Tips on Improving Public Speaking & Competitive Debate Skills at Home (Part I)

Coach Cookie
Post by Coach Cookie
Tips on Improving Public Speaking & Competitive Debate Skills at Home (Part I)

Build A Habit Practicing at Home

Public speaking and debate require students to practice consistently. Practicing only during class time can help students improve but cannot push students to extend their maximum potential. To achieve that, practice outside of the class is highly appreciated. Practicing with partners can be a good way to get better, but sometimes a student might find that they do not have a suitable schedule to work together, thus they need an alternate plan in case that happens. So when students are not practicing with their peers, what should they do? In what ways can they best practice and improve? How can parents assist with this process?

In this series of articles, you will be able to learn about:

  • Steps on how to help students build a habit of practicing at home
  • Topics that can help students practice
  • How to understand and track a student's progression

Learning about public speaking and debate is a continuous process. Students cannot expect to learn just one day before the competition and win numerous awards. Building a habit of practicing public speaking and debate helps students to be motivated and make changes. As a parent, you can help the students to build a habit by the following steps:

STEP 1: Set an Expectation

Using this method, it is easy to act like aggressive policemen, but DON'T! Be open and ask about their feelings and set an expectation together instead of simply telling them Dos and Don'ts. Be communicative.

  • Discussion

The first step is to discuss with the students how they feel about public speaking and debate, what goals they have, and how they want you to help: show them your plan of assisting them, discuss the project, revise it, and make it a joint goal.

  • Details

Encourage the student to explain more specifically their goals. It cannot be something vague as "I want to be better at public speaking." But do not veto their initial goals! Ask open-ended questions to lead them. For example, you can ask how they plan to be better and which areas they think they should pay more attention to. When they have a specific area/skill they want to focus on, ask them what the goal looks like and know if they have met the expectation. For example, if they're going to extend their speaking time, how much time do they view as "success."

STEP 2: Reward System

It is important to give students a sense of achievement and progression. Encouragement will make them feel more confident about the process and themselves. Praise them not only for their accomplishments but for the efforts that they have made through the process. This encouragement will motivate them to keep trying and try harder. For students who are not patient, praise them for their continuous drilling, even if it is only their second day practicing at home. Encouraging students to keep trying is the key to success. First, set a reward. For example, if a student continues practicing, they can get a sticker every time. Or, if they can keep practicing for 10 days, they can decide on the destination of the next family trip. But if a learning habit has been created, the reward can be dropped, and the behavior should continue. If the student is reluctant to practice, start with a short amount of time and increase bit by bit, reward them whenever they have extended the practice time.

STEP 3: Set a Schedule

[Scheduling Example]

19:00-19:05 Speech Prep
19:05-19:10 Speech Practice R1
19:10-19:15 Feedback and Suggestion
19:15-19:18 Revise Speech
19:18-19:23 Speech Practice R2
19:23-19:30 Feedback and Suggestion


It's easy for schedules to fill up with school and extracurricular activities, but it's essential for students and parents alike to make time for practicing continuously. If it is hard to schedule for each day, try at least the weekends and during holidays. You can plan different practice activities and adjust flexibly based on the specific daily schedule. For example, you can listen to a News podcast together for 30 minutes and discuss for another 20 minutes when you have more time. Or set a topic, give the students 5 minutes to prepare and 3 minutes to deliver a speech, with another 5 minutes to provide feedback, and the last 5 minutes to practice again when you have limited time. It is important to keep up a routine! Plan the length, time breakdowns, and start time beforehand, so both of you are prepared for the set time!

STEP 4: Be Focused

  • Remove Distractions

TikTok and games are addicting. Home chores are exhausting. There are so many things that can keep us busy and away from learning. It is important to be focused during the set time. You can set rules before you start, for example, during the practice time, phones and fiction are banned, for both you and the students-- set a model for them! You can make small breaks if you find the students are not focused, and during break time, they can go to the bathroom or grab a cup of water; but other than the breaks, they are not allowed to do any off-topic activities.

  • Quiet Room

To keep students focused, a quiet place is a necessity. Provide them with a quiet place, students can not be concentrated in a room while other family members are watching T.V. and laughing in the living room next to the room. During the practice time, all family members should cooperate in providing the best environment possible for the students to learn. It is also better to give a room that is not equipped with soft beds or sofas, so students are not too relaxed.

STEP 5: Extend Speech

When you and the students are practicing, it is important to encourage them to explain in detail, especially for beginners. Students may sometimes answer a question with only a few sentences. Ask open-ended questions for more detailed analysis. For example, if you ask a student, "should we be vegetarian" and the student answers, "yes, because it is cruel to eat animals." Ask them 1) why they think so, 2) how will it solve the problem 3) what are the alternative solutions and why being vegetarian would be the most effective solution. As an example, you ask them, 1) why is eating animals cruel? Tigers and other animals also eat animals. Why is humans eating them different from animals eating animals? 2) Are “not eating animals” and being "not cruel" equivalent? What about animals being kept as a pet or in a zoo without freedom? 3) what about if we eat less meat every week? Go through this process for each of their arguments! If they have only one, encourage them to brainstorm.

STEP 6: Encourage Self-reflection

It is important to review what students have learned from the material they have read, listened to, and watched, or the speeches they have made. Encourage them to think about the learning materials, to give feedback to their own speeches. You can encourage them to record a video of them presenting their speeches, and provide feedback on their performance, to ask them questions about what they think about a piece of news/an article you read together, to ask them about the future of the related subjects, or the possible topics in debate and public speaking. Encourage them to think while learning.

Keep reading for Part II, III, & IV below!

Part II: Topics for Practicing at Home

Part III: Give Feedback as A Parent

Part IV: Track Progress

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Coach Cookie
Post by Coach Cookie