You, at the Podium An SLP takes a hesitant—but successful—step into public speaking. She shares how you can do it, too. Make It Work
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Make It Work  |   January 01, 2016
You, at the Podium
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Speech, Voice & Prosody / Make It Work
Make It Work   |   January 01, 2016
You, at the Podium
The ASHA Leader, January 2016, Vol. 21, 38-39. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.21012016.38
The ASHA Leader, January 2016, Vol. 21, 38-39. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.21012016.38
Public speaking always filled me with dread. My elementary-school report cards were liberally peppered with comments along the lines of “Quiet. Needs to participate more in class.”
As I matured and gained confidence in my abilities, small public-speaking events—asking a question in class, explaining assessments/treatment goals as an “expert” in a small group—became manageable. Yet the “big” presentation opportunities continued to leave me quaking and I avoided them at all costs.
The time had come to lay this fear to rest. Too many milestone birthdays had passed. I saw my own children staring down their public speaking fears with courage and success. I was constantly asked to assist my young clients who needed support to make a contribution in their own classrooms.
And after all, if nearly 75 percent of the population dreads public speaking (aka glossophobia), shouldn’t any audience be loaded with sympathetic listeners?
Then last August, I received a mass email from my state organization. “If you have information to share about innovative programs, therapy techniques that have been successful in your practice, research which will influence communication and/or hearing outcomes … tell us about it!”
I snapped it shut. But the email kept nudging me for the next few weeks. I’d done presentations in the past and hadn’t died (obviously), but it was easier if I’d been asked by someone, not volunteered myself.
We weren’t even back from summer vacation. I filled out the proposal, hit “send” and let it slip my mind.
Sure enough, a month or so later, I received an email letting me know I’d been selected and asking me to confirm my participation. I sat on it for a couple of days, then sent an enthusiastic “yes,” reassuring myself that April was far away (and, who knows, might not actually come!).
It did come.
I took the leap because I was excited to share information on the #SLPeeps (a social media community of speech-language professionals) and introduce others to this vibrant and welcoming community of SLPs online. And I’d decided it was time to get past some of those lingering presentation fears.
Do I have room for improvement? Absolutely. I need to get more comfortable and step out from behind the podium. But I was energized by the questions and discussions my talk generated, both at and after the conference. I would welcome the chance to do it again.
The experience got me wondering about other clinicians who have stepped up and presented, so I collected surveys from more than a dozen speech-language pathologist speakers. Most had presented at their own state convention—some up to 15 times! Half had also presented at another state’s convention.
Their session lengths varied from one to eight (!) hours, though one to two hours seemed to be most common. The number of session attendees ranged from a dozen or so to (gulp) 500! The most common was about 50–75.
Are you picturing it yet? There you are in front of 50 peers ready to talk for 120 minutes. What gives you the jitters?
Survey responses indicate it’s technology—wondering whether that audiovisual equipment will actually work—that causes the most butterflies. Others worry that travel mishaps will make them late or that the presentation level (introductory, moderate, advanced) won’t match the audience.
But don’t worry. It turns out it’s worth all the nerves.
Why present?
Wondering what motivates people to try presenting in the first place?
Jackie Bryla of Roseville, California, finds it “satisfying to stand up in front of a large group of attendees and watch and hear their reactions when they are informed of quality, student/client-engaging apps.”
In Sacramento, California, Celeste Roseberry-McKibbin strives to “bring justice to English-language learning children and children in poverty—to meet their needs so they can have a better chance for a successful life.”
Sharing practical information based on case studies or real-world experience seems to resonate with attendees. For example, Tara Roehl, of Firestone, Colorado, uses “real-world funny stories of my own mistakes, my clients’ successes and making everything I taught something they could use come Monday morning!”
Your turn
So now that you’re inspired, are you ready to give it a try? Here are some pointers based on my and survey respondents’ experiences.
Choose a topic you know well and feel comfortable discussing right now. You will want to do additional research to support your viewpoints, but you should choose a topic you could easily expound upon for 10–15 minutes, unscripted, at this second. Imagine you’re at a dinner party and the conversation turned to this topic. Is it one you’d feel “expert” in? One that you’re on sure footing with already?

Choose a topic you could easily expound upon for 10–15 minutes, unscripted, at this second.

Refer to at least a topic outline and main discussion points. You want something to fall back on if you suddenly blank or a question gets you off track for a bit.
Create slides that enhance—rather than mirror—your talk. You will lose your audience quickly if your slides and presentation handout are essentially the same as your talk. Changing things up also helps you reach a variety of learners. Auditory information is much more memorable if it accompanies striking or funny photos and graphics.
Practice! Present to yourself in a mirror or a video and, uncomfortable as it might be, watch it and make modifications. Friends, family and close colleagues are also good for feedback. Consider having a non-expert listen to make sure your message is clear.
Get some experience. I participated in a panel discussion at an ASHA learning lab before expanding my talk and flying solo. Consider submitting a proposal with a group or even presenting a poster, which allows for informal but on-the-spot questioning.
Get in the zone. For most, the nerves seem to be the worst just before stepping up to the podium. Erik X. Raj of Manalapan, New Jersey, uses visualization techniques to get back in the right frame of mind: He calls up calming images of a cool beach, his peacefully sleeping dog or a beautiful sunset.
State conferences are a great resource and a great opportunity to get your feet wet in the speaking arena. Who’s in?
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January 2016
Volume 21, Issue 1