Everyone knows that old show business saying 'Never work with children or animals.'...yet my job revolves around me working with children. Every day. Mostly small children.

It's a job I love (when it goes well) and I have learnt a lot that can be helpful when speaking to an audience ...whether an open mike or a poetry author talk or running a workshop.

During the school holidays one of my programs was Zoom into Outer Space!

We had a good turnout and sitting there with his smaller brother was one seven year old, who could not only read well (so knew when I was ad-libbing during the stories) but regaled us with ALL the information he knew about space.

And he knew a lot. He knew about planets and stars and gasses surrounding planets and which would be the best planet to live on - Earth says he in a very condescending tone, it's the only liveable planet!

So what have I learnt over the years of 'performing' for children - and it is a performance. No matter how you feel, sad, angry, bored, tired, frustrated, sick, get out there, put on a smiling face and you begin to sing.

Reading my audience is vital.

If they are fidgeting or wandering off (apart from the babies who want to do nothing but crawl away from parents) then it's time for a song, particularly one that gets them involved. With older children it's time to stand up and do a song or rhyme that includes moving around (Jack in the box is my all time favourite)- who doesn't love jumping up into the air waving their hands wildly....or is that just me?

If the children get louder and don't try and sing or talk over them....go quieter and quieter. Before too long they are all leaning forward, listening to what you are saying.

When reading the number one rule is to read well. Do not read in a boring monotone- the best fun is when you add voices for all the characters.  Allow your voice to become part of the story.

And how to handle my little heckler - there is always one. Doesn't matter if he wants to tell me about the universe, or a little girl wanting to tell the story of how she got new gumboots, not the ones she's wearing now but the other ones, the ones that are at home, not her home but her Nan's home, and her Nan doesn't have gumboots but .......

Tell them nicely, that you would love to hear the story and they can talk to you later when you've finished. If they continue you bring in your 'teacher voice' and put them in their place...which is in the audience listening to you.

All of this does translate into public speaking. Understanding your audience is the vital part. Like when doing a Storytime, I take more pieces to read, just in case when I get there something won't work with this particular audience.

I also have a running list or at least an idea of how things will flow together....I like to have a mix of harder and softer pieces (in kids terms a longer more difficult story, then perhaps a pop up book...repeat and end with something of a bit of a TA DAH about it). Putting together an idea of what you will read is important, there needs to be some cohesion or else the audience becomes confused.

I memorise my songs. This does take practice, especially if they are new ones or ones that I've jumbled together to fit a certain theme. But it turns out so well if you can recite without holding a piece of paper in your hand. Or at least know it so well that you don't read from start to finish...eye contact is important.

Including everyone in the audience means looking at them. Yes there will be those bored, or looking at their phone, or chatting to their neighbour...but there will also be those intently listening to every word you are saying.

Yes there have been times when working with children should have come with a warning, screams and tantrums, blood flowing, vomit and worse, dribbles and snotty noses...but there is also hugs and kisses and smiles. Best is when they say 'that was great, see you next week'.

And that's what we want- the audience enjoying themselves so much they want to do it all over again.



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