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I'm an assistant professor of neuroscience at Washington State University in Vancouver, where I use tiny zebrafish (the size of an eyelash!) as a model system to study human hearing loss and how we can prevent it. I'm also a long-time Toastmaster and I teach communication workshops. This blog represents the merging of my two passions - science and communication, which has really become one central passion - the science of communication. There's a revolution in science right now...the idea that we scientists should sometimes leave the lab and talk about what we do, and why we do it, to real people. This blog looks at why we should do this, and how to actually talk about science with non-scientists (and with each other!). Portions of this blog are also featured on Qualia, the AAAS MemberCenter blog site.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Presentation strength training

From http://www.bboyscience.com/mental-health-strength/
In my quest for eternal youth (or at least slower signs of aging!) I’ve started weight training.  All of those bicep curls and shoulder presses are starting to pay off – I can actually see muscles in my upper body.

Just as we perform exercises to help our bodies look and perform their best, we can (and should!) perform exercises to improve our speaking skills. I developed a quick set of speaking exercises to work on specific aspects of public speaking: voice volume, eye contact, body language, and removing filler words.  These exercises work well in groups of 5-10 people but can be modified for different sized groups or situations.

I run this series in 4 rounds, where each round focuses on one skill while building on the previous rounds.  Participants stand in a circle and one person starts by speaking a few sentences, paying specific attention to projecting their voice to the other members of the group.  Then the person to their right does the same thing, and so on, until each group member has a chance to speak while concentrating on voice volume and vocal control.  The second round is much the same, but participants strive to make eye contact with each group member.  In the third round, the focus is on good posture and a confident stance – feet hip-width apart, hands relaxed at sides.  Finally, in the fourth round, participants attempt to eliminate filler words (ahs, ums, likes, you knows) from their speaking. The idea is that in each round, we focus on the current skill (like body language) but also practice skills from the round before, such as eye contact.

I assigned a different topic for each round, such as “describe your holiday plans”, or “what would you do if you won the lottery?” Participants practiced thinking on their feet as well as on specific delivery skills. These exercises can be easily modified for different skills (vocal variety, hand gestures) and using topics appropriate for the audience.

I tried this exercise today in a speaking workshop for biology majors at Washington State University Vancouver  and I was happy with the outcome.  I recommend assigning one member of each group to be the “reminder” in order to gently cue people to the task at hand.  For example, if the focus is body language and the person speaking is fidgeting with their hands, the reminder would say “body language” to make the speaker aware of the fidgeting behavior.  Try rotating reminders each round so no one is always the bad guy.

You would probably train for a marathon, so how about training for your next presentation.  Try these exercises with your friends or coworkers.  Enjoy your workout!

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