Step Up and Speak

By Christopher Woo, Peer for Career

Along with spiders, flying, and the dark, public speaking is one of the things that people fear most. Spiders and airplanes can be avoided, but unfortunately, a student can never avoid the anxiety and stress that is public speaking. Whether it comes to presentations, speeches, or networking, a student will eventually be required to get up and talk in front of a group of strangers. Although initially unnerving, there are many things that you can do (besides picture the crowd in their underwear) to prepare and make the whole ordeal of speaking to a room of glaring eyes a lot less daunting.

Prior to getting up to deliver your presentation or speech, there are a couple steps that you need to take. For one, know your material and practice, practice, practice. Some may think that they can wing a presentation, but that is never recommended. Knowing your material inside and out gives you confidence, and when talking to strangers, confidence is key. You will be able to answer any follow up questions and you can speak knowledgeably about your topic. Another thing you can do to build confidence is dress appropriately on the day of your presentation. Looking good will make you feel good, resulting in a higher level of confidence. Pay attention to your hair, makeup, dress, tie dimples, and whatever else it takes to make you feel good about yourself going into the presentation.

Time to present. Now during the presentation, there are some things that you want to take note of. Know your audience. Notice where the professionals are, where the professors are, where that kid in the corner dozing off is. Know who you are talking to and target your presentation to them in terms of language and details. You would use different vocabulary and details for a group of students than you would for a group of professionals in the industry.

While speaking, be aware of your tone of voice and the rate at which you speak. Some people tend to have a higher-pitched voice when nervous, and that is fine. Just make sure you speak at a tone and rate where people can understand you. Usually that means talking at a normal, maybe even slightly slower than normal, pace and enunciating your words. You can have the best ideas ever, but if no one can understand you, it won’t matter. Keeping eye contact with your audience will also help you appear more confident and gain the audience’s trust. Try not to stare at the floor or your notes all the time or the audience will think you have not prepared well and stare even more blankly at you.

Most of all, the key to public speaking is to relax. You prepared, dressed well, and you are the expert on the topic you are presenting. Even if you skipped a line on your notes or missed a sentence on a slide, don’t worry about it. Your audience does not know your presentation and won’t even realize the mistake unless you make a big deal out of it. As hard as it sounds, try to enjoy yourself and have fun. It is your time to command the room.