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Developing Your Performance Skills

While giving a speech can be a nerve-racking experience, it is an important skill to have in order to share your work and ideas with others. As you prepare to talk to others, outline the key points you want to make and practice delivering them out loud. Rehearse your talking points so that they feel natural and familiar while speaking. Memorizing your talk verbatim often leads to a robotic and impersonal style of speech. Depending on the situation, you might use notecards or a paper copy of your talk. Practice your presentation in front of others or record and watch yourself. Ask for feedback not only on your presentation, but also your presence (e.g. did you speak too quickly or softly, did you make gestures, etc). This page will guide you through ways to prepare for your talk.

Pro Tip #1: When it is time for you to present, don’t feel that you need to start your talk immediately after you take the podium. Take a second to collect yourself: pause, take a deep breath, take a sip of water, and then begin.

Pro Tip #2: If possible, visit the presentation space early to get a feel for what the space looks like and what technology is available. This will help you feel more comfortable when it is time for you to present.

Pro Tip #3: Try to avoid saying filler words, such as “um/uh/like/you know.” Instead, pause and take a second to collect your thoughts. Your audience won’t notice and you will sound much more polished.




Check out the 25 Most Popular Ted Talks. Think about the style each speaker has. What makes them successful? What do you like about their presentations? What do you feel could be better? Think about how each speaker’s presentation style. Do they gesture or move around the stage? How do they use their voice to convey their message?

Next Steps

  • Sign up for the Graduate College’s Research Live! competition, which challenges you to give a compelling talk about your work in three minutes or less.
  • If you are teaching, you can use your time in front of the classroom to help you improve your presentation skills. You might even ask a professor to observe your presentation and give you feedback on what you did well and how you might improve. You might also consider attending a workshop hosted by CITL or signing up for an individual consultation for further guidance.
  • Join a local Toastmasters Club to practice public speaking in front of others with the same goal.
  • Reserve a room at the Media Commons to record yourself giving a presentation. Then, watch the recording to identify areas where you might improve your delivery. You might also keep an eye out for mannerisms (such as gestures, filler words, etc.) that were obvious and potentially distracting to your audience.
  • Attend a networking event at Research Park to practice talking to professionals in industry. If you are attending a conference in your filed, look for mixers and other opportunities to network with others interested in your work.
  • Identify people in your field who are good presenters. Observe their presentation style. You might even consider interviewing them to learn their tips and tricks for public speaking.
  • Go to a lecture that is part of the Center for Advanced Study’s Millercomm lecture series.