Public speaking is tough. It requires courage and confidence to stand in front of a crowd and talk. It is also a skill that can be practiced and strengthened over time.
Throughout most graduate programs, there are many opportunities to speak to a group of people, including giving presentations to peers, hosting update meetings with a technical team, and even defending a thesis. (That’s the goal, right!?) Usually these presentations will be to a group of professionals in your field who know more than you do – but that is OKAY. You’re there to give a presentation, and they are there to listen to you.
It is important to develop communication and presentation skills early in your career because it can set you apart in your graduate program, in an interview, and in your career.
I used to dread public speaking. I grew up very shy and quiet, and I even felt uncomfortable talking with friends in a large group. When I had to give presentations in grade school, my hands would sweat and visibly shake, my face would turn red, and my voice would quiver. It was one of my worst nightmares.
Thankfully, I had the opportunity to participate in an organization called Toastmasters International which allows people to come together to practice their communication and listening skills in a safe environment. It gives the chance to talk in front of a group and to receive feedback in a structured manner. I participated in my company’s chapter during a summer internship, and it helped me understand the value of practicing such a valuable skill.
During these weekly meetings, we took turns giving speeches and playing games. Each of these activities were timed, and the meetings were very well structured. Every new member had to give an ‘icebreaker’ speech for five minutes in which they could pick the topic. (As someone who was unaccustomed to giving speeches, five minutes is a long time!) One of my favorite games involved handing out random drawings and the recipient had to describe and critique it for two minutes. These games really helped me learn to think on my feet and how to talk freely in front of a crowd.
After lots of opportunities to give presentations and many hours practicing, I do not fear public speaking quite as much. While I am more comfortable speaking in front of a group now, this change did not happen overnight. Sometimes I still get shaky hands, but overall, I feel more confident in my ability to communicate.
If you want to practice your public speaking skills, then I highly recommend getting involved in such a program. Toastmasters has chapters worldwide and can be used to improve yourself and also your resume.
Aggie Toastmasters is the chapter located at Texas A&M. They have a website, but they have more up-to-date information on their Facebook page as TAMUToastmasters.
Public speaking is a skill, and there is always room for improvement. The tricky part is finding the time and audience to practice and receive feedback. Toastmasters International is one organization that can provide the necessary tools for improvement.
Kelsey Fieseler | Mechanical Engineering
is a first-year Master’s student in Mechanical Engineering from Sugar Land, Texas.