The Dreaded Public Speaking For GCSE English

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GCSE English By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: English » GCSE English
Last updated: 20/09/2017
Tags: #english, #gcse, fear of public speaking, oral exams, public speaking anxiety

It is totally natural for your heart to beat faster and for your forehead to break out in a cold sweat at the thought of standing up in front of a room full of people and having to deliver a speech. This fear can be made even worse when you are being assessed on the talk you are about to give as part of your GCSE or A Level coursework. The pressure can feel enormous. Even though you might be in a room full of friends, suddenly being put in the spotlight can turn those familiar faces into a sea of strangers.

Hopefully you have chosen a topic that really grabs your interest, that you are passionate about, that you can happily argue all night over the dinner table with your family, and this really, really helps. In fact, it's key. If you are speaking about something that you don't believe in, then the audience will feel your lack of enthusiasm and switch off. That glazed expression in the eyes of your audience will become seriously off putting and make the whole process more distracting. But when you are excited about something, that enthusiasm becomes infectious; you could be talking about the London sewage system, but if you love it, then you will have an interesting anecdote, or unusual facts that will grab your audience's attention, and then you're off.

And this is vital to remember. You want to bring your audience with you, to include them as much as possible, not alienate them and make them feel disconnected from you and your topic.

So how do you do this? Well, talking to them directly can help. You could start your talk with a question, get people to engage by having to think about what you are saying and find an answer. What about telling them a story, or a personal anecdote? As humans, we're all interested in other people's experiences, it allows us an opportunity to relate to the speaker, so this is a great way of keeping it accessible. Try not to bombard your audience with too many facts and figures. A few carefully chosen facts and figures can be very powerful, but most people's brains can't retain that much data all at once and make sense of it, so if you list off a whole load of percentages and numbers, your audience will switch off.

Now, how to combat those nerves... When we're anxious, it can often feel like we can't quite get enough air, but actually, what we end up doing is over breathing. Our lungs aren't getting rid of all the carbon dioxide we're inhaling as we start to breath faster, and we start to get dizzy. The best way to help this is to remember to breathe in for four counts, and then out for eight counts. Breathing out is the most important thing to do here, so that's why we do it for double the time. If you do this a few times before you have to get up to speak, your brain will be working at full speed with all that lovely oxygen, and you will have made sure your body doesn't have to deal with a build up of carbon dioxide, so you have a clear head.

What about standing? It sounds so simple, but it's one of the most important parts of your speech. If you put all your weight on one leg whilst you're standing (as many of us do day to day), you'll be off balance. That leg may get tired, so you switch to the other side, but this can make you look restless and unsure, and this may make the audience think that you don't really believe in what you are saying, and therefore not enjoy what you have to say. If we stand with legs shoulder-width apart and our weight evenly distributed, then this grounds us and actually helps to give us focus and energy.

We often slouch over, and when we're nervous, our body language can be hunched and closed off. This actually shuts the audience out, and an audience that is shut out won't be able to engage properly with what we are saying. Remember to open out your shoulders and lift your head up. If you catch people's eyes then they will pay better attention, and if your head is lifted, they will hear you better.

Talking of which, nerves can make our voices quieter in order for us to not stand out and feel so exposed. But remember, you have something really interesting to share, let people hear it, they don't want to miss a word! A good rule of thumb is that however loud you think you sound, go a bit louder; what might sound loud to you, will probably be a little quiet at the back of the room, so make sure every single person there gets the chance to hear what you have to say.

You're an interesting person and have something great to share, so be confident in that; your classmates and teacher will be so impressed, and you'll be super proud of yourself for doing something really well that felt intimidating.

Fleur Shepherd GCSE English Tutor (West London)

About The Author

I was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College and Stowe School, after which I spent 3 months living in Italy studying Art and Art History.

I am an actress by training and published poet, and have had the pleasure of tutoring and mentoring since 2012.

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