At one point or another you may have heard that there are two things that people fear most in this world- death, and public speaking.
Thoughts of “What if I mess up?”, “What if people judge me?”, and “What if I get up there and forget everything that I was planning to say?” plague many of us when we get up in front of a crowd. Whether it’s giving a class presentation, a research seminar, or a keynote address at a large event, those pesky negative questions are hard to shake. The act of speaking in front of a large audience can be paralyzing and terrifying for many people, but it doesn’t have to be- IF you work on developing those relevant skills.
Why Develop your Public Speaking Skills?
As graduate students we are expected to give research presentations to diverse audiences throughout our academic careers. For those of us who intend to continue in academia as a postdoc and then professor, giving presentations will essentially become a way of life. It’s therefore important for us to focus on developing and improving these relevant parts of our professional life that are otherwise overlooked.
Deliberately and consciously developing our public speaking skills makes us more effective communicators overall. No matter what career path we might choose, being an effective communicator will be of enormous advantage throughout our professional lives. It also makes us more confident in general, which is a mindset that tends to spill over into other aspects of life as well. Into our research, into our relationships with colleagues, family, and friends, and even how we network and talk to strangers. There may in fact be no other “soft skill” that is more important to professional and personal success.
In addition to conducting independent research, many graduate students here at Texas A&M and elsewhere are also Teaching Assistants. Teaching a class or a lab is, in effect, public speaking- you’re up in front of a group giving a presentation or leading a discussion. Improving public speaking skills can make you a better and more effective teacher, helping to engage the class and communicate information more clearly.
Being able to communicate clearly and effectively in front of large groups is also a great way to build leadership skills. It’s a skillset that’s conducive to the spread of ideas and influence, and it’s critical to success in many professional sectors. It’s also a skillset that most people lack. Building yourself into a better leader and public speaker is a great way to set yourself apart from the competition in the job market and along the upwards “professional ladder”.
For anybody interested in becoming better speaker and communicator then I always suggest getting involved with a local Toastmasters chapter. Toastmasters International is a worldwide organization that promotes communication and public speaking skills among people of all skill levels. A lot of their focus is also on leadership, hence their slogan “Where leaders are made”.
Through their Pathways program they encourage individualized developments of targeted skillsets and provide methods of quantifying progress.
Here at Texas A&M we have a chapter of Toastmasters International in the form of Aggie Toastmasters. If you would like to improve your public speaking or communication skills in a fun, supportive environment then come check it out!
Michael McCloy is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Wildlife & Fisheries Sciences