Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Like Stage Fright, Only More Specific, Or, Librarians Have to Speak in Public Whether We Like It Or Not

I've been thinking about public speaking lately. You see, despite being extremely outgoing, I still get nervous when speaking in public. Really nervous. Really REALLY nervous. This nervousness confuses me, since I teach all the time without even a blip of nerves. Put me in front of a classroom of students, I'm off and running. Put me in front of a group of my peers? I'm a mess. And that's the reason I've been thinking about public speaking lately: I'm giving a presentation, mostly for faculty and staff, on campus this week.

While prepping for a talk, I do all the standard stuff. I created an appealing yet simple PowerPoint presentation (yes, I still use PowerPoint despite the consequences); I nailed down my introduction and my conclusion, but I'm leaving the body of my talk as bullet points; I've been practicing; I've familiarized myself with the space; etc. However, in the midst of talking myself out of ritual suicide as an avoidance method, I'll do a few things that I know aren't quite so common, so I thought I'd share.


  1. Wee-wahs (also known as lion face-lemon face). This entails stretching the muscles in my face to both extremes - out and in - in order to loosen up. It feels and looks very silly, so I do it in private. As odd as it sounds, it does help.
  2. Shadow boxing (or substitute your favorite self-contained exercise method).  Doing this right before you speak will get rid of some of your nervous energy and release a few endorphins, results which will help you calm down a bit. The friend who taught me this method said that she does push ups against a wall, and I imagine running in place could work the same way.
  3. Abolish "um" with a deep breath instead. This isn't so much a prep method as it is a technique for during your presentation, but I still want to share. I know speakers don't do it on purpose, but when I hear a presentation filled with "um" and "uh" and "you know," I tend to lose track of the content. I don't want that to happen to my audience, so when I feel an "um" coming on, I take a deep breath. It helps me gather my thoughts without distracting my audience. Besides, momentary pauses in your speech can actually help cement your message.
So now it's your turn. Do you have any advice for those of us who dread public speaking?

10 comments:

  1. Four comments:

    One, everyone gets nervous. I was a first-year TA in grad school and a professor I respected told me every day before class, or any time he had to speak in public, he got nervous. That let me know it's okay to be nervous. That feeling lets you know you're alive.
    Second, if you are speaking in public, it's because you're the expert. Really. You know more about what you're talking about than the audience.
    Third, practice does make perfect. The more you speak, the better you get at it.
    Fourth, if you read off your slides, I will be angry.

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    1. I never never NEVER N. E. V. E. R. read off the slides. EVER.

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  2. My technique is to not think about it as long as possible, which leads to not being quite as prepared as would perhaps be advisable. I get equally nervous about teaching Computer Basics as I will no doubt be for ALA in June (which I am not allowed to think about until April).

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    1. Judging by the nightmares I had last night (in which I was still trying to finish the presentation even as I was giving it), your method might have some merit.

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  3. Wow, Jessica. It's like you're channeling me. Do you have interview anxiety too? I can teach a class, no problem. Talking in a group of peers is usually ok too, although sometimes I'll trip up or turn bright red for no apparant reason. Put me in front of a group of peers and oh boy howdy. Interviews are even worse. I've had interviewers tell me that I appear too timid to work with the public. Ouch! And totally not true. This is something I am working on, since it is so important in our career. Next month I am introducing a round table session and giving a short presentation on booktalking to a classroom of MLIS candidates. Small steps. I've also been thinking about applying for jobs even though I don't need one just to practice interviewing (and you never know when that perfect opening will come along.)

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    1. Except for the public presentation I've inevitably had to give as part of pretty much interview process, no real interview anxiety. I get a bit nervous, but nothing like what happens when I have a talk to give.

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  4. I have the exact opposite problem - I have no fear when it comes to speaking in front of my peers. Speaking in front of a class of students...that's another story for me. It always inevitably fills me with an all-consuming fear that I cannot make any sense out of. Lucky for me, I don't have to teach library instruction classes quite as often as some. Still, I do it frequently enough.

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  5. Maybe more public speaking would help me get over the nerves, since more teaching helped me back when I was a new kid librarian.

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  6. I just joined my local chapter of Toastmaster's so that I can work on my public speaking skills and subsequently overcome my anxiety as well. You should check it out. http://www.toastmasters.org/

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  7. In my pre-librarian days, I had a job with lots of public speaking. My usual method of preparation was to over-prepare, but for things where I was extra nervous I would do the following:

    * write out a script of exactly what I wanted to say
    * practice practice practice (saying it out loud as much as possible)
    * get up in front of the room with my printed script in hand
    --and--
    * wing it. :)

    I had the script if I needed it, but I also knew what it said well enough that I could paraphrase in my own words and tailor it to the moment. And if I got lost or confused, I could glance down at my script and get right back on track. Worked every time. :)

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