By Lisa-Marie Griffith
I have sat through far too many papers, lectures and seminars cringing as novice and even veteran speakers have stumbled, mumbled and whispered through their presentations leaving the audience mystified as to what they are trying to say. My personal pet peeve is that conference monster (there is always at least one) who does not time their paper, or just believes that what they have to say is far more important then the other people in the panel who have stuck to time, and runs 5, 10 or sometimes even twice as long as their time slot allows (this of course is when the audience turns on the chair). People drift off and miss the point of the paper completely. As historians we should be better presenters. The goal of most who present at conferences is to enter academia and lecture. Learning how to give a good presentation is key to all researchers and future lecturers. There is NO point in giving a paper if people can not hear you or understand what you are trying to convey. I often find that regardless of what someone is saying, if they are well paced, clear and loud enough I will sit up and listen. And yet that seems to be a difficult thing to achieve for most of us. Nerves will often get the best of us and intentions to speak slowly and clearly go out the window when the speaker is faced with a crowded room of fellow postgrads, academics or people who you would just like to impress. The novice will rush through their paper, or throw their heads deep into the desk to hide rather than projecting their voices out to the room.
Nerves can not be the only reason why some papers are so incomprehensible. So why are we so bad? The main reson is that unlike the US where emphasis is put on teaching futures lecturers how to present, in Ireland we are not trained. The reality is only a few people are born communicators and the rest of us have to pick the skills up along the way. The only way to get around our lack of formal training (because I know in Trinity there is no training on the horizon) is to teach yourself how to present. With that in mind I am very grateful to my brother for sending me on the link to an excellent website by Lisa B. Marshall, the Public Speaker, called Quick and dirty tips for improving your communication skills. Darren works in Science and both him and his colleagues swear by this site. Download podcasts or just read the online lectures for a step by step guide to improving your presentation skills, networking and speech writing. The lectures are easy to comprehend, digest and follow. The lessons are as various as ‘Quick and dirty speech writing’, ‘Five things to never say at work’, Getting rid of verbal tics, Networking, very importantly ‘How to deal with negative feedback’ and ‘Thinking on your feet’. This has a wealth of information and I would absolutely recommend it.