For those who fear public speaking

We all have our weaknesses as graduate students. I’ll say it: mine is public speaking. I get this queasy feeling in the stomach and my imagination turns wild with all the things that could go wrong. I think that a lot of us struggle with public speaking and it happens to be one of the most important skills in graduate school. Because of fear, many students avoid talks – in lab meetings, group activities, conferences – which defeats an important purpose of grad school and academia. That is, sharing thoughts and opinions, building ideas together, and making connections. And so, I wanted to share some tips that I am learning to overcome this obstacle.

Don’t be afraid of not having an answer

I often find myself fearing questions coming from the audience after my presentation. What if I don’t know? What if I look ridiculous? After hearing another great talk, I realized that the key is knowing how to approach not knowing. So what if you don’t know? When a presenter responds with, “Huh, great question. I actually do not have an answer, but I would like to look more into it and discuss later,” then it doesn’t seem so bad, right? Besides, if someone with a question ever ridicules the presenter for not knowing the answer, then that person would just seem worse than the presenter. We are graduate students and it is completely fine that we are still learning. In fact, it is always fine to be learning!

Be funny

Bringing some humor into the presentation connects me to the audience. If I can make them laugh, I feel more confident during my talk. It doesn’t even need to be that funny, but small joke, a personal story, or perhaps a captivating slide during the presentation is just enough to ease yourself and engage the audience. I cannot empathize enough how useful this is for boosting your confidence!

Prepare well in advance

Preparing well in advance has become an important way for me to stay calm and collected during a talk. This gives me space to find my own words without looking at the slides (or notes) and losing the momentum while I speak. I have found that it helps to write down some keywords as I practice, and then overtime incorporate each point into my speech. Another important part is to practice in front of other peers, as your speech will be different depending on whether you are alone or with someone. Plus, it’s always great with feedback.

Failing is good

I recently took an improv workshop, where I learned that one should not be afraid of failing. This is probably the hardest thing for me, as I am terrified of letting myself or others down. However, we all fail at some point in our lives. And really, what’s so bad about that? Failure can be the best way to learn new things about yourself and become better at skills. Also, failure can be fun to some extent, if you don’t take it too seriously. During the improv workshop, the best moments were actually when someone failed, as it humanized them and made everyone have a good laugh together. If you can learn to laugh at yourself when you fail, then really, you can handle anything. So remember, it is fine to make mistakes during your talk. If something goes wrong, so what? Just laugh and keep going!


Cover photo by Marcos Luiz Photograph // Unsplash

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