Tips for giving talks (1)

I will soon be starting the 2nd semester of the academic year, when my 1st-year students are asked to make their first “serious” spoken presentations. Of course they have had some practice speaking in small groups and giving micro-presentations, but even when you have had some practice the first time you have to stand up in front of a room, with everybody looking at you, it can be a bit daunting. Giving talks is something that strikes fear into many student hearts, so over the years I’ve tried to come up with different strategies and pieces of advice to help nervous speakers. I have found that the same advice that I give to students has worked equally well with young lecturing colleagues: lots of people are nervous about giving talks!  I thought I’d start posting up a few of the tips and strategies that I’ve found to be successful, in case they are of any use to other nervous speakers out there – be they students or colleagues! Even though I have been lecturing for about a quarter of a century, I am not a naturally outgoing person so I have used these strategies myself and these tips are based not only on years of trying to help students but also on years of trying to improve my own lectures and my own comfort in delivering them. So these tips are not just plucked from the ether, they are based on my own experience. These are tips and tricks I use myself… which kind of leads nicely into the first tip:

Tip 1. Only talk about stuff you know really well.

 It’s easy to talk about something you understand thoroughly and know really well, but it is hard to explain something that you don’t really understand yourself. You are more likely to make mistakes, get confused and lose your confidence if you try to present information that you are not really sure of. Therefore, you should either learn your stuff really well before you give the talk or cut out of the talk anything that you are unsure about. Talk only about material that you have understood thoroughly and know well. Your talk will go better if you are confident in your knowledge and understanding of the material. Better to speak clearly and effectively about a small set of material than to tackle more material, find that you don’t really understand it, and get confused while giving the talk. If you talk only about things you know well you will find the talk much easier to give, things will be much less likely to go wrong, and if things do go wrong you will easily be able to get yourself out of trouble.

 Pitch your talk at a level that you can deliver comfortably. Don’t try to explain things that you don’t understand yourself. Stick to what you know well.

I’ll post further tips in future posts.

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