I've been teaching speech, a required course at our high school, for over eight years now and have yet to find an effective way to help students look up when they present a speech! I've taken points off, discussed it as a class, stopped them in mid-speech to redirect them, limited them to just note cards, and who knows what else. Their final speeches today were a disaster in this area!
I try to make learning fun and understand that public speaking is nerve-racking, so I'm hoping to do something fun and engaging to get the point across.
Thoughts? Fun activities?
I have posters around my classroom - particularly on the back wall - for students to have eye contact with. Also, with junior students we encourage use of the smartboard and Powerpoint to support their speeches and to give the audience something else to look at as well as the speaker. I don't allow cue cards, but students can write/print out prompts in large letters and place on the desk, or have notes/prompts on the wall at the back. This stops hand shuffling and reading from a script.
If your students are doing any type of interpretative speeches (Dramatic Interp. Humorous Interp., etc.)as part of their curriculum, I would start with those. At my school, we start with those type of speeches to get students comfortable with being in front of one another. Children's Lit. and Poetry Interp. are also good categories for this practice even if students are planning to focus on expository speaking or debate. By beginning with interp. pieces, students can "become" someone else and later work up to being themselves when they participate in public speaking. They need to realize that even when they are presenting original oratories or impromptu speeches, they still need to take on a persona. This often helps them be more comfortable in front of their peers.
I've had these same problems myself when I was teaching speech and when I require students to give a speech in English. Many students refuse to prepare adequately and basically write the entire speech verbatim for them to read. I usually restrict students to only notecards, but many students attempt to cram the speech verbatim on the cards, creating a squint as well as near-zero eye contact. I have even restricted students to one notecard, with writing on one side only. This seems to work the best, since NO notecards will only result in a bad speech with many forgotten parts.
I am reminded of an old Andy Griffith Show episode in which Barney tries to stretch his height an inch in order to reach the minimum height restriction for deputies. Andy hung a contraption from the ceiling which attached to Barney's head and chin. It pulled his chin up and lifted his body to his tiptoes. If you could rig such an apparatus from your classroom ceiling, it might be a fun exercise for your students.
I have students draw silly faces on paper plates. Then we scatter them around the room, hang them on the wall, and so on. The kids practice making eye contact with the plates, and then move on to actual people once they get the hang of it.
I used to have horrible shakes when speaking in front of a group. I would completely make myself anxious. I began to use relaxation techniques before speaking. Another suggestion would be to allow the student who is getting ready to speak wait just outside the door. This allows them to collect themselves privately prior to speaking.
Here is another option. I do quite a lot of public speaking and two things help me. First, there has to be mastery of the material. There is no way around this. If they do not know the material, they will be nervous. They will also look down at their notes, because of insecurities. So, they must know a topic thoroughly.
Second, they may want to write an outline on top of their paper. They could take the paper up, but they should do the whole speech from the outline. In this way, they are just naturally speaking to people. For this to work well, keep point 1 in mind.
I often told my drama students to look just above the back row of the audience rather than right at them. In our classroom lessons, I had a giant smiley face on the back wall for them to look at. If I had a student who was having an issue with looking up during their presentations, I would sometimes hang a funny picture or a different image over the smiley face to get their attention. Once I took it too far with a very funny comic strip picture. None of the students made it through their speech without laughing. It actually worked out to benefit the kids though because they broke the tension and were able to relax into their presentations. Having something for the students to look at can also give them a common ground to discuss their fears and apprehensions about speaking in front of the class.
Something that you may find will help is performing two speeches yourself. Whilst teaching public speaking skills I deliver two speeches with exactly the same content. The first one I deliberately speak in monotone and stare at my notes without looking at my audience and make it as boring as possible. The second is of course very different and I engage my audience and have great eye contact. I then ask students to discuss the differences and which was better and why. Might help.
So do you think they are looking at their notes because they are nervous or because they are unprepared? If it's merely nerves, which is typical, perhaps giving speeches to smaller groups of students would help, or have them give speeches to you for extra credit when you are the only member of the audience, then progress them to larger audiences over the semester? If it's preparedness, guided practice on the outline/notecard prep might help (not assuming you haven't already done this), then for their speech, shorten the time requirement but don't let them use notes at all. Maybe this will create an incentive to practice more. Good luck.
I'm sure you've tried things like suggesting that they look over the top of the audience's heads rather than directly at faces - this gets the speaker's eyes up without making them focus on the listeners. Depending on the maturity level of your students, you can take it further by encouraging your speakers to play mind games with themselves in thinking about that audience. Have the presenter imagine that all the listeners are sitting out there in their bathrobes, pretend that they are all five years old,...
The goal is to get the speaker to place him/herself in a position of being in charge of the activities of those other people. It's tough to teach! If you can help your speakers laugh at the audience (internally) and think of themselves as being in a position of superiority or power, it might help.