This article will explain how to develop one of the key skills for postgraduate students and academics, that of public speaking. It is also something that jobseekers in other fields might find useful because public speaking skills can be put to good use in any job interviews and in presentations at work. So here are some dos and don'ts to help you improve your public speaking.
DO control your nerves
No one likes standing up and speaking in public initially (apart from a very few extroverted characters) so it is natural to be nervous. However people such as lecturers develop techniques to conquer nerves so that they can stand up in front of a classroom everyday and deliver clear, confident lectures.
How do they do that? Confidence comes from knowing your material thoroughly; if you are sure that your speech is relevant and aimed at the right level (i.e. not too complex or too simplistic) then you will feel better about delivering it. Similarly familiarise yourself with the room in which you will speak, so you know where the podium will be, how many will be in the audience and so on. Also it's important to realise that some nervousness is natural and beneficial to you: the adrenaline pumping round your body will help you deliver a better speech, although this should only kick in a few minutes before you are due to speak, not several hours or even days before! Some people find that deep breathing techniques work to calm them down; others avoid caffeine for the few hours before the ‘performance'.
DON'T speak too fast
Linked with being nervous is the problem of speaking too fast. One of the most common public speaking mistakes is to speak at a pace that your listeners find hard to follow. Think back to good public speakers you have heard or even brilliant orators from public life such as Martin Luther King Jr. The pauses and pace of delivery in their speeches are key to maximising the impact of their words.
To help you to deliver at a natural pace, try not to simply read from a pre-prepared script. Instead, prepare notes and bullet points and have the confidence to speak from these and your memory. You will speak more slowly and naturally. However, this is a high level skill; many lecturers don't have the confidence to deliver speeches in this way, so be aware that it may take you several years to develop the technique.
Along with pace, think about the tone and volume of your voice. Don't allow your tone to become monotonous and don't speak too quietly. It's worth asking for a microphone if you have a quiet speaking voice and you have to try to carry your voice across a large room.
DO plan ahead
The best public speakers are well prepared. They know their subject and their audience. They know that their speech fills the allotted time. They are prepared to answer questions about their subject.
This is especially important when preparing speeches for a job interview. You may be given only ten minutes in which to outline your research or teaching interests, this is a real challenge because ten minutes will go very quickly. So practise giving your speech at home to check that you do not run over your time limit. If you are preparing supplementary materials such as handouts, ensure that these are correct and that there are enough for your audience. In terms of the content of the speech don't try to do too much, keep it simple. Especially in a job interview presentation you want to offer an opening to discussion, not the final word. Find out who your audience is going to be; you will want to address a room full of postgraduate students in a very different manner to a room full of professors or administrators.
DON'T read from a script