Graduate Management News

January 2016

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Make it Happen: Six Tips for Polishing Your Public Speaking Prowess

Follow these pointers to communicate your brand and captivate your audience at your next public speaking engagement.

Professional Development Tips

Let’s face it, public speaking is a critical skill among admissions professionals. Your ability to communicate ideas and convey your school’s brand with clarity and confidence is key to differentiating your program in a competitive market. Although you may not be afraid of speaking in front of a group, you may believe you have room to improve. Some practice and a few tips can go a long way to improve your skills and build your confidence. Consider the following: 

  1. Control the things you have control over. You can reduce any anxiety and communicate your ideas more effectively if you actually go beyond preparation. Organize your thoughts, practice by yourself and in front of others, time yourself, and anticipate any follow-up questions and be prepared to answer. If possible, practice where you will be speaking, and make sure any equipment you need is running properly.

  2. Make eye contact and avoid distracting body language. Make an effort to scan the room to keep everyone present engaged. Beyond scanning, try to actually link eyes and create intimacy in an effort to create a shared experience with your audience. Try to avoid swaying or excessive hand motions. Proper preparation will help you eliminate filler words such as “um and “like.” If you need to collect your thoughts, it’s best to pause instead. It’s OK to move around and interact with your audience; just make sure you can be heard.

  3. Prep your audience beforehand and summarize afterward. Your audience will comprehend your ideas more easily if you follow these three steps. Before diving into the details of your presentation, tell your audience what you intend to speak about, then dive in, and then remind them what you’ve just told them in your wrap-up.

  4. Get feedback. Finally, no matter how experienced you are, there’s always room for improvement. Try to have your presentation recorded so that you can watch yourself (as unsettling as this might be!). Have trusted colleagues observe your presentation and offer their feedback.

  5. Focus on content over bells and whistles. The content of your presentation is more important than any slick slide transitions or other Powerpoint or Keynote feature. These programs, by the way, are great tools, but by no means a requirement for a compelling presentation that people will remember. Often, speaking without the aid of slides can be more effective because you’re able to focus on communicating your ideas, rather than keeping up with your bullet points. Unfortunately, Powerpoint is often used as a script instead of the visual aid tool it was designed to be.

  6. Longer is not always better. Granted, you might have an allotted amount of time to fill, but talking too long is a common problem with public speakers. Be mindful that the average listening attention span is around 20 minutes. Be mindful that less is more and make those 20 minutes memorable. Do you have more than 20 minutes to fill? Then break up your time into compelling chunks of information.