Public speaking is an art everybody needs to master these days for a multitude of reasons, one of them being academic success. It was one of the hardest things for me as a university student. I still remember my first oral presentation: I felt like a deer in the headlights. I thought I was doomed to fail even before I started. Of course, it got better with time. For those of you who confront the same problem, I have come up with a list of public speaking tips you might find useful:
1. Build Your Enthusiasm
You will have to research and speak about a lot of subjects – some of them not right up your alley. Nevertheless, try to approach the activity as if it was the most fascinating thing in the world because you will obtain better results while working on something you actually care about. Does that mean to trick yourself? To some extent, yes.
My suggestion is to find one piece of information regarding that topic that makes you curious. Try a different, non-conventional approach. I had to do a presentation on autism, thus I chose to focus on a less-discussed aspect of it, namely the savant syndrome.
2. Work for It
This is a given, but allow me to elaborate.
I know it’s easier to download a slideshow or to use a project made by an older friendly student, but trust me, you’re sabotaging yourself. When you do your own research, you understand the matter better, therefore you can talk about it easier.
Once you have enough information, write your paper. Most teachers demand a written, more detailed version of your presentation. Make sure to cite all the sources and make it as clear as possible. After that, read it until you have a good grasp of the material. Separate it into smaller sections and identify a key-phrase for each of them. Make sure to include them in your speech as transition sentences from one part of your speech to another.
3. Master the Speech
Out of all the public speaking tips, the most important one is this: deliver the speech out loud. Things always sound better in our heads, so don’t count on this illusion. It might seem silly at first, but this exercise can help to improve your elocution. Play with the tone of your voice, straighten your posture, and maintain it. Notice the parts of the speech you struggle with and revise them carefully.
Or better yet, talk to somebody willing to listen to you. This way you can get used to the feeling of being watched and you can get real-time feedback. The more you practice your oratorical skills, the easier it will get. Being in front of a room full of people can be overwhelming, but remember this: you studied hard, you know a lot more about the subject than everybody else in the room (minus the teacher), you have the right to be there and you got this!
4. Observe Your Audience
To appeal to the members of the audience, you have to know how to keep their interest alive, so you will have to pay attention to their interests and attitudes.
The good thing in school is that your audience will be pretty much the same every time: your classmates and the teachers. By attending other students’ presentations, you will see what techniques they use, what feedback they receive, what did you like about them.
I remember one of my classmates used to make interesting Prezi presentations that immediately caught the eye. Another one had a distinct way of speaking that commanded attention. These are only a few tricks you can try and see how they work for you.
5. Engage Your Audience
It’s important to include the public in your presentation. Think of it as an information exchange: your classmates can learn something new and you can improve your communication skills based on their feedback.
I used to hate this part, but it’s a must if you want to effectively disseminate the information. So, how to do that? Well, it depends on the subject of your presentation, how much time do you have, the location and materials you can use. Some of the ideas I have used in the past are:
- Introduce the subject, talk a little about it, then ask some general open questions like ‘What do you think this concept means?’ or ‘I would like you to tell me when have you experienced this phenomenon` or ‘Please tell me how this can be related to (a broader theme)`
- Plan little exercises, like asking them to observe a certain behavior in a short clip video and take notes that you will be discussing later;
- Split them into little groups and give every one of them a little task to complete, like summarizing a fragment, who will then be shared with the entire audience. Your role will be to supervise the activity, to mediate between groups, and then to highlight the conclusions of the exercise.
It’s up to you. Remember to keep the task easy, but interesting enough that your audience will want to partake in.
6. Do Things Your Way
After a few presentations, you will figure out what techniques you are most comfortable with. Using a PowerPoint or not. Writing the main ideas on the blackboard or not. If you work better alone or in groups.
And most importantly, let your personality shine through. Express your opinion about the subject. Share a tale that proves your point. Use appropriate humor. For example, I had to do a presentation on mourning and grief. To avoid inflicting a state of unease on my audience, I used a Grim Reaper meme. Even the Dean appreciated the idea!
7. Team up Smartly
People tend to work with their friends because it gives them a sense of comfort in the face of social anxiety. While this is essentially a good thing, you must understand that having fun is not the equivalent of performance. I have worked with people I liked only to find myself doing most of the work or having a hard time because our views on the subject were fundamentally different.
So, if you have to do a group project, try and pick somebody as capable and as invested in the project as yourself. If it happens to already have or develop a good relationship with them, that’s great! But the focus should be on what each one of you can bring to the table to make a good presentation. And here is another one of my public speaking tips: divide your tasks: one can do the research and the other could write the paper. If one prefers to speak about the theoretical aspects of the subject, the other one could do the practical exercises with the audience.
These are some of the public speaking tips I successfully tried. Of course, every student’s experience is different. It’s important to learn from every experience and improve your presentation skills little by little. Here are more suggestions on this topic that you can put into practice