Trembling voice? Shortness of breath? Accelerated heartbeat?
If you have experienced any of these reactions when delivering an academic presentation, you are not alone! Presenting materials to academic audiences is no joke and for many of us it can be a source of great stress. The physiological response activated by our body in conditions of elevated stress is called fight-or-flight. This response is controlled by hormones that equip us to fight or to escape from situations perceived as dangerous or threatening. Although this response carries an evolutionary advantage, it can dramatically impact our public speaking performance. The good news is that our brain is plastic and can, therefore, be trained to control such physiological reactions and dampen their adverse effects! Indeed, giving a good academic talk is highly coachable – just following a few tips will transform your presentation from muddled to mesmerizing!
Tip 1: Realise you are not alone
Realising that other people experience the same reactions is the first step towards giving a fabulous presentation. Under conditions of enhanced stress, the fight-or-flight response kicks in for all of us! As you become accustomed to delivering academic presentation over time, you will become more comfortable and learn how to pace and sustain yourself. Thus, do not avoid those situations. Practice makes perfect: you can do well, if you only give yourself the chance!
Tip 2: Frame your story
In order to give a good presentation, you need something worth talking about. Human beings are wired to listen stories, particularly when their narratives can be broken down into a chain of causes and effects. It follows that conceptualising your presentation as a detective narrative with a clear start, a central question or problem, and a clear end is essential. Think about your audience when planning the talk, consider their expertise level, and ponder your use of technical jargon. Flesh out the essential ideas but do not try to summarise the entire literature on the topic. Tell the audience why you care so much about the topic and what is your unique contribution. Above all, let your passion shine!
Tip 3: Be present
The natural reaction of a body in a state of fight-or-flight response is to move…way too much! Learning to be physically present, rather than disconnecting your body from the experienced situation, is essential to control involuntary reactions which can confuse or annoy the audience. Being fully present will bring into your talk natural gesturing and eye contact, which are powerful tools to make your presentation shine!
Tip 4: Keep it simple
Inattentional blindness is a phenomenon described in psychology whereby individuals fail to notice a detail or event due to their attention being diverted away or their engagement in a demanding task. Presenting materials that are too rich or crowded can cause inattentional blindness in your audience. Further, verbally reciting the content of the slides will set your audience off to sleep. Keep your materials visual and simple – a picture is worth a thousand words!
About the Author:
Elena Serena Piccardi
Elena is a PhD researcher/Graduate Teaching Assistant at Birkbeck, University of London & Academic tutor at TavistockTutors.