In a course I'm currently involved in building, I’ve posted a number of articles that provide tips on how to do a better job with presentations and speaking in public. I’m sure you will also be able to find a lot of other resources should you look for them. But I also attempted to share the things that have helped me personally. I can hold my own as a writer. But speaking is a different matter. I’m not a natural orator. Words flow better from my mind to my fingertips than to my mouth. Worse, I was awfully shy and modest growing up. I constantly feared looking stupid in front of people. Talking when under pressure filled me with great anxiety. I dreaded oral presentations and exams as a student. I also remember my very first paper presentation in a conference in Vietnam. It was probably no worse than some other presentations, but the ordeal felt awful. Thankfully, I overcame a lot of these weaknesses in time. I’ll never claim to be a great public speaker. In fact, I remain highly introverted, not wanting to have to deal with talking to people too much. Speaking spontaneously, let alone doing so in public, remains a challenge. But I can manage my fears and anxieties better now. And I think that’s what many of you need to do as well. Looking back, I believe there have been a handful of things I kept in mind which have helped significantly, and I would like to share them with you here.
Yes, people do rehearse in front of the mirror until they get everything right. But I’m not so sure that it’s absolutely necessary to go that far. Even imagining yourself speaking can help. In that paper presentation in Vietnam, I had not realized that I prepared too many slides and ended up spending more time that was allotted to me. It got so bad that I used up all the unspent minutes by the previous presenters and still got cut off by the moderator. Not being able to finish your presentation for any reason is never a good thing. Practicing, even if it’s just in your head, can give you a good idea of how long it will take you to present your slides. I usually do this maybe twice or thrice as the day of presentation approaches. This becomes even more important to me if I’m not given a lot of time for the presentation. Even for a pre-recorded presentation, this can be helpful as it allows you to spend less time trying to edit your video, deciding what to remove so it meets the time limit. I learned that with my style, it typically wouldn’t be a good idea to prepare more than 10 sparse slides for a 10-15 minute presentation. Try doing the same and figure out your own pace.
Compared to those in other campuses, we UPOU Faculty typically don’t often get to hold classroom sessions. I know I didn’t. So, for a time, I sought it out, offering every chance I got to hold face to face sessions because I wanted to get better. If you are a long-time follower of any online personality, be it a podcaster, reviewer or influencer (or perhaps you are one yourself), you would notice how their content improves over time. You can feel that they talk with more and more confidence over time. A bit of self-reflection and critique allows one to go back and assess their strengths and weaknesses, then adjust accordingly. Along with practice, this improvement over time is a function of repetition. Over time, you figure out what equipment works better for you, what mannerisms you need to manage, and what good attributes you have that need to continue to take advantage of. Repetition also helps build expand your comfort zone and be more confident in front of a microphone and camera. I'm not saying this is easy. In fact, those first tries will potentially be an excruciating experience. But as long as you keep going, if done right, chances are, it will get easier.
Get used to listening to your own voice
I remember the first time I ever recorded my own voice. I was around 14 years old. My mini stereo system (a gift from my parents for passing my high school entrance exam) came with a microphone. I was curious about using it. So, one day, I experimented with it and recorded mine and a few of my cousins talking. I was feeling quite good about it. I had a respectable singing voice at the time and was pretty sure I was going to sound good. Then I rewound the tape and pressed play. My cousins’ voices were the first to play and sounded fine to me. But then I cringed the moment I heard myself. My voice was starting to change at the time, but I still sounded a bit too effeminate for my liking. Yes, this was the early 1990s and I had very different sensibilities back then, like most kids of the same age. The point is, it was the start of my love-hate relationship with my voice. I didn't mind singing and playing the guitar. But stick a microphone in front of me and I'd mentally fall apart.
Chances are, you have comparable stories. And in all likelihood, they’re also rooted in this dissonance between what’s called your inward voice and outward voice. This talk from Rebecca Kleinberger offers an easy to understand explanation for this: