A Place For Grace

  • Do make eye contact with the audience. In most Western cultures, this is a sign of interest, respect, and enthusiasm.
  • Do smile, if the occasion is a joyous one. Happiness is contagious and puts others at ease. Setting a positive tone for an audience is easy to do with a smile.
  • Do stand up in front of the room, where people can see you. Introductions and announcements from the back of the room are not worth making. Period.
  • Do rehearse what you’re going to say. Write talking points on a note card if you feel you may forget something important.
  • Do learn the names of people, places, and things that will be part of what you’ll say. Mispronouncing something you had an opportunity to learn is extremely careless.
  • Don’t say “um” or “ah” or—worse yet—“like.” Speech fluency (talking without these filled pauses) is easy to learn, just by practicing in front of a friend.
  • Don’t express pessimism. Starting a presentation with, “I’m going to mess this up” or “I know this is kind of boring” or “This is my first time doing this, so bear with me” is public-speaking poison.

Note for Educators: Perhaps even worse than expressing general pessimism in an introduction is a remark I hear at trade conferences every year: “I doubt I’ll get through all of my slides.” And worst of all: “I know you can’t read this slide because the text is so small.” Use slides to show not tell. Use only the slides you can show in the time allotted. Never include a slide that is illegible. (Thank goodness the woman who introduced this concert was not asked to create a PowerPoint presentation.)

  • Do express optimism. “We have a wonderful show planned for you tonight” or “I’m excited to share this new content with you” or “You’re in for a treat” are excellent ways to engage the audience.
  • Do give the audience a cue, such as “Please give a warm welcome to our first performer” or “Thank you very much.” An audience wants to show its appreciation, so indicate when the show is to begin. 

Just as we teach staff members to make eye contact, smile warmly, and extend a hand in any greeting, so we can also teach them how to be better public speakers, better performers, and better hosts. They in turn can teach campers how to be more poised. And it can happen without the feeling of being enrolled in etiquette school. Athletic competitions, theatrical performances, artistic showcases, and even prosaic announcements-turned-skits all offer opportunities to hone poise. With so many chances to enhance self-confidence, why not try something new? 

Consider these opportunities to practice composure:

  • End every competitive game with a cheer for the other team. Every time. In addition to teaching youngsters to win with humility and lose with grace, camp cheers are also a great way to increase spirit, loyalty, and sportsmanship.
  • Give every leader a chance to do some public-speaking before the entire camp. (At a religiously affiliated or spiritual camp, this could be a vespers service or morning watch; at a secular camp, this could be an announcement, box score report, or rules for a game.) Coach staff members to speak in a confident tone, and loudly enough to be heard by those in the back row.
  • Organize a variety show or talent show, and require participants to audition and practice. This will ensure a baseline level of quality, and also give the staff members in charge a chance to teach poised behaviors such as smiling and bowing.
  • Role-play scenarios with happy and unhappy parents. Because every staff member will encounter both this season, it’s great to rehearse polite greetings, warm good-byes, genuine empathy, and skillful conflict-resolution.
  • Practice delivering effective feedback, both staff-to-staff and staff-to-camper. With the shared goal of learning to be cool under pressure, help staff members become comfortable (during staff-training week) with telling people to speak up, eliminating “like,” “um,” and “ah” in public speaking, and showing interest by making eye contact. If a leader fumbles the delivery, give some balanced feedback for the next time.
  • Insist that everyone use “please” and “thank you” at the table and anywhere else where appropriate. Camp should be gritty, but it doesn’t have to be gruff.
  • Apologize for mistakes by saying “excuse me” for minor gaffes. Owning behavior—including the missteps—is a key first step toward earning others’ respect.
  • Offer public gratitude (some camps call it ”recognition”) for strong contributions to the camp community. Acts of voluntary service, exemplary kindness, and even heroism deserve open praise.

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