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‘Cat in the Stax: Overcoming America’s #1 Fear

Jerry Seinfeld once said, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” 

Unfortunately, at some point in your life, if it hasn’t happened already, you’re going to need to give a speech or presentation, especially in college. If you’re a rare college student or professional that has somehow managed to get through your academic career without public speaking—we would love to know how, so please share! 

Although I cannot say I never get nervous before a presentation, I did work as a public speaking tutor during my undergraduate studies and have some tips to share.

Tip #1 PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

  • This probably isn’t the first time you’ve been told practice is important in public speaking and honestly, it probably won’t be the last. You can know the topic you’re presenting on inside and out, but that doesn’t mean that you know how to talk about it to a room full of students that know nothing about the topic. By practicing, you can figure out how to present the material in a clear and cohesive way. Practicing also boosts your confidence and reduces your nerves, which aids to a better sounding presentation. 

Tip #2 If something feels awkward, change it

  • This tip goes hand-in-hand with the importance of practicing. If a transition between topics feels awkward while you’re practicing or you cannot pronounce a word no matter how many times you listen to Google say it, find a way to change it. Anything that feels awkward in your dorm room or in front of your roommates is going to feel 10 times worse on the day of a presentation in front of your classmates and professor. Avoid the potential that these things will mess you up on the day-of by changing them ahead of time. 

Tip #3 Keep your slides concise

  • The purpose of presentation slides is to help your audience follow along with your topic or to enhance your topic through images. This means that as cute as a sad puppy may look in your presentation, if it is not adding valuable information to the topic, leave it out. As far as text on slides go, you don’t want it to be overwhelming. If you have a paragraph of information on your slide, people will be preoccupied reading the text instead of listening to what you have to say. Put key points on your slide to guide the audience through your speech and re-emphasize key points. 

Tip #4 Prepare your notecards strategically

  • In a similar way, while your slides are there to guide the audience, your notes or note cards are there to guide you! It can be tempting to write down every fact or even every word on your notecard, but doing that is just going to take away from the overall presentation and potentially confuse you. Only put down information on your note cards that you can’t remember during practice. Don’t be afraid to put presentation notes on your note cards too, like “slow down” or “switch slide here”!

Tip #5 Take advantage of available resources

  • Finally, make sure to take advantage of the various resources that you have here on campus. The Center for Speaking and Presentation can help you refine your public speaking skills and talk you through any issue or fear you may have about presenting. You can drop-in to the Learning Commons on the second floor of Falvey or make an appointment in advance here.

As we come up on the last month of the semester, make sure you’re taking advantage of your resources and being as prepared as possible for any assignments thrown your way! Did I miss any public speaking tips or resources? If I did, drop them in a comment below!


Jenna Newman is a graduate assistant in Falvey Memorial Library and a graduate student in the Communication Department. Current mood: Buying all the notecards available from Staples.


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Last Modified: November 11, 2020