By Mary Gabb ([email protected])

A frequently overlooked professional skill – especially among scientists – is public speaking, yet the inability to effectively communicate your work can place significant roadblocks in your career.

Here are some ways to remove those blocks:

  1. Be prepared. It is your responsibility as a speaker to ensure that all of the equipment works (ie, laptop, laser pointer, lights, PowerPoint program and any animations or video clips within the presentation). You should also view the room layout before your presentation, including walking around the room to ensure all attendees will be able to see and hear you.
  2. Practice. One of the most egregious errors public speakers make is going over the time limit. Practice your presentation and be sure it can be done within the allotted time, allowing for questions when appropriate.
  3. Introduce yourself. An effective way to gain control of your presentation is to write your own introduction. Supply the person introducing you with the information you wish to be said about you.
  4. Record yourself. Most of us don’t realise our speaking idiosyncrasies – the unconscious ums, ahs, and okays, and other nervous ticks or “space fillers” we use. Record yourself giving a presentation to hear which one(s) you use. Only when you recognise them can you begin to eliminate them. Videorecording can show you the physical tics.
  5. Watch others. Make notes when you watch other presenters – even news reporters on television – about your likes and dislikes of their presentation skills.
  6. Take a public speaking course. There are numerous public speaking courses available. One of the most well known is Toastmasters International, which uses a step-by-step programme to help the speaker address such skills as use of visual aids, vocal variety, and organising a presentation. Each speaker is given constructive criticism in a supportive environment. Toastmasters is available in 90 countries.

* Mary Gabb is a past President of her local Toastmaster’s club. Toastmasters is a nonprofit organisation.