Ideas on teaching public speaking skills

By Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton

I have the privilege of being both a teacher and a professional speaker. That means that I earn a portion of my living by facilitating workshops and giving keynotes on topics related to my field of expertise.

I’ll never forget my first keynote address. I was working on a project in Latin America, representing the university I worked for. My skills in the Spanish language had positioned me well for the job and I was delighted to be selected for the one-week intensive project. Upon my arrival I was asked to do the guest address for the graduating class of 1000 students. My first keynote address had to be delivered in my second language. It was terrifying. I wasn’t afraid of speaking in public, but I was paralyzed by the thought of having to do it in another language. I’ve never forgotten that feeling.

I have not found many materials that specifically target the topic of how to teach public speaking to learners of English as a Second or Foreign Language. But there are resources available for teachers who want their students to learn this very valuable skill. Here are some ideas on how to teach public speaking to literacy learners or ESL students:

The first place for adult learners to turn is to Toastmasters. This is an international, non-profit organization dedicated to teaching people the skill of public speaking. They also have a link to free resources on their website.

More and more countries in the world now have professional organizations for speakers. In order to be accepted for induction into the organization, prospective members must demonstrate a solid background as keynote speakers, or professional workshop facilitators. Members of professional speaking organizations earn a significant portion of their livelihood through speaking. Most professional speakers have spent thousands of hours in non-formal settings such as professional development workshops offered through organizations such as Toastmasters before they ever stepped into the professional realm.

Workshop with a professional speaker

Invite a professional speaker from your community in to do an interactive workshop. Many pro speakers will offer this type of workshop, even if they don’t advertise it. If you Google “professional speaker” + <your community or city>, you should get a list of the professional speakers in your area. Find out who speaks English and target those people, in particular.

Be aware that a pro speaker may not give a workshop completely pro bono. It is, after all, how they make their living. Having said that, you are very likely to get excellent quality for the fee that you pay.

Also, more and more speakers are traveling globally to present at conferences internationally. Find out what conferences are happening in your area (or at your local university) and ask if the keynote presenter is a native English speaker. If yes, find out how to contact them and ask if they would be willing to conduct a workshop at your school during their stay. If they have time in their schedule, many speakers will say yes to an opportunity to “piggy back” one speaking engagement on to another. It saves time for them, and money for you. You may be able to have presentations by international speakers without having to pay their airfare, which is a huge bonus for an educational institution.

Workshop with an aspiring speaker

Invite in an aspiring speaker who speaks English very well to do a workshop with your staff or students. By “aspiring” I mean someone who is likely in Toastmasters now or has gone through the program. He or she may be trying to become a professional speaker, but lacks the experience. When you extend the invitation, offer them a thank you letter for their professional portfolio. (He or she will need this when applying for membership in a professional organization later on.) How do you find these people? A call to your local Toastmasters club explaining what you are looking for should do it.

Guest judges for student speeches

If you teach your own lessons on public speaking, challenge the students to prepare a brief speech of their own. Invite professional or aspiring speakers from your community to be “guest judges” for the student presentations or a small speech competition. The judges can offer feedback, advice and suggestions to help students improve further.

There are likely a great deal of resources available in your local community to teach your learners about public speaking. Practising, videotaping, as well as giving and receiving constructive feedback are the keys to improving presentation skills in any language.

Written by Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton for December 2010
Author of 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program, Dr. Sarah Eaton is an expert on the management and marketing of language schools. She coaches school directors on how to manage more effectively and market more powerfully. Visit her website at or her blog at

Leave a comment

TEFLnet : TEFL Articles : Teaching : Ideas on teaching public speaking skills