Public Speaking Lessons I Learned from Girl Scouts

Public speaking is an art. When in front of an audience, your job is to sound interesting and to keep your audience captivated – without feeling like they’re being held captive.

Since the average attention span of humans is approximately 8 seconds, that is no small feat. But, what about when your audience is a roomful of 6- and 7-year-old girls who would rather run around the room, play tag and show off their cartwheel and handstand skills than listen to … really anything? Seems safe to say that your 8-second window may have shrunk in half (at best). herding-cats

As the new co-leader of my daughter’s Daisy Girl Scout Troop I learned that it would be much easier to herd cats. (Cats? Who has a cat? I have a cat. Do you have a cat? Are we going to have cats in our meeting? Oh you have a cat, what’s her name?) Sample stream of consciousness added for emphasis.

In the event that your audience is not comprised of 6- and 7-year-old girls, I wanted to share some of the key takeaways.

  1. Limit distractions

I made the mistake of passing out items for use in our craft project as I was explaining it. That opened the door for a flurry of questions, explanation and wasted time. (Cats, anyone?) For adults it could be asking your audience to live tweet your discussion. Their phones are now in hand and the Internet is beckoning: How much of your talk are they really hearing?

Lesson learned: Handouts (and cell phones) can take attention away from you and your message as listeners attempt to multi-task.

  1. Anticipate every question

The Girl Scout motto is to “be prepared,” but I was not expecting the voluminous questions I heard about every aspect of the project. I fumbled my way through a never-ending barrage of seemingly irrelevant questions.

Lesson learned: Know your audience. What questions would you ask if you were in their seats? Have responses in mind for those – as well as others that come up on the fly.

  1. Be ready for heckling

Picture a standup comedy show with that one guy in the back interrupting you, shouting out questions and comments and, in doing so, throwing you off track and making you second-guess yourself. Except instead of a drunk jokester, you’re standing in front of inquisitive kids – or overzealous adults. Whether they raise their hands while you’re speaking or shout out questions mid-thought, your concentration will be tested.

Lesson learned: Don’t take yourself – or your message – too seriously. Remember, you’re competing with an 8-second window of full focus.

  1. Be prepared (but not too prepared)

My husband and I made just enough craft materials for each of the nine Daisies … but then another girl showed up unexpectedly and decided to join our troop that night. Luckily, extra craft supplies saved the day.

Lesson learned: Even the best plan may need some last minute tweaks and changes. Make sure your discussion is flexible enough to accommodate any unforeseen circumstances and necessary adjustments.

When Theresa Katalinas is not co-leading her daughter’s Daisy Girl Scout Troop she is leading Katalinas Communications in writing, public relations, social media and graphic design projects for a variety of nonprofit, small business and governmental organizations. For more information on the company’s various services, email or call 215-519-8833.

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