General Guidelines

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General Guidelines for School Outreach Presentations

Make contact.

There are a lot of different ways to find a school that is just right for your presentation. The simplest is to contact your child's school to volunteer to speak to at career day or to a class. But there are alternatives to this approach. Read Getting the Gig for ideas on schools.

Manage your nerves.
  • Don't be concerned if you're nervous about public speaking; everyone is. To reduce tension, take deep breaths, drop your shoulders, and smile (it works!).
  • Get to the venue early. Arrive at least 15 minutes ahead of time to get a feel for the place and your audience.
  • Remember this: Our profession is inherently interesting, regardless of the age of the audience. That is an enormous advantage right off the bat.
  • Be prepared. Following the guidelines below will help you to get organized and feel confident.
  • Practice. Read your presentation aloud several times and have at least one dress rehearsal in front of your child, your spouse, your dog, or the bathroom mirror.
  • Be yourself. You don't need to be a great speaker to be good at this. All you really need is enthusiasm for the profession and some basic preparation. A few props can be useful, too.

  • Take an informal approach. If it feels right, use your sense of humor. Disarm students by asking what they hate about foreign languages or tell them about your worst language blooper.
Case the joint.

This is another important tool for managing nerves. Find out as much about your audience and your venue as you can before you get there. Ask the teacher:

  • What grade level(s) will be in the audience?
  • How much time will I have to speak to the group?
  • When do I need to be there, and where exactly should I go?
  • Is there anything I need to know about parking?
  • How much do the students know about foreign languages and translation/interpreting?
  • Have they been studying anything in geography or world affairs that you could tie into my presentation?
  • What resources are available in the classroom (maps, overhead projector, laptop hookup, VCR/television)?
Do your homework.

To make sure your presentation goes smoothly, decide in advance what you're going to say and how you're going to say it. Identify a few key messages (see the What to Say section for each grade/age level for ideas) and make a written list of talking points on a sheet of paper or note cards. Or use one of the PowerPoint presentations we've provided in the Resource Materials.

Choose material that's appropriate for your audience.

You'll find age-appropriate materials on the level-specific pages in the Resource Materials area of this site. If you want to add material and aren't sure whether it's right for your audience, you may be able to check its grade level with your word-processing program. In Microsoft Word, choose Tools – Options – Spelling & Grammar, and check the boxes for Check Grammar with Spelling and Show Readability Statistics. When the spelling check is complete, Word will display a grade level for your text. For more on this feature of Word, check the Help Index under Readability.

Manage your time.

Many speakers make the mistake of trying to fit too much material in the time allotted. One rule of thumb is 100-125 words per minute, but be sure to make allowances for questions and interactive exercises. To be sure your presentation is the right length, read it aloud at least once to make sure it goes smoothly and fits in the time available.

Take charge.

When you come into the classroom, remember that you're giving the students a break from their routine, and they're likely to be excited about it. You should have their full attention; take advantage of it. The classroom teacher will usually give you free rein and only step in if you need help.

Be flexible

If your audience is responding well to a particular topic, give it more time if you can. Skip over material that's obviously falling flat. Allow time for spontaneous questions and answers, but move on if you think the conversation is veering dangerously off topic. Be polite but decisive: Good. Let's save the rest of the questions for later, because right now I'm going to talk to you about ...

Have a Plan B.

Get familiar enough with your material to know what you'll cut if you have less time than you anticipated. Reshuffle your index cards or box off areas of text on paper. Bring overhead transparencies of your PowerPoint presentation in case something goes wrong with your laptop or the school’s projector.

Embrace bribery.

Handing out prizes for intelligent or entertaining answers will keep your session lively regardless of age level. See the grade-specific pages for ideas.

Don't panic if you get a question that stumps you.

The materials provided on these pages will equip you to answer many common questions, but don't worry if you get one you can't answer. "I don't know" is a perfectly good answer. "I'll find out and let you know" is an even better one. Get contact information from the teacher and follow up as soon as you can, or point the kids towards a resource that will give them the information they need.