Banish nerves and tap into the excitement of public speaking with these five tips

Public speaking is a key part of academic life. But how to overcome your nerves and actually enjoy it? Ayten Erçoban Evren offers advice

Ayten Erçoban Evren 's avatar
10 Apr 2024
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As academics, we should always feel excited about our profession – these feelings are what keep us alive. However, fear of public speaking, when addressing conferences, symposia or as part of a panel, can make us so nervous that we can’t celebrate our achievement.

Recently, I challenged myself to make an opening speech at a symposium. The experience taught me that public speaking is not as difficult as I thought. In fact, the positive feedback I received afterwards made me excited to take on future appointments and perform even better, now I know the recipe for successful public speaking. While many methods can be used to get rid of nerves and make public speaking fun, everyone needs to create their own customised blend. 

Know what you’re talking about

But when speaking to a large audience, set the boundaries of the speech at the start, focusing on the main topic and keeping the purpose of the speech in mind. For example, the symposium I recently spoke at was on women’s rights, a subject with many important issues to highlight. But I specifically wanted to talk about it in the context of constitutional rights. Setting boundaries helped me to keep to the presentation’s time limit.  

When public speaking, the audience’s attitude can affect our confidence. To keep them interested and engaged, give them a brief introduction about what you’re going to say at the beginning of the speech. 

Be organised                                                                                           

Leaving everything to the last minute will create even more stress. In this case setting yourself a deadline before the actual date of the presentation and sticking to it would be very helpful. Forgetfulness can happen to anyone and having a written version of the speech will increase your confidence. While looking at your notes doesn’t make you a bad speaker, relying on them entirely should be avoided. Also, establishing eye contact will make the presentation more effective. 

When planning, know the audience. Will the people addressed only be students? Or will the academics and professionals also be in the audience? This is crucial to determining the scope of the speech and creating engaging content.

Don’t be in a rush to convey everything in detail in a limited time. In your plan, focus on general lines and important points.

More practice, more success 

Giving the speech more than once, as if you were in front of the audience, will be very helpful. Each speech will be better than the last one. It’s all about experience, so never give up. I even went to the symposium venue one hour before the start and practised my speech there, which increased my confidence. In addition to this, recording your speech and listening back to it is a useful method to prevent memory lapses. This is not only an opportunity to discover how you come across but also a chance to notice mistakes.

When delivering a speech, being sincere will create a connection with the audience. Be understandable and clear. 

Get help from colleagues

Feedback from colleagues about public speeches is always helpful. Sometimes we concentrate on a subject so much that an outside eye can give us nuances that have passed us by. Different perspectives open new horizons. I sought help from a colleague, who listened to my entire speech and offered me some interesting ideas to develop it. Learning from the experience of others can be invaluable.

Be flexible

Being rigid can cause us to lose control when the unexpected arises. Instead, we need to be flexible and retain our ingenuity in the face of the unusual situations that can occur when we’re speaking. Maybe there’s a change in schedule, or an unexpected question asked by a member of the audience. Instead of letting this stress you out, the best way to handle this is to be yourself. What matters is that we do our best, rather than think about how others will evaluate us.  

We all have different personalities, so there is no one rule for overcoming fear of public speaking. But practising, planning and thinking positively, rather than escaping, is key.

Ayten Erçoban Evren is a lecturer in the Faculty of Law at Near East University.

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