Do you have a child that is struggling with confidence and being assertive outside of the home? If so, then join us today as we talk to Paula Howley owner of Headstart Public Speaking. She is a mother and a homeschooler who works with children in the area of confidence building through public speaking. 

Today on The Blissful Parent Podcast we learn just how valuable public speaking is when it comes to nurturing confidence in our children.

Michelle:  Welcome everyone to The Blissful Parenting Podcast. I’m Michelle Abraham, your host today and today I’m joined by a really special guest. I’m really excited to have her here today with us to shed some light on public speaking for kids. So I’m with Paula Howley today and she is the owner and founder of Head Start Public Speaking For Kids. She’s a mom and she’s homeschooled her daughter and has been speaking and winning awards for her speaking. And she’s now working with kids in workshops and classes and is about to take over the world of public speaking for kids. So welcome Paula, so happy to have you here with us today.

Paula: I’m glad to be here Michelle.

Michelle: And it’s interesting, Paula, I love to start with right from the beginning because public speaking for kids, when I saw your, when you start your business, I was like, wow, I’ve never seen that before. As a, as a class or a workshop for kids. So can you tell us a little bit about how you got there and what made you focus on public speaking for kids?

Paula: This is kind of a two part story actually. And I’ll start way back when I was a kid, I was 16 years old and I was one of those kids who spent a lot of time smoking cigarettes in the parking lot and not going to a lot of classes. I was kind of bored and trouble at home and stuff like that. Like a lot of teenagers. Luckily for me there was a teacher, her name was Miss Gorski. And I was, I was a talented writer. I liked writing still. And one day she took me aside, she was my English teacher and said, Paula, I like this essay that you’ve written and I think that you should enter it in a public speaking contest. The thing was, was that when she took me aside and said that, it was like somebody saying, I see something in you.

Paula: And she was probably the only person to have said that to me in a very long time. So it sparked a desire in me to live up to that. And I spent the next few weeks and months practicing that speech, going to the library, trying to figure out what was good for public speaking. This was back pre-internet days, right? And I ended up doing really well. I won that contest. I went on to all city and came in second. And, it really changed the way I thought about myself for the rest of my life because I knew that I could do something hard now or what people considered to be hard and, and an important skill. So, despite the fact that I didn’t get my stuff together for another decade and a half, that experience gave me the knowledge that I could do something of worth. And I used that, that skill to speak up for people for the rest of my life. Really. Now we’ll fast forward to, a couple decades later when I married, I’ve got a little girl who’s two years old. I’m at home and I’m slowly losing my mind due to lack of communication with adults.

Michelle: Yeah, I can relate too.

Paula: So I’m at home and my husband says, hey honey, I heard about this thing called toastmasters. It’s a public speaking club with clubs all over the world. And I thought, okay, I, that was something I liked to do back in the day, so I’ll give it a shot. And I, I mostly went for social reasons. I wanted to get out and speak to other adults and kind of get my brain working in an intellectual way again. And, I really enjoyed it and I ended up doing really well. Ended up winning a bunch of contests there too and made it to, you know, the finals in British Columbia one year. And, yeah, it was something I really enjoyed. I also have, a bit of a background in gymnastics coaching too, so I’d worked with kids prior, but I had a friend come up to me and say, she was a leader of a girl scout troop and she said, Hey Paula, would you consider doing a public speaking workshop for my girl scout troop?

Paula: And Wow, I loved the idea of that. I was super excited about it. So I put something together and did this workshop with these girls for nine weeks and oh my gosh, it was so much fun. I just saw these kids transform, you know, and it was something else. I, I was, I was fired up by it. I was excited by it. I knew, I felt like, oh, it’s, it’s what happened to me when I was a kid, you know, and I saw it making a difference. So I ended up doing a few more workshops and one of those workshops was so successful that the parents have pounding me to turn it into a business so that I could serve more people. And they were so persistent that I finally said, okay, okay, I’ll do it. And so that was four years ago and started giving classes and, and here we are today.

