2016 Conference Management & Professional Development

Explain Your Work! 5 Public Speaking Tips You Can Use Now (#MPD2)

Can you explain what you do for a living—and how you contribute to your campus community—succinctly? If folks have a hard time understanding your job or your team’s role, you might be not be getting the credit you deserve.

That was the idea behind Explain Your Work! 5 Public Speaking Tips You Can Use Now. Genevieve Howard, or @HowGen if you’re of the Twitter sort, delivered a practical, useful, and interactive session on how we can choose our words more wisely and enhance our presentation style to get people on our side.

It doesn’t matter how smart or capable someone is, she said; if you can’t express yourself, you will be underappreciated. Speaking skills are crucial to your career, she continued. Even those who do not face the public often still must convey ideas, make cases, and, in general, share their work with colleagues.

The first step, of course, is getting comfortable enough to talk to/in front of colleagues. In her 30s, Genevieve—a self-admitted introvert—explained, she challenged herself to speak up at least once at every meeting she attended, even if it was just a “When is the next meeting?”

Genevieve broke her presentation down into five areas, and the thread was being more open.

  1. Open your mouth – It sounds obvious. You open your mouth to talk. But it’s more than that. She admitted she’s a natural mumbler. And she reminded us the message isn’t necessarily what we say – it’s how the listener hears and understands. So speak clearly. Use the right volume. Here, she also talked about getting right to the point; most people’s attention-level is at the highest right when you start talking, so get to the big ideas first. She suggested sending complicated information ahead of time and in a different form since those are the types of details that can lose people during a presentation. Finally, she suggested tailoring the information to the audience and using a people-first approach to explain information. This means less of the “this is how this big complicated thing works on a technical level” and more of a this is how this will affect this group of people.” She called volunteers up to the front of the room for an activity that illustrated this notion. One person read off a really jargon-filled reply and another read a user-friendly statement that made much more sense.
  2. Open your mind – Train for your presentations as you would for sports, Genevieve urged us. And a dress rehearsal was a key takeaway from this – wear the outfit you plan to present in. This allows you to see how you move in those clothes. She suggested making the practice rounds harder, such as not using notes during run-throughs, but then having them during the actual presentation. Finally, in this section, she reminded us that we get nervous because we care.
  3. Open up the front of your body – Body language can affect our presentations. Crossed arms creates a barrier between speaker and audience. Hands in pockets is too casual. Even clasped hands across the front of our body distances us from our audience even if it looks politer than arms crossed. Stand with your hands to your side at rest, and be expressive during the talk. Open arms builds a relationship with your listeners.
  4. Open your lungs – Breathe. Make friends with the pause. Learn your crutch words and then toss them away.
  5. Open your ears – Video yourself to help you rehearse; pay attention to not just what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it. Pay attention to the audience. If you notice they’re getting weary, change the pace, take a break, or shift topics. Genevieve noted that a yawning guest isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the nature of listening makes people yawn.

Genevieve closed by reminding us that we need to be able to be effective speakers when talking to the people who lead institutions and support our teams financially. Speaking, she said, is a leadership skill. We can be talented and good at what we do, but if you can get out there and tell people what you do and why you do it, you’re a leader.

Photo Credit: AgenciaCN Flickr via Compfight cc


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By Donna Talarico

Donna Talarico, a Red-Stapler-winning HighEdWeb presenter and volunteer editor for Link, is an independent writer and content strategist. She is the marketing columnist for Wiley's Recruiting and Retaining Adult Learners, and her work has also been published in CASE Currents, The Guardian Higher Education Network, and elsewhere. From 2010 to 2015, she told the Elizabethtown College story as part of an award-winning marketing and communications team. Always a storyteller, before higher ed she worked in print and broadcast media, and for a leading eCommerce company. She is the founder and publisher of Hippocampus Magazine, a bimonthly creative nonfiction journal and small press. She loves road trips, board games, greasy spoon diners, and words.