PACE (Practical Application for Careers and Enterprises)

Willamette MBA

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Public Speaking is Hard—Here’s What You Can Do About It

On Friday, as part of PACE, the entire first-year cohort arrived for our communications workshop. The goal of the workshop was twofold—first, to learn how to become better public speakers, and second, to learn how to tell a cohesive story about ourselves in under two minutes. We each took turns presenting in front of our cohort and afterwards we were critiqued by our professors. A lot of us found it difficult to present, and I imagine that we are not alone in our struggles. So, I offer to you below, some key aspects we took away on Friday:

1. It’s not about you, it’s about your audience

The goal of the speech should be to convey new information to your audience. Instead of asking yourself “Is this what I want to say?” ask yourself “Is this what they want or need to hear?” Focusing on your audience will also enhance your ability to make eye contact and speak naturally. We often are relaxed when we are talking in a small group or one-on-one. However, when we present, we become nervous. As a coping mechanism, we try to focus on what we’re saying rather than the spectators. If we remind ourselves that we just want to tell the audience something they don’t know, it suddenly becomes much easier to make eye contact and move naturally around the room.

2. Tell a story

One way to tell your story is to take a tip from children’s literature. It might seem silly, but the best stories follow the same concepts as our favorite children’s books. For me, The Very Hungry Caterpillar reminds me of a simple narrative to follow ( It has an exposition—the caterpillar exists and is hungry. It has a rising action—the caterpillar is eating everything from cheese to pickles. And it has a dramatic conclusion—the caterpillar turns into a butterfly. You can add complex characters, more details, or conflict, but a great place to start is to follow the same structure as this children’s tale.

3. But, make sure your story is cohesive

Your story should flow together, like a good book or your favorite TV show. Only add in the details that make the story really remarkable and discard those that are not necessary. If you’re telling a story about your work experience, you do not need to explain every job you’ve ever had or the details already found on your resume. Narrow in on just a few ideas. If the audience wants to know more about a particular part of your story, they’ll often ask you after your speech.

4. Add some humor

The best speeches we listened to on Friday made us laugh. If you can make your audience laugh, they will remember you. One of my favorite speeches made a joke about The Wizard of Oz. Remember that audiences can be nervous too. In fact, they can be just as nervous watching someone present as you are onstage. Diffuse that tension with some light humor and you’ll make yourself and your audience feel better.  

The most valuable information I learned on Friday is that it’s really hard to give speeches! Almost no one does it right the first time and everyone has parts they wish they could improve. Learning these tips and tricks has helped me start improving my public speaking skills and I hope next time you give a speech, you will feel more confident too.

Emily Anderson is a first-year MBA candidate at Willamette University. She is a 2017 graduate of Gonzaga University, where she received her B.A. in International Studies. Emily enjoys PACE because of the opportunity to learn valuable career information, improve her analytical and speaking skills, and build partnerships with not-for-profits in Oregon.

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