Nervous About Public Speaking? Three Experts Share Their Tips and Tricks

Expert tips on Public Speak from the 2014 NMRT ALA Annual preconference with Char Booth, Tiffini Travis, and Manuel Urrizola

by Tina Chan

Public speaking is a task that many librarians accomplish in their role, whether leading story time, presenting to library trustees, or teaching an information literacy session. As public speaking is a vital skill to have, librarians must be effective and fearless public speakers. To assist NMRT members with this, NMRT hosted a preconference called Coming Out of the Shell: Becoming a Powerful Public Speaker, which included three guest speakers with experience in instruction and public speaking.

Char Booth, instruction services manager and e-learning librarian at Claremont Colleges, gave a presentation titled Death is Worse: Strategies for Public Speaking. Her strategies include believe (in) yourself, find your friendlies, know your shit (her words), overprepare = sabotage, audiences absorb energy, (almost) never apologize, reverse roles, and have a point. Additional strategies include limit screen sharing, conversation is cubed, engage via interaction, recover with humor, customize to context, give shout outs, don’t nitpick, and recycle your presentation.

Tiffini Travis, advisor for information literacy and library instructional assessment at California State University, Long Beach, asked the audience about their public speaking style. Are they a performer, escape artist, student, or educator? She continued with her five strategies for effective public speaking.

Authenticity: Get comfortable in your own skin, be passionate about what you are saying and presenting, and find your voice to present information.

Creativity: Take your presentation style and put a creative spin on it, look at what others have done and adapt to your presentation, and hear others’ strategies.

Passion: Love what you speak about and show it. Showing what you love about the topic will be apparent.

Have fun: Do not be afraid to have fun and to try new things, enjoy what you do, and find ways to engage with the audience.

Confidence: Do what it takes to create your “Rocky” moment, whether it is listening to music, exercising, or something else.

Manuel Urrizola, head of metadata and technical services for University Libraries at the University of California, Riverside, stated that people will remember 7% of presentation content. To help people remember, he offered his tips in threes. Be verbal, vocal, and visual.

Verbal includes style, syntax, and symmetry. Be credible as you are the expert on the topic, tell what you remember instead of what you forget, and be assertive and motivational.

Vocal is the projection, variety, and silence. Be articulate and speak clearly, vary the sound of your voice, and the most effective thing to do is to say nothing after asking the audience if anyone has questions.

Visual consists of appearance, body, and visual aids. Smiling is never wrong, dress slightly above what the audience will wear, be comfortable, and make visual aids visible.

Other basic strategies include make eye contact with the audience, smile, and use gestures to emphasize key points. Write cues on your speaking outline such as “smile” or “slow down,” present from a detailed outline or bullet points on notecards, and always have a backup for technology. Avoid reading from your notes, crossing your arms, looking over people’s heads, panicking, verbal fillers, and distracting gestures.

Following these strategies will help anyone become a powerful public speaker. The audience will be informed and engaged with a presentation that is authentic, well organized, and coherent.

Tina Chan, Assistant Coordinator of Reference, State University of New York at Oswego,