by Craig Evans
If, like me, you are someone terrified by the prospect of standing up and speaking to a room full of people, then you may have noticed with interest the many posters on campus advertising PAL public speaking sessions. Last Friday, I decided to attend one of these sessions, and received some useful practical advice from a PAL leader about how to improve my public speaking. Here is a summary of the kind of advice she gave:
- Maintain eye-contact and avoid turning your back on the audience: this can happen when a speaker refers to their display slides too often rather than using hand-held notes. By turning their attention away from the audience and breaking eye-contact, a speaker risks losing them completely.
- Use hand and arm gestures: the importance of using hand and arm gestures as part of your presentation style is mostly about preventing the negative signals that can be given off when not using them. Most people, when they are nervous, betray those nerves with involuntary actions such as holding their arm behind their back or fiddling with rings or belt buckles. This can be distracting and alienating for an audience who may begin to doubt the speaker’s authority, which is why it matters to incorporate hand and arm gestures as part of your presentation delivery.
- Modulate your voice: it is perhaps fairly self-evident that speaking in the same monotone will create an impression of dullness that will put listeners off. However, this is not the only reason for modulating your voice. When public speaking, even the most attentive audience member can get distracted by their own train of thought. This is inevitable, but it doesn’t mean that you have lost them completely. Being expressive by varying the tone, pitch and emphasis of your delivery is one way to keep reminding people to listen to what you are saying.
- Remember to pause: the PAL leader provided an entertaining rendition of public speaking without pausing for breath, as an example of what can happen when our nerves get the better of us. For some people, not pausing enough is the result of wanting to get through the ordeal of public speaking as quickly as possible. However, pausing serves several very important functions. It allows the speaker to take a moment to clearly formulate their next utterance, it gives the listener time to digest the information that the speaker has imparted to them, and it allows the speaker to assert their authority as the person controlling the pace of their presentation.
- Make use of the whole stage: this is important for ensuring that the speaker is visible to all members of the audience, and it helps them to dominate the space with their presence. However, the speaker’s movements need to be appropriate to what they are saying. It would be quite disconcerting if they continuously paced the length of the stage, back and forth like a caged lion. Sometimes, such as when visual data in the form of graphs or diagrams is being presented, it is appropriate for the speaker to be fairly inconspicuous. When discussing argumentative stances, however, using the length of the stage together with the other presentation features mentioned above can be an effective way of encouraging the audience to engage with the ideas being presented.
In addition to this advice, the PAL public speaking session that I attended included role play practice. This is invaluable for anyone who finds the anxiety of public speaking to be quite debilitating, and it provides a safe environment in which to practise with people who are in the same situation as you. For that reason, I will certainly be attending other PAL public speaking sessions again in the future.
If anyone is interested in attending these sessions, here are the details for where and when they are held:
In 3D41 (accessed through the Library):
Tue 11.00 – 12.00
Wed 12.00 – 13.00 and 14.00 – 15.00
Thu 12.00 – 13.00
Fri 13.00 – 14.00
I highly recommend it.