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Academic Public Speaking. Presentation by Maja Nenadović University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Overview of the presentation. Discussing different settings for academic public speaking & presentations; Teaching; Conferences (large-scale); Workshops & summer schools;

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academic public speaking

Academic Public Speaking

Presentation by Maja Nenadović

University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

overview of the presentation
Overview of the presentation
  • Discussing different settings for academic public speaking & presentations;
    • Teaching;
    • Conferences (large-scale);
    • Workshops & summer schools;
    • Public events & lectures;
    • Expert meetings & expert testimony.
  • General tips on public speaking.
why distinguish between different settings
Why distinguish between different settings?
  • Purpose of your talk/presentation is context-dependent and will change from setting to setting;
  • Your audience and their expectations will change depending on the setting, and you will need to manage their expectations accordingly;
  • Different settings come with varying challenges and opportunities, so taking them into account will help improve your presentation.
  • For example, either a course you design yourself (I designed ‘Democratization Processes in the Western Balkans’), or one that is already designed within the curriculum.
  • What is your teaching philosophy? For e.g.:
    • Learning from students;
    • Active listening = encouraging student input and their involvement, empowering them to challenge the material/what they are presented with;
    • Critical thinking = using methodology of discussions, debates that require student engagement;
    • Interactive = building rapport with students.
  • Challenges?
    • Motivating unmotivated students (creating incentives);
    • Presenting theories in an interesting manner;
    • Dealing with students’ expectations and time constraints (your course is not the only one they have to deal with).
conferences large scale
Conferences (large-scale)
  • E.g. ECPR general conferences, or ISA, ASN, etc.
  • Purpose?
    • Presenting your work to wider academic network;
    • Building up your own network;
    • Opening your work to scrutiny in order to improve it;
    • Getting to know publishers, journal editors, etc.
  • Challenges:
    • Due to poor time management, not getting the most out of the conference (= finishing the paper just on time for the deadline; not studying the program carefully enough; not contacting interesting authors in advance to schedule appointments/meetings, etc.);
    • Ending up in a poorly constructed panel that has little to do with your research;
    • Engaging the audience on your subject, assuming there is an audience watching your panel present.
specialized workshops summer schools
Specialized workshops & Summer schools
  • E.g. I have taken part in the Changing Europe summer school,
  • Purpose:
    • Improving work through getting specialized critique from peers and experts in my field;
    • Networking;
    • Advice on academic career, publications, grant writing.
  • Challenges:
    • Adapting one’s work to fit the general workshop theme;
    • Dealing with criticism from peers, opening your research up to scrutiny, not taking it personally.
public events lectures
Public events & lectures
  • For e.g. I had to do a lot of public talks/lectures (audience 150+) on status of Kosovo and Kosovo’s independence.
  • Purpose:
    • Raising awareness, informing about your subject;
    • Promotion of your expertise area;
    • Getting people to think critically about your research subject.
  • Challenges:
    • Addressing a large audience;
    • Keeping people’s interest for longer than an hour;
    • Dealing with hecklers/critical audience members;
    • Keeping the presentation/talk engaging and interesting, without getting too much into details pertaining to the research (esp. without getting into academic elements of theoretical framework, methodology, variable operationalization, etc.)
expert meetings
Expert meetings
  • For e.g. I was invited to several high-level policymakers’ meetings in the Netherlands on Western Balkans, Kosovo or BiH, where I was asked to offer ‘expert opinion’ or advice.
  • Purpose:
    • Change the mind or influence the thinking of people who can implement my own findings into their work;
    • Bridge the gap between policy and theory, or practice and research;
    • Increase relevance and impact of your research.
  • Challenges:
    • Speaking ‘practical’ (as opposed to ‘academic’) language;
    • Framing your findings in terms of policy recommendations & advice;
    • Getting one’s message across! (at times junior researcher’s age, as well as gender, can work against them in these kinds of settings);
    • Controlling one’s emotions when witnessing failure (communication, understanding) in policymakers’ circle;
    • Giving them ‘expert’ or research data, and then having them make the conclusion you want them to make.
general tips on public speaking
General Tips on Public Speaking
  • Having a clear ‘why’;
  • Visual aids;
  • Voice;
  • Body;
  • Face;
  • Content;
  • Structure;
  • Dealing with criticism;
  • Psychology.
having a clear why
Having a clear ‘Why?’
  • Being clear on what the purpose behind your talk constitutes 50% of job well done!  your presentation, the way you construct it and deliver it will largely depend on what it is that you wish/hope to accomplish with it;
  • Be clear on whether you want to inform, convince, advocate, inspire, challenge or motivate your audience into action;
  • Worst presentations are those done ‘because I have to,’ ‘because it’s 20% of my grade’ or ‘just to get it over with’ i.e. those with self-serving purpose.
visual aids
Visual Aids
  • Useful if you have graphs, charts, maps, images, data that you wish to share with the audience;
  • Not useful if power point contains so much information that it can serve as replacement of your talk (what is the added value of having YOU there?);
  • Technology can malfunction and over-reliance can have negative impact on our self-confidence and ability to present our research;
