone, e.g. in a karaoke bar.
    – If it’s because of self-judgement or anxieties over what the audience might think of us, learn to accept yourself first (you don’t have to be perfect looking!)


    Answer: Do your homework
    – Find out as much as you can about the speaker and his/her biography, achievements, accomplishments, past and current projects.
    – Check with the speaker beforehand if the facts are accurate and if s/he wants you to omit certain information or emphasise other points
    – Check the pronunciation of his/her name
    – Give a personal anecdote on how you met him/her, how s/he has influenced you, and why s/he is important as a speaker to this event and how it is relevant to your audiences.


    Answer: Be yourself and be sincere
    Connect with the audience, smile, and maintain eye contact
    – Appear human by sharing your vulnerabilities, struggles, pains and how you overcame them.


    Answer: Physical Warm-ups
    – Vocal exercises (such as tongue twisters, siren), face massages, and physical games that involve a small exertion of energy (e.g. the 12345 shake-out) will help you remain ‘grounded’ and be in the present moment.
    – Breathe and be in your personal space.
    – Don’t think about what you want to say (i.e. your script). Just connect and go with the flow.

Public Speaking Masterclass in Audience Engagement on 14 August in Manchester based on an Actor’s Craft

This is Edmund Chow’s signature programme for public speakers, storytellers, entrepreneurs and anyone wanting to develop a dynamic stage presence. Here, Edmund uses drama techniques, games and exercises used in the rehearsal room with actors to train non-actors to be “in the body” and to “own the space”.

Date: 14 August 2015 (Saturday)
Time: 0900 – 1730h
Venue: Northern Quarter, Manchester city centre
Reservations: Click here at the Eventbrite page. (Limited to 20 students only)