What a Bunch of 4th Graders Taught Me About Persuasive Speaking

A few weeks back, I was working with a group of five incredibly brave fourth graders. These little nuggets signed up to hang out with me - a presentation coach - and work on a short persuasive talk about something they care about. Let's be clear: they could have signed up for face painting or crafts or even yoga (all noble pursuits!).

But they didn't. They signed up for a class on persuasive speaking.

I might have imparted a thing or two on their sweet little minds, but truth be told they reminded me of a thing or two - things that are so easy to forget when we're swamped being all grown-up-y, like I am most of the time.

What did these 4th graders remind me?

1.  Face Your Fears

Why, I asked them?  Why did you sign up for this class?

Four out of five of them said, basically, "I get scared up in front of people. So, I thought I should try and get better at it."

I love these kids!  If we as adults took on our fears like that, can you imagine how different our lives would be?! They are so brave.

I mean - look at this awesome kiddo, enjoying practicing. She is talking to a wall, and she doesn't care!  Atta girl.

2.  Keep it Simple

I had been working on this elaborate content for my website, explaining the basic framework that I use when creating a persuasive speech. But, in thinking about how to translate the same idea to 4th graders forced me to simplify it. And you know what?  It is SO MUCH BETTER simpler.

(If you want to check out this simpler, improved framework thanks to these 4th graders, check it out here.)

3.  Invite in the audience you're nervous about. 

We all need an audience to test out our work. And, of course, I planted the seed for these youngsters that perhaps we should invite in the Principal. "NOOOO!," they screamed at me, horrified.  Well, if you want to convince someone to open up a hockey rink on the field at school, you gotta bring in the big dogs (as long as the dogs are the ones with the power to make that decision).

Does it raise the stakes?  Yes.

But, that is exactly what we need sometimes.

The class would have ended with so much less anticipation - less nerves, of course! - but less excitement. And isn't that part of what we love about doing this speaking thing!?  Bring into the room the people you are trying to persuade. It is scary, yes. But you can do it.

4.  Play

You just can't walk into a session with 4th graders and dig into the serious content. They reminded me that we should always play. Play! We start with playing a mixer or game for so many reasons - including how it can unleash our creativity.  But mostly?  Mostly playing together gives us a chance to laugh together, smile - and release some of the anxiety that we all walk into the room with (me included).

5.  The little things are important, too. 

The topics these 4th graders came up with ranged from wanting less homework to wanting boys to have the freedom to like the color pink to the importance of pets and advocating for yourself. They found their inspiration for these ideas in the simplest moments, and turned them into a message with some weight. They inspired ME.

These 4th graders who were both determined to tackle and totally scared of giving these speeches - they were the real teachers. They reminded me of some foundational ideas.

But most importantly, it's this:

We can put ourselves out there. We can do it.

They did!

p.s. - If you haven't checked out the Moving Presentations Series yet - it's an awesome free series of tools that I've developed over the last 15 or so years. I hope they're useful for you!

Sally Zimney1 Comment