  • Make sure not to lose eye contact with the audience if you are using power point  sometimes our eyes stray, and we use the power point as a sort of shield between us and the audience  this breaks the rapport.
  • Some of the most common issues:
    • Shortness of breath;
    • Voice that trembles;
    • Something tickling your throat that makes you break out in coughs during your talk.
  • You should be aware of your voice, and use it to maximum in order to emphasize your points and give an engaging talk! Pay attention to:
    • Regular breathing;
    • Articulation (especially important when communicating in non-native language);
    • Intonation (rising/falling)  also affected when communicating in foreign language!
    • Pitch  be aware of your ‘normal’ voice and your ‘public speaking’ voice – the color and pitch could be very different!
    • Speed of talking  beware of speaking too fast, or too slow; it is necessary to vary and speak at different speeds, in order to attract the audience attention and keep them interested.
  • Engaging voice = engaging presentation; passive, monotonous voice with no intonation and no variance in pitch and speed = boring presentation.
  • The remedy for training your voice: singing. (Esp. songs you find ‘impossibly’ difficult, or those not in your vocal range e.g. Celine Dion  by singing loudly, you stretch and train your vocal chords, clear your throat, learn how to breathe while communicating out loud + you also practice intonation and pitch.
body language
Body language
  • Posture and gesticulation are meant to serve as aid rather than detractors to effective public speaking  we communicate with our bodies and convince with our hands as much as with our words;
  • Combining voice (intonation, emphasis) with hand gestures is powerful persuasion tool;
  • Beware of repetitive gestures! (it can be distracting and have effect opposite of the desired one)
  • Having arms crossed indicates not being open/lack of self confidence;
  • Do not fumble with pen/paper in your hands while giving the talk;
  • Practice to feel what hand position/gestures you are most comfortable with.
  • Establishing eye contact with your audience is single most important way of building rapport  shows openness, confidence, friendliness;
  • Maintain eye contact with the audience throughout your talk, it will give you feedback on whether they are following you, or whether you lost them along the way in your presentation;
  • Smile where appropriate – this also helps build rapport;
  • Your face should be engaged: if you look like you are bored and do not care about what you are saying, rest assured – your audience will mimic your facial expression.
  • This is the element most audience-sensitive, i.e. you need to tailor your content to your audience’s expectations!
  • Manage those expectations from the very start by outlining what your own goal of that speech/presentation is + making it clear what you expect from them (invite criticism, feedback, suggestions);
  • In most settings, you are expected to tailor your presentation for an intelligent audience that is not necessarily expert in your specific field  this means you will need to define and clarify the key terms of your presentation in the very beginning, and explain the controversy/relevance that your research addresses (answer the question, “Why should you care about this?”);
  • If you have a clear message you want to carry across, reiterate it several times during your talk/presentation;
  • Best content is original, to some extent controversial, challenging and engaging with preconceived notions and stereotypes  argumentative as well as emotionally compelling  interesting, supported by data as well as by anecdotes and real-life examples.
  • Tell them what you will tell them  tell them  tell them what you have told them;
  • To captivate your audience from the very beginning, open with an anecdote, joke, story, puzzle, rhetorical question = this ‘wakes’ them up and puts them on alert  if you tie in relevance of your research to this introduction, you are sure to get the audience interested!
  • Signpost your structure / different arguments  you can do so either by numbers, or by ‘headings’ or titles of different sections/arguments you are presenting;
  • Concluding words should not be a clear-cut summary of what you have presented, but should also contain elements of ‘next steps’, i.e. extrapolate your research findings to a bigger context, speculate their application and relevance elsewhere;
  • Introduction and Conclusion should each take up maximum 20 % of your total presentation/speaking time.
dealing with criticism
Dealing with criticism
  • Do not take it personally.
  • In ideal terms, it is meant to help you improve your work  it should be constructive.
  • If you are already aware of the weaknesses of your argument/research, expose them before you open the floor to questions  it shows you have considered them, and that you have a way of dealing with them + you can also ask for help with these weaknesses in advance of Q&A, which makes audience more likely to provide constructive comments.
  • Engaging the lowest common denominator (=those with negative attitude or those not concentrating on your presentation!) is a sure way of winning the audience over!
  • If coming from audience member in a disruptive way or from someone challenging your authority/knowledge on the subject matter, there are several ways of dealing with it:
    • Give them the floor (i.e. engage them, take their question, allow them to speak/address the audience);
    • If you are unsure of response, seek audience intervention (=they offer their response to the critic);
    • If the critic is side-tracking the discussion, take control and invite them for private talk after the presentation (but then DO deliver, i.e. stay on to talk with him/her!).
  • Do not be afraid of silence!
    • Pauses are an effective tool of emphasizing your points;
    • Pauses also signal to your audience new section/argument in your presentation;
    • If you lose track of your thoughts or get confused, know that what seems like minute of silence in your mind is only a few actual seconds to your audience.
  • Use your ‘internal critic/observer’ (=voice/self-awareness & self-reflection) to improve your speaking rather than to get blocked;
  • Do not try and speak like someone else  find a way to use your own talents and interests and blend them into your own unique speaking style.