What to do when you’re cornered by public speaking and group work at the same time?
Let me make a wild guess: the three probably most feared/disliked things for most of us are
- Having to make a speech in public;
- Having to work in a group (worse, an entire set of people you’ve never known; even worse, all of them have known each other before but you haven’t at all);
- (1) and (2) deciding on paying you a visit, together, under the name “group presentation”. With most of our choice of a bachelor degree (and probably further studies and future career), (3) is what we would likely have to do over and over again for the next few years at least. This means we need to deal with it properly and proudly, instead of gravely getting it over with and aiming super low – we can all do times better than just a Pass, righty guys?
Given that that’s true, I will hereby share some of my stories and experiences, as well as some tips that I found helpful when it comes to making a presentation and group work.
Note: the following is only what I believe to be the most vital things to bear in mind when it comes to making a group presentation. There are already so many resources out there (I will put some links at the end of this post), so I will just write down what I have tried and find useful/ineffective, might help save you some time :).
Public Speaking can be daunting, but it’s conquerable
When I was in 3rd grade, I was chosen (to my little heart’s pride and joy) to be the class president. All had gone so smooth for on week, until, the teacher requested I do a weekly report on our academic and extracurricular results. Background knowledge: I was terribly shy and had never spoken in front of more than 5 people (meaning my family).
And that’s exactly why , one Friday morning, my Mom was at an utter surprise to discover that her well-behaved daughter pretended to be sick so that she wouldn’t have to go to school that day.
I don’t remember clearly how she convinced me to come to class and face that dreaded mission, but I did. And I do remember vividly the shift in how I felt back then, standing shakily in front of all my friends and my teacher, starting to read the report, then looking up from the paper to look face-to-face with the entire 56 classmates, not looking at it again for the rest of the “presentation”, not even once.
I didn’t even know when I stopped shaking and started feeling comfortable. All I knew was that I did it, I had faced my worst enemy (well for an eight-year-old kid, that fear was a legitimately huge one), and I had won.
Looking back, that was the day when I discovered two things: one, I am good a public speaking, and two, when you face your fears they disappear.
You might be able to experience that same feeling if you – let’s just say you hate/fear speaking in front of people – volunteer to be the presenter this time, as a first try. From my experience in public speaking so far, I have concluded a few key things:
- Prepare yourself mentally before doing anything, even before doing research or writing the content or practicing.
If you’re scared of trying giving a speech in front of people for the first time for fear that you would be boring and they would judge you, remember this: yes, there’s a chance that you would be a boring speaker (even the best comedians sometimes lose their spark), but the majority of your audience would still support you and be attentive regardless, because they can tell how much you are trying to get past your fear and how much effort you have put into your preparation, and believe me, they appreciate it very much.
Bear in mind: although for both the speaker and the audience, there are two main aspects of a presentation – content and delivery, the audience and the speaker (you) will have completely opposite approaches. Your audience would notice the delivery first (i.e. they must first be drawn in by the way you speak to really get interested in what you’re speaking about), but you should 99% of the time start off by building up quality content.
In the end, content and delivery are equally important; you would enjoy a delicious gourmet dish more when it’s served on white china in a fancy restaurant than when it’s in a cardboard takeaway box.
Body language is a major thing to work on. From observing presenters, I’ve noticed this: you would have the best and most natural body language when you know your content clearly (this is where (2) come in handy) and can “unconsciously” talk about it, and when you’re mentally relaxed (and (1) to the rescue!); that way, your body language would naturally match your content. Pay some attention to your casual conversations with friends, do you make a lot of decisive gestures with our hand when discussing something you’re passionate about, or do you look your friends straight in the eyes when saying something important? Now that you’ve realised it, just make sure you understand your speech thoroughly, then go on there and simply be yourself.
I personally find these two most-widely-suggested ways of practicing on your own disappointingly useless and can even make the fear in (1) worse: (a) speaking in front of a mirror and (b) recording/videotaping yourself then rewatch it. I am super self-conscious and I detest my voice in recordings, so seeing my own facial expressions and body language in the mirror and hearing my own voice on tape just makes me so anxious all I can think about is how awkward and unappealing I look, not what I’m saying and how I say it. You might try it if you have time, after all, this is a process of trial and error.
Group working in style requires some administrative strategies, and it’s a messy process.
To break the fantasy, the following picture is still by far the best description of how real group work goes:
Combine this with that graph I gave you at the beginning, and there you go, a perfect depiction of group projects irl. To help you feel less fed up with group work every time you are assigned a project, I have some ideas:
- Google Doc – with its ability to track changes simultaneously made by users – is your best friend.
Trust me guys, that Google Doc is going to be your saviour when it comes to tracking versions of the document and sharing resources.
Try to avoid redundant and pointless meetings.
I suggest these points in the timeline as necessary to have a face-to-face meeting with your group:
a. When you guys first form the group and decide on the topic (it can be a general one, most of the time extra research helps you narrow it down to a specific aspect of a matter).
Try to set out a timeline in this meeting, including deadlines for individual research, the next meeting to create an outline and start assigning parts for in-depth research (I’ll talk about this in the next bullet point), then the date of the meeting where you would put everything together into a full speech, then the meeting for practice.
The timeline should not be too specific, some room for everyone to comfortably finish their assigned tasks is the key.
b. When you all have done individual research and have a clear idea what the general topic is about.
This meeting is best used to decide – together as a group – on one aspect of the general topic (this is because you can’t and shouldn’t try to talk about everything in just a 10-to-15-minute presentation), and create an outline for your topic. Then, assign some parts for each person to do more in-depth research (building the flesh for your outline-skeleton)
For example, if you’re doing a 10-minute presentation on Media Effects then you might want to make something like this for an outline:
* Intro: (clip/story/etc.)
_ Key terms’ definition
_ The Dystopian view and real life example in the media (like a small case study)
_ The Utopian view and real life example in the media
_ Link to other media theories
c. When you have done in-depth research.
This meeting is for putting together all you have done into a complete speech. It should be done in person rather than online because (a) it’s easier and quicker to discuss what to add and what to leave out face-to-face, and (b) some things can seem nice when written and read but terribly unnatural and awkward when spoken and heard.
By the end of this meeting, you should have decided on who would do what, e.g. the presenter(s) and who would say which part(s), the ‘technician’ (a.k.a. the slides player) etc. After this meeting, you should start making the slides or any visual aids you’re going to use right away
d. When you have everything done and all left is to practice delivering the presentation (the meeting should be at least 2 days before the presentation).
Before attending this meeting, each member should have condensed their part into bullet points and keywords on small cue cards – it’s never a good idea to read from a bunch of A4 paper, besides, after making the cue cards, you would already have remembered what to say.
4 meetings, spaced out nicely, and you’re finished. Doesn’t seem too time-wasting anymore now, does it?
And now, here’s some videos that might help you a little bit more in the process:
- A mind-blowing TEDx Talk on how best to utilise and modify your slides, without having to use eye-candies like Prezi (I’m just not a fan; I’ve always used Powerpoint – I’m a traditionalist in that way)
- Graphs and charts are awesome for visualising ratios and numbers, e.g. the ethnographic of an audience.
- Finally, this is to me a must-watch when you set off on your journey to public speaking:
Last few words: To my fellow mates doing BCM 110 at UOW this semester, wish you guys all the best with your presentations!
All the best,