The Monroe County 4-H program partnered with the Upward Bound program at Monroe Community College to teach an eight-session public speaking course to local high school students this summer. At the end of the course, 21 kids gave final presentations.
“The students enjoyed themselves, and each one of them improved their public speaking skills and gained more confidence speaking in front of a class,” said Lindsay Lupiani, Upward Bound academic adviser.
The course started with students and course instructor Lori Koenick creating a working agreement. According to Koenick, working agreements are a list of classroom behaviors suggested by students and agreed upon by everyone to follow for the duration of the course.
“The working agreement can be a powerful tool in creating a supportive community in the class where everyone feels comfortable speaking and being themselves,” said Koenick, 4-H youth development educator.
Behaviors included in the agreement were “No judging,” “Listen, don’t just hear” and “Express yourself.”
Early classes included discussing how students felt about public speaking. In a pre-class survey, one student said they hoped to gain “more confidence when giving public presentations and talking to a group of people.” Many students said they thought it was important to learn how to present because they would need it for future success in college and their careers. Most described feeling nervous when thinking about speaking in public.
The course demonstrated and compared different types of public presentations. Common attributes include an introduction, body and conclusion. Students learned the do’s and don’ts of presenting by playing charades focused on behavior pertaining to body language, words and speaking voice.
Charades involved drawing a random behavior from a hat — such as “fidgeting with your clothing,” “speaking too softly” and “staring at the floor” — and acting it out while reading a sample speech. Other students had to guess the behavior.
Each student gave a final presentation on a topic of their choice, such as “Spotify vs. Pandora,” “My Dream Car” and “How to Change a Flat Tire.” Presenters had up to four minutes to speak, and the only requirement was to include a visual aid such as a poster outline.
“We wanted students to choose a topic that they are familiar and felt comfortable with,” Koenick said. “We did not want students to have to research their topic, but rather focus on how to present it.”
The Monroe County 4-H program is offered through the Cornell Cooperative Extension. Visit for information.