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Tips for Speaking in Schools

Fame and disappointment

I had an email recently from someone who was about to do their first ever talk in a school. He asked for a few tips. This is what I suggested.

  • – better to keep it short than risk being too long
  • – leave plenty of time at the end for questions
  • – keep maps to a minimum. Set the scene but don’t bore
  • – cool photos and short videos are good. Not too many though
  • – tales of toilets, not showering, eating dogs etc all to be encouraged!
  • – talk to them like they are bright adults, not little kids
  • – right from the start don’t tolerate chitter-chatter (that sounds a bit Victorian, but if you just pause and wait until they are quiet before continuing they’ll soon get the hint)
  • – be careful if you choose to accept questions during the talk – it’s easy to lose the thread of your narrative. I always take questions at the end
  • – ask questions yourself. Get the children involved, especially if they start to fidget
  • – don’t feel the need to say EVERYTHING – just say the stuff that really gets across the essence of your tale
  • – keep it short, yes, but don’t lose this opportunity to really inspire them to go do something amazing with their lives. Someone in that room will never forget your visit. Quite probably it will be a young person who’s not a great ‘success’ at school. So make it good: that’s a heck of a privilege and responsibility!
What would you add to this list? Have you given any talks in schools? What worked well? What didn’t work?! Share your tips in the comments below…
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  1. James Scott Posted

    As always Top tips Al. I would just add one thing. Be prepared for the schools computer not to accept your USB stick. Maybe have your pictures printed out as a back up plan, or just paint them with your words. A great exercise for imaginative public speaking.

  2. Jukka Hakala Posted

    Really great tIps, thanks for posting! I also remember from my teen years, when mountainclimber Veikka Gustafson visited in my school, I will never forget his visit!

    Keep on adventuring!

  3. Becky Bellworthy Posted

    Really great tips, I’d add “take props if appropriate”; I’ve had lots of kids plodding round in oversized high altitude boots, just watch them with anything sharp like ice axes etc!

  4. Awesome. Thanks for this. Looking at giving my first school talk soon as well, so this is really useful.

  5. Only thing I’d add would be to plan to be flexible with time. If you’ve been told the assembly is 20 minutes long, go in with a flexible plan. Chances are it may take them 5 minutes to sit down, then have a range of announcements and maybe an unplanned (for you) hymn or song…. leaving you with half the time you were promised! No-one likes to be kept in after the bell, or to be interrupted mid-flow, so keep an eye on the clock! Teachers will thank you for it!

  6. Some great pointers and advice here Alistair, thanks. I am going to be giving my very first presentation in schools in Lima, Peru very shortly, so hearing the in´s and out´s has helped give me some structure and insight.

    If i was to add anything to the list, i would look at the possibility of giving the kids a project or task that coincides with the topic of your speech – kids love learning by doing or making things so this could be a good way to make your message resonate further perhaps 🙂



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