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Public Speaking at College: How To Present

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In an earlier article, I discussed the first, central aspect to a successful in-class presentation: preparation. In this article, I address the second, central aspect which is presentation or how you present yourself to an audience during your speech.

Your goal in presenting is to be captivating and not distracting, to appear confident and in control and not meek, nervous or emotional, to develop a relationship with your audience and not discredit yourself and what you are speaking about.

Control Your Emotions: Fear, Discouragement, Nervousness

For many people, addressing an audience in the form of public speaking is paralyzing. It is so paralyzing that they would actually prefer to die than go in front of a group of people and talk. Jerry Seinfield once said, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

This phobia is called glossophobia or stage fright. Its symptoms are shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, nausea, sweating, incontinence, and the tensing of muscles. Some that suffer from this may go to great lengths by seeking medical care or drugs to combat their anxiety; however, it should be somewhat comforting to know that the majority of the average population suffers from this fear—actors, performers, politicians, teachers, preachers alike.

Ways to Handle Your Fears and Emotions

1. Empty your bladder.

The discomfort and embarrassment of near pant-wetting experiences can just add insult to injury in your disquieted state.

2. Breathe deeply and allow your heart rate to decrease.

Remember: Your breath controls the quality and control of your voice and ability to project. Deep breaths can decrease your heart rate which allows your muscles to loosen and your voice and joints to not shake, hence the “knocking knees and the squeaky voice.”

3. Have a complete handle on your material.

The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be about your presentation, diminishing some of the dread you may have.

Project Confidence

While you may not be feeling confident, it is crucial that you appear that way. Projecting an image of poise, assertiveness and certainty can command the attention and interest of your audience resulting in a successful presentation.

Ways to Project Confidence

1. Avoid self-soothing behavior or nervous movements.

Holding an arm, rubbing the side of your leg, rocking from side to side, touching your face, twirling your hair, rubbing your hands, fidgeting with your clothes, and other “self-soothing” behavior screams insecurity! Be completely aware of what your body is doing at all times. If you move your hands, make sure it is in response or descriptive of what you are saying in that moment.

2. Maintain good posture and make use of the space you are speaking in.

You can determine many things by observing one’s posture. Arms folded and back hunched indicates diffidence or uneasiness. Broad shoulders, arms to the side and a plum back and neck line shows certainty and boldness, both elements of confidence.

You also want to make good use of the space you are speaking in. Feel free to move about in order engage the audience at different angles. This movement causes them to be more alert because they have to follow your motions in the room as opposed to you standing in one spot.

3. Speak slowly, clearly, loudly and emphatically.

If the audience can’t understand what you are saying because you are speaking too fast, too inarticulately or mumbled, or too softly, how will you continue to win their fascination for the whole of your speech? Practicing by reciting what you will say repeatedly will help you slow down and become more eloquent in your expression.

Also, it is without a doubt, key to speak in a manner of enthusiasm and passion. A monotone presenter is like listening to the sound of an old radiator unit. Do not bore your audience.

4. Do not read from a cue card.

It may seem more comfortable for the speaker to read his entire presentation from cue cards. Ask yourself how interested you would be to sit in on twenty-five minute speech where the speaker read purely, word for word, from their cue cards.

Your aim in a successful presentation is to communicate your point, not read to them. They would be more captivated by you reading a children’s book aloud with pictures. Communicate and make it interesting for the listener by showing the audience your own regard for the subject matter.


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