My turn in the spotlight

Apr 28 2014

For me, public speaking is like transcribing audio from an interview: an uncomfortable hassle of working as a journalist. I obviously value the dissemination of information, but as a print journalist I would rather piece together words on paper than deliver a speech to a standing-room only auditorium. I will never write an “um” or “uh” in my articles, but I can’t help occasionally slipping one of these filler sounds into my speech.

As the end of the semester neared, I felt slightly queasy about Pitch Day, the event when students present ideas for media products that they’ve dreamed up during the semester. I understood the importance of Pitch Day-these public presentations have helped lab members secure funding, collaborate with local businesses and clearly explain the lab’s mission. I wanted to share my group’s accomplishments with the community, but first I had to find a way to squash my nerves, so my speech didn’t turn into alphabet soup.

My team had written and rewritten our pitch over the course of the semester, so by a couple of weeks before pitch day, I knew exactly what I needed to tell the audience. I started memorizing the pitch sentence-by-sentence a week before the big day. I wanted to make sure my thoughts stayed rooted in my mind when the spotlight turned to me, but I didn’t want my words to appear stiff and memorized. To make my speech more natural, I changed several words and shortened sentences to customize the pitch to my speaking style. I also made a note of the last few words of the person speaking before. This would prevent pointed stares and frantic hand movements from my group members trying to alert me of my missed cue.

Actually absorbing the meaning of my words also helped glue my lines into my brain. It seems silly, but if I worried too much about the order of the sentences, I didn’t register what I actually said. If I understood the message behind my words, I could ad lib my part of the pitch even if my rehearsed script left my brain. I tried to focus less on getting every word right-as long as the modified words didn’t change the meaning of my speech.

After I mastered the memorization part, I turned to an almost-more pressing detail of a speech: the delivery. I first practiced in a quiet room, sometimes looking at myself in the mirror to build my confidence. Once I felt prepared, I practiced with a teammate, making sure to look him or her in the eyes. I knew looking above the audience would be a dead giveaway that I had memorized the speech and would detract from the casual and confident manner I sought. My tone could also give away my nerves if I let it as I have a tendency to slip into a high-pitched tone. I focused on adopting an even, normal-pitched tone, which also helped me deliver my speech at a slower pace.

My team compiled a frequently asked questions document to prepare us for questions about our presentation on the actual day. This not only allowed us to smooth over confusing parts in our pitch, but also prepped us for questions we would get on the actual day. Our team looked over this sheet and divvied up who would tackle each question so the last bit of our presentation would appear more streamlined. I clearly do not embrace any kind of on-the-spot improv, so this preparation made me feel less helpless about the question portion of the pitch. In fact, almost all of the questions we got on Pitch Day could be found in this document.

On Pitch Day, I initially felt slightly on edge, because my team had worked too hard for me to flub my part of the presentation. I regained the confidence needed to pull off my speech when I remembered how well I knew it. I could not have possibly rehearsed more, and I am proud of my performance and the performance of the rest of my team. The spotlight will not cease to be my own personal form of torture, but I proved to myself that I can successfully pull off a confident and professional presentation.

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