Public speaking is an important aspect of successfully completing graduate school that is sometimes overlooked by graduate students. Although, the PhD is a research degree, graduate students use public speaking for teaching, research presentations, and speaking up in class. As a graduate student, you should not wait until your defense to present your research. To be successful, you need to be proactive in finding opportunities to publicly present your research. As a first-year student you should attend a professional conferences to see how other academics present their research. First-year students can also join or start a Toastmasters organization on campus or find a local Toastmasters in your area. If your university offers a public speaking course take it—this is one course that will benefit you for the rest of your life. If you are a more advanced student, you should find opportunities either on campus or at regional or national conferences to present your research ideas. You do not have to wait until the research is completed. You can volunteer to give a class lecture on your research topic. On campus lunch brown bags or seminars are there so that students can present their ideas and get feedback from people interested in their topic. Organizers of these seminars are always looking for volunteers to fill the calendar. If you are stuck in your research, presenting at an on-campus brown bag/seminar is a good way to get unstuck by the feedback and fresh ideas that the audience can provide. While some on-campus seminars can be quite critical and harsh, others can be both helpful and gentle in their feedback as well. Find one that suits your needs.
Below are some 20 tips to help you:
- Don’t Read. Don’t read your paper or your slides when using Power Point. As an audience member, I am generally insulted when a presenter reads to me. I have known how to read since the 2nd grade.
- It’s PowerPoint not Power Paragraph. PowerPoint is set up to jog your memory of what you are going to present not to act as a substitute for lack of practice.
- Number your slides. The audience member might not remember the title of the slide but he or she could keep track of the slide number. It’s important to number your slides to help the audience refer back to a particular slide when he or she has questions.
- The more complicated your topic the more organized your slides should be. I suggest making your slides “idiot proof .” Use colors to group topics, ideas, graphs etc. For example if you are explaining 5 different things you might consider using 5 different colors to indicate a change.
- Be consistent with font, font size, punctuation, citations etc., throughout your slides.
- Practice, practice, practice. There is no substitute for practice. You should practice hearing your own voice, in the same room, and with the same equipment. If your equipment fails during practice you should have a plan B in case the same thing happens during the real presentation.
- Bad things happen to good people. Email a copy of the presentation to yourself and friend, keep a hard copy, save it to a jump drive.. just in case.
- Organize your presentation to have a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Every presentation should have a beginning, middle, and end–even if it is a 5 minute presentation.
- Know your presentation even without the slides. Last year a graduate student was getting ready for her defense presentation and the campus experience a “brown out–no electricity on campus.” She found a room with large windows to let some light in and continued to defend her dissertation.
- Slow down your speech and breathe slowly instead of using filler words such as “like” “um” “ah” “and so” etc. Ums and ahs can detract from your message. When a speaker uses too many ums and ahs, the message gets lost and I tend to get distracted by these filler words.
- Leave time for Q & A. If your talk is 30 you should have 1/2 the number of slides (15). In other words the number of slides= 1/2 the time allotted. You should pace yourself —2 minutes per slide is an adequate pace. Less time will cause you to hurry through your presentation and also does not allow time for you to breathe.
- Don’t give handouts. Don’t give handouts until you are ready for the audience to follow along, otherwise they will skip ahead and not pay attention to what you are saying.
- Get a video of your presentation. Public speaking can be traumatizing for some. Nonetheless, it gets easier the more you do it. Many of us have some nervous and unconscious behaviors that detract from our content. Some of these behaviors can be eliminated if we are able to see them on camera. These behaviors include, unconsciously sucking our teeth, playing with keys in our pockets, rolling our eyes when we are trying to recall information, swaying back and forth, holding on to the lectern, slouching, playing with our hair, etc.
- Speak up. If you do not have a microphone, it is important to project your voice across the room. If you are not use to hearing your own voice you might be surprise by what it takes to get message to the back of the room.
- Always carry a bottle of water. I find that if I have not been teaching a face to face course for a long time, when I give a presentation I start coughing. I think that my vocals are not use to that type of speaking and my lungs aren’t use to the breathing and speaking for 2 hours straight.
- If your university does not have research conference for graduate student organize one yourself to showcase your work.
- Start by speaking up and participating in class. Even if you are shy, silence in a graduate course is not welcomed by your professors. Silence might be interpreted as lack of knowledge.
- Practice your 2 or 5 min elevator speech that describes your research without using jargon. You should be able to explain your research to your grandmother especially if she did not get a degree in your field.
- Take a leadership role in the Graduate Student Association where you can practice your public speaking skills either at formal meetings, events, or at graduation.
- Accept invitations from the faculty or staff to speak at Alumni events or campus events. If your advisor asks you to lecture in his absence… do it and if he or she doesn’t ask…volunteer. If you advisor will be out of town he/she would prefer to not cancel class.
Many of these tips I offer to graduate students either in my personal coaching or when they participate in my PhDCompletion Dissertation Boot camp.