Michelle: Oh, that’s awesome. I love how that, you just went for it and you did a program for some girls and you saw such a huge transformation. Can you tell us a story from one of your clients over the last couple of years and what kind of an impact it’s made on, on the kids lives. One of my favorite students, I probably shouldn’t say that, but one of my favorite students I guess I’ll say is Brooke. Brooke came to me a couple of years ago and she was so shy, she wouldn’t even look up from the ground when she was speaking to me. She wouldn’t, she couldn’t look up at anybody and she couldn’t get more than, um, um, out of her mouth. And it was, it was painful to watch because I knew how difficult it was for her. It was the, the discomfort was emanating from body, you know, but I have to save something for Brooke.

Paula: She’s a determined young lady. She decided that she wanted to get better at this. And so she worked the program. She really did. She did the work and slowly, gradually she got better and better. And she ended up emceeing the final presentation night that year, which basically was, you know, running the show in front of an audience of about 60 people. So that’s a huge, and she did a great job. She was, she was witty and she was funny, and you could tell it wasn’t, it still wasn’t natural for her, but she was doing it and I was so proud of her, Michelle. Really!

Michelle: Wow. That’s amazing. I love stories like that. I’m sure you have thousands of stories like that. Yeah, definitely. So what do you think it is? Like if you were to, if you were to be able to talk to some parents, earlier in their kids, like, you know, going into school or whatever, what were, what would be some things that you’d be able to, you know, based on your experience, what you’ve seen, tell our parents to kind of, help kids get through that confidence, or fear of speaking, as they get older?

Paula: This is something that I still work with with my daughter who’s been taking public speaking for four years and she’s quite outspoken, but there are still some days when she struggles. For example, recently she’s 11 now and recently there’s been a boy who has been borderline whistling at her while she rides her bike by. And I’ve told her, honey, you have to get off your bike and walk up to him and look him in the eye and say, I don’t like what you’re doing. It makes me uncomfortable and I want you to stop and you, and to be very blunt and basic about it and, and try and shut off the emotion when you say it, which is very difficult to do. She’s done things like this in the past. She’s, she’s been very forthright with people. But she still struggles. It’s, it’s an ongoing thing.

Paula: But I, I know she’s going to get there because this is important to her too. So I think that you, you have to be able to give your kids a voice very young and also to listen to them very young. And that’s really hard to do because as moms and Dads, we have a lot of other things going on too, so it’s hard to sit and listen sometimes, but it’s a really important thing to do to let them say what they want to say and then let them know that it’s okay to say what they want to say and to give them opportunities to continue to voice their opinion in other avenues in front of other people in front of other adults. Just give them as many opportunities as possible to speak who they are and to encourage them to do it publicly too, because this is a skill that we all need and we’re all going to be taking out into the world, whether it’s making a new friends or in a job interview or asking someone out on a date or whatever.

Michelle: That’s really interesting. Do you have any suggestions, like is there a time in the day that you sit down and say, you know, when everyone comes home from work or school, do you sit down and do like 10 minutes of just, you know, conversation? How was your day? That kind of thing? Or is it more about you know, letting kids know that, they can talk without judgment in just like breaking down those, fearful barriers maybe for them.

Paula: I think both of those things are a great idea. I personally don’t set aside specific time with Megan, but she and I converse a lot and people, she, she’s probably got the vocabulary, of an adult really she can carry on a conversation with adults. I think it’s just really important to hear your kids and to continue to give them, uh, more, uh, language, uh, repeat back what they’ve said and use other words so that they can expand their vocabulary as well because it’s fun to, to, to play with language, you know?

Michelle: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Is there something that you see, do you see parents doing things wrong? Like, are there any suggestions that you have for maybe things that you’ve seen along the way that could really help parents that are just about to enter into, you know, kids growing up, they’re old enough to have conversations now what’s some things that we can look for?

Paula: I think it’s really important to push our kids a little bit. I think, I think we’re, there’s a lot of fear in our generation and the generation before of parenting and that’s been cultivated by the society that we live in. And a lot of it is irrational, but we’ve still latched onto it because fear is really powerful. It’s it’s one of the most powerful emotions we have, but pushing our kids a little bit.

Paula: For example, instead, if your child wants something at a store, perhaps tell them that they have to go ask the salesperson for it. Don’t do it for them or the library, you know, ask, tell them if you want this book, I want you to go up to the librarian and say, can you help me find this book? So empower them to empower themselves because the more they do it, the better they’ll get at it. And then it’ll just become natural. They’ll just do it. They will seek out opportunity, they will seek out people to speak to, they’ll know, oh, if I want something I can ask somebody for it and they will help me find it. And that in itself is a skill.

Michelle: Those are great ideas. Another one came to my mind was like ordering your own food at a restaurant or something. I’m sure that would help.

Paula: Oh for sure. Definitely. Definitely every opportunity that you get to let them speak for themselves. Do it.

Michelle: So now when you see kids come to you, like Brooke who is really shy and won’t look at you,are there some things that maybe could have prevented that from happening? Like is there anything that maybe parents have like a more, like more open conversations or, you know, what’s there any signs to look for in your kids?

Paula: Well, Brooke’s mom is actually a teacher and she recognized that, uh, Brooke needed more skills. She might’ve sent her to me a little younger because I find that the younger you start, the easier it is and you can also try and make a game of it. Have you ever heard of the game table topics ? Yeah, that’s a fantastic game to play with your kids. I think they have a junior version too and it’s just a box of questions and you can play this at the dinner table. You can play this with your friends, but it’s a questions, you know, like, what’s the, what’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you or who’s your favorite teacher and why? So you have to think on the spot and then come up with your answer. And if you present it as a game, then it’s not as intimidating. It’s just fun. And you can slowly do that with bigger and bigger audiences or crowds or groups of friends too. So, yeah, the younger you start, the better.

Michelle: That’s awesome. I was just going to ask for your programs, what, what, what do you find is like a really good age to start doing some public speaking?

Paula: I actually think that I, I don’t think that you’re ever too young to start right now I’m teaching kids who are eight and up, but I put the eight, nine and 10 year olds in a separate class. Mostly because the content of older kids might be a bit much for them sometimes. But, I really would like to work with even younger kids in the future just for fun, you know, spinning the table topics, wheel and playing table topics and getting them to come up to the front and just say, what’s your name? How old are you? What are three of your favorite things to do? I, I think that no age, is too young. I, I, I’d like to see it’s starting in kindergarten. Frankly.

Michelle: I can see that being really valuable. My son was a little bit delayed with his speech going through speech therapy with him for the last few years, kind of doing those kind of games with the speech therapist. So yeah, it’s excellent. I see the value of that. It’s just helped his speech much with playing games on talking more to parents and adults. And having really, really good conversations and it’s amazing how simple the answer really is. Right. Just come more conversation for sure.

Paula: I think the more he does it, the better he’ll get.

Michelle: Right. Yeah. And do you think screen time has an effect of like how kids communicate now than when they did like say 10 years ago? I mean more like, like because they are on the screen so much more. Then you know, how the playing with friends or you know, acting or being out or whatever. Do you think that has had an impact maybe?

Paula: Definitely, definitely. I, it’s funny. We live in a rural area so Megan doesn’t get to see her friends a lot, so she’s on the screen with them communicating quite a bit, but there’s nothing like being in person. She had a friend who she was predominantly a screen friend with and they just had a get together in a sleepover and just being together, talking with each other that amount of time. Completely different dynamic, you know? Uh, I think that the less screen time, the better, frankly.

Michelle: Right. I would imagine so. Do you find, what are some of the things that, kids coming in, maybe they’re like shy or whatever, or not communicating very well and not looking in the eye. What are some of the things that at the end of a program that you see see with them?

Paula: Definite improvement in eye contact, definite even posture. Kids who are shy even stand a different way than kids who are not shy. Also the ability to think on your feet, the ability to express yourself, even just to, one, one of the things that I like about my program, the most actually is I ask kids to think about who they are and what’s important to them. And, and I find that that’s not a question that a lot of people ask. A lot of adults say, what do you want to be when you grow up? But like, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Right. So we’re, we’re asking seven and eight year olds this. The better question might be, what do you like, what’s fun for you in the world? Tell me about that. Because when you ask somebody what’s important to them, then they want to tell you. And so if you give them that opening, they’re going to walk right through it. And, even shy kids.

