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The Art of Speaking

By Gaurav Talwar, 2nd year Life Sciences Student

Your adrenaline begins to pump. You feel your sweaty palms. Your legs begin to shake.

We all have been in one situation or another where the task of having to speak in front of a group of people seemed overly daunting and perhaps more difficult than writing a final exam. Whether that situation be responding to a professor’s question in an auditorium of 500 students, attending a job interview where your first impression really matters or simply giving a class presentation, we are repeatedly faced with the challenge of overcoming our fear of public speaking. However, as terrifying as we may make the situation seem, there IS A WAY to overcome our fear and to embrace public speaking in a more pleasant and enjoyable manner.

Personally, public speaking has been a passion for me since middle school. Despite feeling anxious before each time I spoke and oftentimes not doing as well as I hoped, I found myself becoming increasingly motivated to speak in front of large groups of people and to share my ideas. Simply put, I began to view public speaking as a form of art. Similar to how a painter may combine different colours, shapes and painting techniques to create a picture or how a musician may use different notes to create a complex rhythm, a public speaker tries to convey a particular message using a perfect balance of words and presentation techniques. Sometimes an artist finds a perfect balance while during other times they don’t. However, they do not give up after a rough patch of trials and instead practice their skills to perfection.

With that aim, I decided to join a public speaking club here at Queen’s called Agora Speakers. During each of our meetings, we have the opportunity of giving impromptu speeches regarding various themes (sometimes interview questions, business style, anecdotes, scary stories during Halloween…) and to present any prepared presentations we may have for a course or outside commitment. The best part is that the club is totally student run! The club meets every Monday, from 6:30pm to 8:00pm in the JDUC and is a great place to practice your public speaking skills without the fear of being judged or making a mistake!

Just as a starting point, here are a few techniques which I have found to be very effective in giving presentations:

  1. If you have very little time to prepare for a response, try to find a structure. Figure out the first AND the last sentence of your speech and the main points you want to address in between. By having your speech mapped out in a logical manner, you can work off of a general outline and can guide yourself towards little goals during your speech.
  2. Avoiding using filler words. Filler words include “umm”, “like”, “you know” and anything else you may have a natural tendency to say when you are thinking out loud. As an alternative, practice varying your pace and using pauses. Having a 2-3 second pause in your speech may seem awkward and long to you, but it gives the audience a time to process what you have said and to get ready for what you will say next.
  3. Look confident! You may be very nervous inside, but the audience does not know that unless you tell them. If you fidget with papers in your hand, then perhaps try using cue cards instead of large scripts. If you move around aimlessly, then begin by planting your feet in a comfortable position. With practice, begin to walk around the room with purpose and use hand gestures to add emphasis to your key points.
  4. Don’t say sorry! When we make mistakes (e.g. you forget saying a sentence, need to back track for a bit, or need to pause), we often apologize. However, unless what you said is truly a major blunder, continue to move on. Saying sorry only adds emphasis to the mistake and forces the audience to notice it, even if they did not notice at first.
  5. Before a prepared presentation, record your practice presentations and watch them constructively critique yourself. Also, grab a few friends and ask them to give constructive feedback. Even better, join a club like Agora Speakers!

Hopefully with the few tips mentioned above and with a more positive outlook on public speaking, you can overcome any of the remaining stress you face when presenting (although feeling a little nervous is completely fine!). After all, public speaking is a form of art you have been practicing since the time you spoke your first few words. All you have to do now is to master the skill.

Photo courtesy of Brisbane City Council under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0