Given a choice between Design of a Newspaper Page (or something similar to that) and Public Speaking, I chose the latter without hesitation. I have always loved to speak in front of large groups, despite the fact that I often trembled inside. I can manage my nerves well, though, and I enjoy delivering my message; therefore, I was eager to learn new skills through this class.
Unlike me, there are many students who are petrified to take a public speaking class because they hate standing in front of people and talking to them, or simply because they believe that they will never need speaking skills for their career. If this sounds like you, let me assure you: whatever your future profession will be, you will definitely have to make presentations, whether you like it or not, so why not learn it as early as possible and be prepared?
Since many universities oblige you to take public speaking class anyway, I would suggest that you do it during your first semester, as it will be helpful while you are at school. Here are some useful things I learned in my public speaking class:
1. Everyone is nervous while speaking in public, no matter how confident he or she looks. Even your professors feel tension inside. It is just not comfortable to face a large group of people and have their eyes and ears turned at you.
2. Developing your public speaking skills means learning how to control your fear and delivering your message successfully. The more often you practice what you learn, the more confident you will feel delivering every other presentation, so you should use every opportunity to talk in class, whether it is a formal report or a mere answer to someone’s question.
3. No matter how interesting your presentation is, it is always hard to listen if there are no visuals, and don’t you hope for a “first-time student discount” (meaning that the audience will not sympathize with you even if this is a debut). Therefore, you should always do a short Powerpoint presentation, prepare handouts or simply draw a poster. Anything works, as long as there is some kind of visual back up for your presentation. If there are names that the audience may not know, you should put them down, especially if their pronunciation is not a casual one. When your listeners see the information in front of them, they understand it better and remember it longer.
4. There is more than one type of audience: friendly, indifferent, neutral, hostile. The easiest kind to deal with is the neutral one, as they are the material that you can work with. You can tell them whatever you want, and it is up to you to keep them interested. Friendly audience is not as easy as you suppose it is because these listeners usually know who you are and think highly of you, so there is no way you can deliver a presentation that is not as strong as your previous one. Otherwise, they will easily get bored and won’t pay attention. The hardest task is to engage an indifferent audience, as they are not interested in your topic, or you, and will most likely sleep through your presentation. As far as hostile audience is concerned, they are the most fun group to deal with, as it is your job to change their mind about you or the topic you are talking about. You have to be well-prepared and predict what kind of questions may be asked and what the audience’s objections will be. Knowing the type of audience is a must, as it helps to deliver the message in the most effective way. It can be compared to researching on student savings: you should know before you go which place may give you the best deal and how to get this deal from them.
5. Eye contact is powerful. If you stare at your notes, or, what’s even worse, read from the page, no one will listen to you. People usually think that you are poorly prepared, have no idea what your presentation is about and they feel like it’s wasting their time to listen to you. A good idea is to create an outline (on a piece of paper or index cards, whatever you prefer) with major points you are going to make. Write down quotes from experts if you are using any. With this material, you can spend more time looking at your audience to study and react to their facial expressions and gestures. For example, if they look confused, ask if they want you to repeat or clarify what you’ve just said. If they yawn, you should probably give them an interesting piece of information that you were saving for later.
6. Once your presentation is ready and your outline is completed, you have to practice. You may need to record your voice and listen to it, to repeat your presentation in front of the mirror at least, 5 to 10 times, so that when the actual presentation takes place, you will be well-prepared and less nervous. Later on, when you become more experienced, you won’t need to practice so much, but 5 times is generally recommended. Just imagine how awed your classmates will be when you deliver your well-rehearsed informative presentation!
7. And finally, always leave time for questions. You may hate to be asked, but how else will you know that your message was understood and remembered? This is perhaps the most exciting part, as through the questions you can see whether your presentation was clear, what you should improve on and how the message was taken in general. The time you should put aside for questions is usually 3-5 minutes, so there is nothing you should really be scared of.