Amy Wolff is President of Distinction Communication. Inc, a speaker coaching firm out of Portland, OR. When clients need a trusted truth-teller to help them accurately assess their presentation skills, she provides expert, hands-on coaching. Amy is also a speaker coach for TEDxPortland and delivered her own TEDx talk in 2022. You can read about the surprising personal story of how Amy accidentally started a global movement of love in her book Signs of Hope. Outside of work, Amy loves playing board games with her young family, screaming at soccer games, and trying to keep (too many) house plants alive.
In this conversation, Amy talks about her new co-authored book, A Kids Book About Public Speaking.
Geetesh: Amy, why did your co-authors and you decide to write a book on public speaking for children? What motivated you?
Amy: I personally wanted to co-author this book because I saw my own kiddos and their classmates struggle to feel comfortable sharing their ideas with others.
In fact, four years ago I attended my daughter’s 3rd-grade class presentations. They had worked on various science projects and set up tri-fold posters on their desks while parents could walk around and hear about their work. When I walked up to one girl’s impressive poster and asked about her project, she took a deep breath, raised her notecards in front of her face, and read verbatim off her notecard. When she finished, I said, “Wow! That’s awesome.” I followed with another question, but this time added with a wink, “but instead of reading off your cards, you can just have a conversation with me and tell me like we’re talking at recess.” She stared at me for a moment, then raised her notecards in front of her face and read verbatim off her notecard.
I get it. The pressure. The stress. The fear of messing up. The wanting to get it just right. Which reminded me of the hundreds of adult clients I work with across different industries, positions, and geography, who struggle with the exact same thing.
What if I could spare kids decades of unnecessary pressure by revealing that audiences care more about authenticity than perfection from a speaker? Could they see these moments, not as stressful performances, but as comfortable conversations?
My five co-authors Dave, Greg, Cathey, Jelani, and Stephen all share the same desire: to empower children of all ages to feel comfortable and confident communicating their ideas to others. They are fellow speaker coaches and/or TEDx speakers all involved with TEDxPortland (Oregon/USA), one of the largest TEDx organizations in the world. Fun fact: we wrote this book in early 2022 through Zoom in 4 hours in a shared Word document!
Geetesh: What is your belief that younger readers will take away from this book?
Amy: Our hope is that young readers (and the adult readers with them) read this book and feel more excited than daunted about public speaking. Fear of public speaking is rated as one of the highest fears people have! We want to change that. If we normalize the fear at a young age, then maybe we won’t be so afraid to speak in front of others into our adulthood.
Not only do we want them to overcome fear, but we want them to understand why it’s important to share ideas with others. Maybe they’re forced to deliver a presentation in school, but they can help others learn something new. Maybe by sharing their personal story at church, with their soccer team, or during math club, they can help someone else feel less lonely. Words are powerful!
We also want young readers to embrace PRACTICE.
When my daughters have a school presentation, I sit on the couch while they practice in our living room. If they talk too fast, they do it again slower (I remind them mid-practice if they start to race again!). If their hands are folded tight, they do it again with arms relaxed at their sides, then adding good gestures. The trick is keeping it playful and only working on one skill at a time. If it becomes tense, we stop and take a break. Practice is important because we notice our nervous habits and start to break them through repetition.
Of course, a book co-written by speaker coaches must include speaking tips too! We end the book with three practical ways of becoming better public speakers (the same three tips I offer my adult clients!). Public speaking is a skill to develop – not a talent you’re born with. Kids can learn at a young age and, through this book, we want to provide them clear guidance.
Bottom line: we want to help kids of all ages embrace the power of their words and confidently speak them into the world!
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