There’s a natural assumption that secondary teachers should be good at secondary school assemblies. After all, we stand up in front of classes every day, giving instructions and guiding our students. How is that any different to giving an assembly?
The reality is, there’s a big difference. And it’s OK to accept that, while teaching in your classroom is second nature, presenting in front of the whole school brings you out in a cold sweat.
There are many ways in which secondary school assemblies differ from day-to-day classes. Firstly, the focus is all on you. There’s no activity time or independent working – all eyes are your way, all the time. Secondly, there’s a lot of people out there. Not just the 30 students you know well, but maybe over a thousand students, some of whom you’ve never met in your life before. Then, of course, there’s your colleagues. You don’t normally have the head and the whole senior management team watch you teach a class – but in a secondary school assembly, they’re all focused on you. Finally, there’s the fact that assemblies are rarely on our chosen subject. Ask me to get up and tell a thousand people about Shakespeare’s Macbeth and I’ll happily chatter on for hours. Ask me to deliver a twenty minute secondary school assembly on healthy eating, and I am definitely stepping out of my comfort zone.
All this needs to be acknowledged when you’re faced with the prospect of giving a secondary school assembly. So, what can you do to help yourself? Here are eight top tips to make the experience as smooth as possible:
1 – Breathe
It’s such a simple reminder, but the one thing that gives away a nervous presenter is their breathing. When we panic or get nervous, we’re inclined to take short, shallow breaths, which means we have very little left to power our voice. As a consequence, our speech can come out as high and breathy – a dead giveaway for nerves.
Before you start, take several slow, deep breaths. Allow your lungs to expand and your stomach to stick out as you inhale. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed and not hunched around your ears. Then, exhale in a calm, controlled way, counting in your head in your head up until eight. Try this several times.
2 – Take It Slow
Many people speed up when they’re nervous. Perhaps it’s a subconscious desire to get off stage as quickly as possible! Deliberately slow yourself down – even if you think you’re going slow enough, you’re probably not. If you speed through your presentation, then it implies it’s not worthy of your audience’s time, and that can lose their attention. It also makes it far more likely that you’ll make a mistake or trip over your words. Slower delivery implies confidence in your content.
3 – Pace Yourself
That said, think about the pace of your presentation. If it’s a regular, uniform pace all the way through, it’s likely to get boring. Instead, think of your secondary school assembly as a story: what’s the set-up, what’s the climax, what’s the denouement? How can you convey this to your audience? Think about varying the tone, volume and pace of your voice to engage your audience.
4 – Hit the Back Wall
If you’re not using a sound system, then it’s really important to project your voice to ensure your audience can hear you. Keep your head up, and focus on a point at the back of the room. Try to visualise your voice leaving your body: you want it to start at the bottom of your chest – not from your throat or the back of your mouth. When you speak, direct your voice to the point at the back of the room.
This is where breathing and going slowly really help, too – the more breath you use to power your voice, the clearer you’ll be.
5 – Speak From the Heart – Not Your Notes
If you’re nervous, it’s easy to rely on notes to get you through your secondary school assemblies. That way, if your mind goes blank, at least there’ll be reminder to get you back on track. This is fine, up to a point. Having notes as a prop is OK – they give you something to hold in your hand, and they provide an extra level of reassurance. But make sure they’re just notes – simple words and phrases as prompts – rather than a written transcript of what you want to say. You should be glancing at them occasionally, not reading from them.
6 – Lean on Me
I have an unfortunate habit of twitching my right leg when I’m nervous. It’s embarrassing enough when it happens at a dinner party, but it can be mortifying in a secondary school assembly in front of hundreds of students. If you’re worried about shaking, twitching or wobbling, try to get hold of a lectern or some other prop you can use to steady yourself. Don’t grab it and hold on for dear life – use it as a casual prop to steady your hands or legs. And if you don’t have a lectern or similar, see if you can at least find something to hold – even if it’s just notes. Having a physical object to ground you stops your arms flapping!
7 – Gesticulate!
Now you’ve got your wobbliness under control, think about how you can make your secondary school assembly dynamic to watch. You may well be using a PowerPoint, which is fine as it will take some of the attention away from you, but you’ll still need to be dynamic. Use your hands to point up words, figure out when you want to move across the stage, consider when you could lean forward to emphasise points. Don’t be a statue – move naturally and connect physically with what you are saying.
8 – Enjoy it!
We all know that students engage more with a subject when you’re passionate about it. That’s just as true for secondary school assemblies as it is for lessons. Remember that you’ve been asked to do this assembly because your colleagues are confident you can make a success of it. Find the fun in what you’re doing, and your audience will love it, too!
You might also want to read: 6 Reasons Teachers Need to Stick Together