Public Speaking: It’s More Than Just Words

In a recent article I wrote for the ASHA Leader Blog,  I shared Ten Tips for Public Speaking that had nothing to do with the words you’ll say. I’m a light-hearted speaker, using lots of humor and storylines to educate my audiences on pediatric feeding. The tips in my article ranged from how I use inspirational lyrics by Taylor Swift to quotes from Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live to maintain momentum in all-day presentations.

Why is speaker stamina and style so important? Because, very few people leave the room remembering your journal references or numerous facts on each slide. Instead, as they exit, they’re thinking about the way you delivered the message. That in turn, makes them remember you for weeks to come and reminds them to refer to the content and implement the strategies you shared in your presentation.

3 Tips to Crush Your Presentation as a First Timer

With the 2019 ASHA Convention right around the corner, some of you may be preparing to give your first Poster Session or Short Course. Or, maybe you’re getting ready to present at your university or state association conference. If you’re a first (or second or third) time presenter, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. But don’t worry!

When coaching a new clinician’s presentation style, my focus has little to do with words and everything to do with a student’s voice …

Be Authentic

Your writer’s voice is the authentic YOU whether you’re reading from the notes for each slide or improvising and expanding upon the topic. Before considering what information to put on each slide, ask yourself:

  • “How will I communicate my personality to the audience?”
  • “What’s the one quality in my delivery that’ll make the connection with every single person in that room?”
  • “What message to I want them to take home about me, and not just the topic of my presentation?”

Consider Your Audience

Consider the audience who hears your voice. Are they all students, and if so, what’s their current level of education? Just as important, how old are they? Half of my class in graduate school was considered “non-traditional,” meaning we were all in our late 20’s and early 30’s. We had very different life experiences from the younger students and a slightly different communication style. And I’m sure the younger students would say the same about us.

Knowing your audience is especially important if you plan to use humor in your presentation. What’s funny to one generation may not appeal to another age group, and frankly, they may not get the joke. Awkward silence is the best way to kill an otherwise fantastic presentation.

Don’t Let Your Voice Rise

Rise up to the occasion but don’t let your voice rise too often. Practice your presentation in front of a mirror and record it. Now, turn the recording over to one of your professors and ask them to listen to a short sample. Listen for two things: upspeak and vocal fry.

The tendency to use upspeak or (the opposite) vocal fry isn’t just generational, it’s geographical. Like any dialect, we tend to adopt certain intonations and a rhythm, depending on where we reside and who interacts with us. Basically, if you’re hanging out with friends who use upspeak or glottal fry, you’re probably also speaking that way, and nobody is noticing including you.

Recently, I had the opportunity to hire a young professional for a paid partnership I was doing with a well-known brand. I chose to interview her because she was a fabulous influencer on Instagram, presented herself in a professional manner in her posts on social media and had tons of personality that shined through the written word. When I heard her voice over the phone, it stopped me in my tracks. She sounded like she was in middle school and her upspeak was so annoying that I ended the interview and moved on to the next candidate. I’m sure she had no idea that she spoke that way, but it was a deal-breaker for this highly publicized and lucrative opportunity. 

Take a Deep Breath

On a final note, take the pressure off yourself. Most often, the audience is very forgiving and truly does not care that you forgot to quote a journal article or left out a slide or had a technology glitch. Smile, be authentic, approach the audience with a pleasant voice. Take a deep breath and take your time. You’ll rock each presentation if you never forget the ultimate advice from Stuart Smalley: “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you.”

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