This module covers the material in the first of a two-part series on public speaking for teachers. You will find discussion about the psychology and mechanics of speaking which should be useful for future lectures, job talks, discussion leading, etc.
Public speaking, it is commonly said, is one of the biggest fears which people have (in some surveys, second only to death). In academic training, speaking skills are rarely formally taught, which may increase anxiety and discomfort. Yet public speaking is one of the most important skills of a future scholar, and hence is a skill which is commonly tested—from in-class lectures to formal research presentations. The goal of this module is to provide some core materials one can use to being the journey of gaining comfort in public speaking. Under each section, you will see specific tips for how to make public speaking more comfortable.
Much anxiety over public speaking starts from the fact that we presume public speaking is unnatural, that one has to do act in a “special way” when giving a formal talk. In fact, the opposite is true: public speaking is something one practices on a daily basis—anytime we speak with another person we are training our speaking skills. As teachers/academics, we are public speakers whenever we talk about our research at conferences, workshops, etc.
Ways in which we are public speakers/presenters everyday: Social gatherings, speaking to one's advisor, introducing oneself to others at Orientation, dealing with family, chatting on Instant Messenger, participating in a group/team discussion, having meals in a dining hall, etc.
Although the form may vary, we are always communicating with others in a public forum. Many people suffer in “public speaking” because they try to change their speaking patterns, attitudes, etc. when it is time to give an official presentation. Much of the specific training in public speaking is designed to force oneself to go back to what people do normally on an everyday basis.
Possible exercise to practice this tip: introduce yourself to random people on your campus, dining halls, etc. Note that this is not much different from when one has to introduce oneself in an interview, conference or other “high stakes” environments.
Expert public speaking requires transferring the comfort we have on a day-to-day basis to formal environments when we are expected to talk to others. Part of the reason people lack this fear is because they make incorrect assumptions of those who are expert public speakers:
Fear management requires reinterpreting public speaking environments in ways that promote positive performance. See the following handouts for specific examples:
Examples of places where such tactics are used effectively:
All effective public speakers, consciously or not, use these tactics to improve their performance. Doing so consciously and consistently can allow a speaker to minimize nervousness at any time.
Great resources for this tip:
Handling Q & A is often one of the most scary and nerve wracking aspects of public speaking, especially in the life of a graduate student. With some specific tips and practice, it can be a very useful part of any speaker's skill set.
Module developed by Anthony Berryhill and Paul Lagunes, 2008