Five ways faculty can improve their public speaking skills

As C-I faculty, we frequently put our students in a position to reflect on their abilities as a speaker, and to practice and refine critical oral communication skills. When was the last time you gave yourself the same opportunity? At the recent LSU Faculty Colloquium, Dr. Linda Nilson reminded us just how important this is: “As faculty, we may not think of ourselves as public speakers, but our students do.” 

How do you think your students would rate you as a public speaker? If you’re ready for them to give you an A+, here are five tips to consider as you prepare your next lecture.

Use effective visuals to supplement your talk. In a face-to-face lecture setting, having slides or other visuals that are too reliant on text takes away from what you’re saying. Students stop listening and start scrambling to write down all the content they see. Instead, use visuals to show and your words to tell. Minimize text-based visuals and increase your use of illustrative graphics. Let your words be the focus. 

Convey enthusiasm for the topic. Odds are you are passionate about the subject you teach, and showing that passion is a simple way for students to get excited about the subject too. This doesn’t require you to be overly energetic and shout your research from the rooftops, but through simple gestures, facial expressions, and movement around the classroom, you can express enthusiasm while demonstrating your expertise.

Have a conversation. Approach delivering your lecture in the same way you would a conversation. Vary your cadence. Speak clearly. Maintain eye contact. Pause. You have a lot of important information to share with your students, so speaking as though it comes natural to you rather than as a rehearsed speech will help them absorb the material better.

Know your audience. While we’re on the topic of conversation, be mindful of your audience’s knowledge, experience, and interests as you enter into the discussion—and allow it to be a two-way conversation. Offering opportunities to listen to students, either in class through verbal exchanges or written responses, is critical in both getting to know them and helping them engage with the content.

Prepare. Practice. Repeat. Notes are great, reading from them is not. You know your content, and the best way to deliver it in a confident way is by practicing. Try taping yourself giving a lecture to see where you can improve.

Looking for some extra credit? Here are a few additional resources to check out: