How to Be Yourself in Front of an Audience

by Valerie O’Brien

Last night’s panel, “Enhancing Your Public Speaking Skills,” featured great advice that was both appropriate for public speakers of all experience levels and applicable to a range of contexts, from class presentations to job interviews.

Here are 5 pieces of advice from panelists Professor Janice Harrington (Creative Writing), Professor Andrew Gaedtke (English), and undergraduate Stephanie Svarz (Theater and English):


  1. “Public speaking is about experience, not talent.”

All three panelists agreed that public speaking becomes more comfortable the more you do it. So, Professor Harrington suggested, you should create opportunities for yourself to practice speaking publicly: present your research at a small conference, for instance, or gather a group of your friends to discuss a paper. Additionally, you can learn from public speakers you admire. Pay attention to the practices of your favorite professors, politicians, or TED Talks presenters; try to imitate their public speaking persona. But also, Harrington and Svarz advised, “do you” – not all presentation habits will work for everyone, and it’s important that you remain authentic.

  1. “Find your power stance”

In particular, Svarz cited the Alexander technique, which recommends planting your feet in a strong base, keeping your knees unlocked, relaxing your shoulders, and keeping your head up. This method is effective for public speaking because it enables you to receive energy from and respond to your audience as they react to your performance. Harrington also stressed the influence of the body on public speaking: eye contact, deep breathing, projecting (by opening the mouth wider to make the voice bigger), and deliberate pacing can be great tools for calming nerves and delivering a strong speech.

  1. “Public speaking is a mechanism for discovery.”

Professor Gaedtke characterized public speaking as an opportunity to think originally on the spot. He elaborated that you can think of public speaking as a chance to continue to develop your ideas, even about a topic you’ve thought about extensively. In that regard, public speaking is not only a means of sharing ideas, but also a creative act in which your audience participates. This demonstration of the way someone thinks (rather than simply what they think) can be public speaking’s most compelling outcome, he suggested.

  1. “Speaking on the fly is only possible if you’ve prepared rigorously.”

All three speakers stressed preparation and improvisation as keys to successful public speaking. It is preparation that enables improvisation, Gaedtke explained, while Svarz emphasized that preparation is all that you (as public speaker) can control. Always rehearse your speech beforehand to familiarize yourself with the material about which you’ll be speaking.

  1. “You are the expert in the room on whatever you’re speaking about.”

Selecting an angle on your topic that reflects your unique interests, Svarz suggested, can help you to recognize your own expertise. In encouraging public speakers to “develop a confidence habit” and thereby “break the habit of self-loathing.”  Harrington also spoke to this idea. This combination of confidence and passion can accentuate your own interest in your topic and keep your audience invested as well

If you want other great tips on professional and academic development, check out some of our other upcoming events, listed at

Content Strategy: Links and Next Steps

Whether or not you heard yesterday’s presentation by Lindsey Gates-Markel of Pixo on content strategy, you may be interested in learning more about it and how you can get involved in doing it:

  • Read. Two authors whose names come up A LOT when people talk about content strategy: Seth Godin and Kristina Halvorson.
  • Network. A local organization for meeting local people involved in content strategy: UX-Champaign Urbana, which has regular get-togethers and a content strategy subgroup/book club.
  • Create content.  Any U of I student can create a U of I branded website using  Make one for your RSO (or make an RSO for whatever you’re doing anyway and then make the p.i.e. site) and use the site to develop and showcase your skills in advancing your organization’s message and meeting the needs of your members.
  • Offer some strategy.  THIS website needs help!  Think about what works on this site and what doesn’t and how it could better meet your needs.  What story does this site tell?  What story should it tell?  Email me (Kirstin Wilcox) at with your thoughts or call 333-4346 to set up an appointment.  Or, if you think this website is just dandy, find another in which you have some stake and consider the same issues.


As You Plan Your Week Ahead…

Lindsey_blogMon., 10/26, 4 – 5pm in EB 149: Careers in Content Strategy with Lindsey Gates-Markel of Pixo (a custom software company in Urbana.

The Department of EnglishWed., 10/29. 5 – 6pm in EB 160: Enhancing Your Public Speaking, with Prof. Dale Bauer, Prof. Janice Harrington, Prof. Andrew Gaedtke, and members of the ESC.

And of course, in between, don’t forget…the English Student Council Annual Halloween Party!  This can’t-miss event takes place on Tues., 10/27, 6 – 7:30pm in the English Building Atrium (aka, the Mary Kay Peer Lounge).  Will the English Bldg. ghost show up this year?  Perhaps…if enough people come in costume.