If you’re a parent, the chances are you spent time reading to your children when they were young. They will have loved hearing the same stories over and over again, enjoying the voices you put on for the characters and joining in when they knew the words.

As they get older, the role reverses, and parents listen to their children read, encouraging them to tackle new words and make sense of the stories they’re telling.

As the mum of a ten year old, I realised recently that we’ve stopped reading to each other. She’s a fluent reader, she loves books and she takes herself off at bedtime to read her latest favourite.

But should I still be encouraging her to read aloud to me? Yes, I should, and I’m cross with myself for forgetting this!

All too often adults come to me with a proper fear of public speaking. And it’s because they haven’t done it for so long: a true case of “use it or lose it”.

Added to that, many of the people I work with have forgotten the importance of engaging their audience. The business world has eroded their creativity, and presentations have become data-focused and slides-driven.

How can we expect to get up and engage our audience, moving them to think or behave differently, if we have left this skill behind in our childhood?

When our children are learning to read, they come across unfamiliar words. They may not know how to pronounce them, or what they mean. If they’re reading in their head, it’s easy to skip over these words and never learn the correct pronunciation or meaning. By reading aloud, particularly to an interested and encouraging parent who will gently correct them, they will increase their vocabulary and improve their diction.

But it’ll give them more than that, too. They’ll learn to tell a story. Their intonation will improve; the colour of their reading, the emotion and the brightness. They’re learning to engage their listener and make a connection with them. These crucial presentation skills are things many adults have lost before they even enter the business world, and they have to work with coaches like me to rediscover them when they need to deliver brilliant presentations.

Reading aloud trains your child to speak clearly and confidently. They’re reading (hopefully) well written texts, edited to flow smoothly and using a recognisable story structure. If your child practices regularly, they will learn to speak without stumbling, hesitating, devoicing and falling in to the most recent speech trends, like going up at the end of sentences to make everything sound like a question, or littering their sentences with the word “like”.

Great readers also become great writers. If your child is an avid reader, they will be exposed to rich vocabulary, recognisable story structures, empathy, compelling page turners….all great training for their own presentation writing later in life. And if they can keep those skills up, they will grow into brilliant adult readers, writers and speakers.

Best of all, reading with your child allows you to model great speaking. If you take turns to read a paragraph or a page each, they’ll start to unconsciously mimic your style. So, take the time to

  • Find a conversational pace. Reading silently tends to be at a very fast pace; by reading aloud, you’re setting the speed at which we naturally converse (usually around 120 words a minute), which is the correct speed for presentations.
  • Pronounce the words correctly and clearly. If you don’t know, ask Alexa! She’s a brilliant source for definitions too: a quick and easy way for parents and children to extend their vocabulary together.
  • Make it exciting! Use volume, pace, pause, accent, colour….teach your child to TELL A STORY. They’ll learn from you, and you’re setting them up for success in later life.
  • Record and replay. This is a really fun way for parent and child to listen back to the story. For your child, it’s an under-the-radar way for you to reinforce what you’re teaching them. For you, it’s a chance to hear what you sound like and appraise whether you could be doing more to make your own storytelling more exciting.

Use these tips to model brilliant storytelling to your child, and encourage them to keep reading aloud. I will, myself, get back to reading aloud with my daughter every night, just as I do with her younger brother and sister, to make sure she keeps up her skills and confidence. I don’t want to abandon her to navigate the world of public speaking by herself, when she’s just getting going.

Get in touch if you‘d like to find out more about the importance of storytelling in presentations.