Fear of public speaking is an almost universal human trait. Which is unfortunate, considering that presenting one’s ideas verbally is vital for many careers, especially those in the creative industries.

When students are losing sleep about their speeches and presentations, they turn to Matthew Petrunia, associate professor and acting chair of English and Communication Studies. The specialist in public speaking, argumentation, and persuasion not only teaches courses in these topics, he also encourages students to seek him out when faced with daunting presentations at FIT and beyond.
“I tell my students, I’m your professor for life,” Petrunia says. “I’m always happy to help.”

1.    Go easy on yourself. “Give yourself permission to make mistakes. In your head, you might be having a meltdown—‘I can’t believe I phrased it this way!’—but to the audience, the speech went exactly as planned. If that doesn’t help, remember that most of what you say will be forgotten 10 minutes later.”

2.    Gesture sparingly. “People gesture to emphasize something important, but if everything is important, nothing stands out. For hand gestures to be seen, make sure they occur above the waist. And it’s perfectly OK to let your hands hang at your sides.”

3.    Take control of your visuals. “When you have finished discussing a slide but aren’t ready to show to the next one, switch to a blank slide. Otherwise, people will continue to engage with the previous slide after you’ve moved on to new information.”

4.    Use humor carefully. “If you’re going to tell a joke that teases someone, always aim it at yourself. Give people an opportunity to laugh with you. Singling out audience members may make them uncomfortable, and they may stop listening.”

5.    Leave out the inside knowledge. “Colloquialisms, humor, and euphemisms might not translate well with diverse audiences. Instead of listening more intently, they may disengage because they don’t understand what was said. The larger the audience, the more conservative to be with your language choices.”