Author: Julie Walker
Me presenting at my first national conference, CERF (Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation)
I don't know about you all, but I have always had a love hate relationship with public speaking. On one hand one of my favorite things about science is getting making it accessible through communicating it in the form of an interesting story. The feeling of validation you get when you convince someone to be genuinely interested in your work doesn't suck either. Yet on the other hand the thought of talking to someone on the phone none the less to a crowded room of people makes me want to vomit. If you struggle like I do to manage being a good science communicator and your anxiety at the same- here are some tricks I have learned that might just be helpful to you.
*Full disclaimer: I am not an expert in public speaking and I the thought of public speaking still makes me feel like I drank a gallon of coffee- but this has made it a little bit easier*
1. Start small
If possible, try and make you first talk to the smallest friendliest crowd possible. Check to see if your department or professional society has smaller meetings for graduate students or local chapter meetings that you can present at. Keeping the stakes low will help you focus not on the stress of a large room and more on just working on your presentation skills.
2. Make it idiot proof
When you are developing your presentation try and make it as easy as possible to follow - for both your audience and yourself when you have frazzled stress brain. How do you do this? Keep only the information that is absolutely necessary to get you point across on the screen. Anything else will distract your audience, or might steer your to ramble about a tangent for the entirety of your allotted time. Having a cue word or graphic to come across the screen to remind yourself to emphasize an important point is also a good tactic if you are afraid that you might forget it in the stress of the moment.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
This one is probably the biggest "duh..." of all but "practice makes perfect" is a cliche for a reason. But once you have your presentation made practice, practice, practice. I have subjected my SO, my labmates, blank walls, and even my dog to my stuttered rambling. The biggest tip I can give is even if you don't want to memorize a script for your presentation, at least memorize the transitions, this will help make you presentation flow and keep you from being surprised by the next slide.
4. Pick a friendly face
Find someone who looks like they ate rainbows for breakfast, and have birds dress them every morning. That's who you are giving this talk too. You don't need any passive scowlers in your life, good vibes only. The more engaged the person seems the more relax you will be. However- no matter how many rainbow someone eats, they may still get freaked out if you stare them down the entire time, so maybe pick a couple smilers and bounce between them- better yet pick a friend to be a ringer to plant in the audience and stare as much as you want.
5. Imagine everyone in the room doesn't hate you they are probably just tired
My biggest fear when public speaking is that everyone in the room is judging my work, my speaking ability, and my appearance. However, from being an audience member in many talks, most people aren't busy sitting around judging other people they are just trying to stay awake after a long day of sitting in a crowded conference room and making small talk with peers. So instead of fixating on what other people are thinking- fixate on making them not bored. If you manage to make your talk so engaging that it distracts them from checking their email for 15 minutes, you have done your job as an effective science communicator.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice again
Once you have your talk done, why not take it out for a spin once and a while? The more times you give the same presentation the easier it will be. Without the stress of making the presentation and figuring out exactly what you are going to say, you may be able to reduce your stress from several days before a presentation to maybe just a couple hours or maybe even a couple minutes if your lucky.
Well that's about all the tips I have- if you happen to have any more for improving presentation skills- leave them in the comments!
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