Speaking in public is a part of a parent group leader’s job that you can’t avoid (no matter how much you wish you could). With a little practice, some deep breathing, and a plan, you’ll be able to confidently share your group’s excitement for the school year ahead.
These tips will help you crush your back-to-school or open house speech. If you’re suffering from a touch of writer’s block, use our sample speech script and customize it with your own plans, highlights, and goals.
Tips for a Great Speech
Plan your message. Talk about how your group supports the school and avoid giving the impression that you’re only about fundraising.
Know your audience. Are familes mostly new to the school? Was everyone remote last year? Tailor your message to your community’s experiences.
Introduce yourself and your board. Besides your name and title, tell parents why you are involved (but avoid telling your life story).
Start with an icebreaker. Make it an easy question that parents can answer with a show of hands, such as “Who’s new to the school?”
Make eye contact and smile. You want to be approachable and welcoming, not standoffish.
Use note cards or slides. Don’t read from them, just use them to stay on track.
Speak at a normal pace. Practice your talk and concentrate on not rushing through the information.
Keep it short. Cover the highlights, let people know where they can find more information, and ask for volunteers.
Reassure parents. Some parents might be worried that if they volunteer, you’ll ask for too much of their time. Encourage parents to volunteer, but don’t beg.
Don’t worry if you mess up. Everyone accidentally skips a talking point, but you’re the only one who has to know.
Laugh at yourself. If you do make an obvious flub and the audience laughs, know they’re laughing with you rather than laughing at you.
Have props on hand. Create an “About Our PTO” flyer, share website and social media URLs, or pass around a volunteer sign-up sheet.
Save time for a Q&A. Repeat the question for the entire audience and then answer for everyone’s benefit.
What Should I Say?
Make this sample speech script your own by filling in the details specific to your school and your group. Download the script and speech tips from the File Exchange.
Welcome to the ABC Elementary Open House Night! I’m Mary Brown, and I’m president of the ABC Elementary PTO.
Along with the rest of our PTO board, I’d like to thank you for being here tonight. Parents are so important to a school’s success, and the PTO is a key way that parents can support our school.
Now, by “support,” I’m not just talking about fundraising. Yes, we raise money for library materials, field trips, and much more, and you’ll be hearing more from us about that as the school year gets under way. But we also organize great family events like the fall festival and reading night. And we support school staff members with our grant program and staff appreciation efforts.
Here are just a few of the highlights from last school year, made possible in part by PTO volunteers:
- the annual 3rd grade field trip to the Museum of Science
- snacks provided for more than 270 students during testing week
- two book fairs, during which hundreds of books went home with students and onto the shelves of our school library
- a family reading night with the mayor and police chief serving as celebrity readers
- new audio equipment installed for use in school assemblies and student performances
- new classroom rugs for all preK through 1st grade teachers
- a reception for graduating 5th graders and their families
If you’re looking for a way to get involved at school, we can help. We have moms, dads, grandparents, and other family and community members who help out. Our volunteers are in the classroom but also at home. Any amount of time you can give is great, whether it’s two hours a year or two hours a week. Whatever works best for you, we can make it work!
Before you leave, please pick up this handout [hold up the handout or flyer] at our back-to-school table in the hallway—it has information on how you can get involved in the PTO and sign up for our email list. This way, we can keep you informed about events and volunteer opportunities. And don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook, too.
Thanks again for being here tonight. I look forward to getting to know you this school year!
Reduce Your Anxiety
Does your stomach flip-flop or your heart race at the thought of giving a speech? People who present for a living still get nervous before giving a talk, but they’ve learned ways to reduce their anxiety—and you can, too.
Breathe. There are several relaxing breath techniques you can try, like Dr. Andrew Weil's 4-7-8 Breath pattern, that help slow heart rates and calm those jitters.
Think positively. Replace negative thoughts about your ability (“I’m a bad speaker”) with positive, supportive thinking (“I’m getting better every time I do this”).
Practice in front of a mirror or a small group of friends who will share helpful feedback. Knowing your material will help you be more conversational and less nervous.
Recruit a backup person. If you’re anxious about not knowing an answer to a question, ask another board member to be on hand to help.
Look for training. Groups like Toastmasters International exist to help people polish their speaking skills with in-person and online classes.
Find confidence. Remind yourself that you know more about your group, your topic, and your goals than anyone else in the room.
Originally posted in 2016 and updated regularly.