Michelle: That’s great. I love that. I think that’s really neat. That’s true. We do ask them what they want to be in not many adults. I find that I find the younger kids know what they want to be. Where as the adults don’t

Paula: True. True. Sometimes you have to go right back to what our desires were when we were really little and, and think, oh I really liked that when I was seven or eight and ended up going back to it.

Michelle: That’s great. I love it. So now, do you inspire the, kids or no I am going to restart that question, do you find the kids want to do more public speaking once they’ve got it, a little bit of a taste of it?

Paula: They do. It’s kind of cool that way. I had one girl last year. Oh, what was her name again?

Paula: Oh, I can’t remember her name. I’m going to call her Nancy cause that’s her mom’s name. Nancy actually was seeking out opportunities outside of class, which was really cool. She wasn’t particularly outgoing either. She was kind of shy too, but she kind of got fired up by the challenges and she liked the, she liked to be challenged. So she was actually going out to little cafes and asking, can I play my violin here? Can I read a poem here? And that’s part of, my program too, is one of the challenges is to actually go outside of Head Start and, perform for strangers in at least one place. I encourage kids to do another thing called the Avery drill, which is kind of scary. It was even scary for me, but it’s, I named it after the 2012 world champion of public speaking, Ryan Avery, who used to go into public, , in, in preparation for the world championship.

Paula: He would go into public places and just start saying his speech. He would go into a market square, for example, and he didn’t gather people to sit down. He would just start saying it. So people would walk by and think, is this guy losing his mind? You know, but there’s a mission and that you’re pushing through that weirdness and that discomfort so that when you actually are doing that speech in the intended place and time, it’s a breeze. The every drill is, it’s a great drill. I’ve done it myself and it really works. And the thing is too is when you’re finished, you feel like a superhero. You feel like you can do anything.

Michelle: I bet you to push through some stuff to do that. You know the kids, you have the kids doing that. That’s amazing. They do and they have fun. And then I actually

Paula: Then I have them come to class and tell us about the experience because I want them to relay the feelings that they pushed through. I want them to remember the experience of pushing through their fear and so that they can remember later on in life. I did that thing. That was really scary. I know I can do anything

Michelle: Amazing. I bet you see the skills that they were learning in your program transcend through like school work, homework, sports, relationships with family, that kind of thing. Is that definitely what happens? Yeah,

Paula: Absolutely. There was a girl named Ella who was in one of the first workshops that I did. She came up to me at the end of the program. She said, Paula, I actually auditioned for the lead in the school play today. And I never would’ve done that before, but she just, she saw herself differently. She saw herself as being able to speak and having some leadership qualities. So it was super exciting to see that bleed over into the rest of her life.

Michelle: What an exciting, empowering position you’re in right now tot watch these kids transform in front of your eyes? So what’s, what’s next on the agenda for Head Start Public Speaking For kids?

Paula: Next on the agenda is expansion. Actually, I’m on the sunshine coast right now in two cities and I’m expanding into North Van this year. I’d like to go more, but I’m still homeschooling my daughter, so there’s only so much one mother can do. But yeah, North Van is the next step. And frankly I’d like to see Head Start in cities across North America and the world because there’s nothing like this going on anywhere. And if there’s one skill everybody’s going to need in the future, it’s the ability to communicate yourself to others.

Michelle: Absolutely. That’s amazing. And I saw on your website you have 10 steps for parents to help them kind of with their kids’ confidence. Is that on your websites though and what’s your website address?

Paula: Yeah, yeah. It’s headstartpublicspeaking.com. That’s headstartpublicspeaking.com and yeah, there is a downloadable sheet there for confidence for kids. So yeah, head over there and sign up for it. So we’d be happy to send it to you.

Michelle: Great. Yeah, I think that would be really helpful for parents to have to kind of guide their students. And if you’re in one of the cities that Paula is in with her program, definitely check her out. And, if you’re interested in this kind of program coming to a place near you, you know, reach out to Paula and let her know for sure. It’s been a pleasure having you on the show this morning and I am so excited for where this is going and the impact is having in kids, and starting in your own community and spreading your wings farther and farther. I think what a ripple effect that is going to cause the kids that are growing up today. So thanks for making such an impact in their lives. And thanks for joining us today.

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