Advice for introverted panelist.
June 12, 2005 8:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm in college and haven't had much public speaking experience. I've been asked to be a part of a panel at an Ivy with a lawyer and other professionals and I'm extremely nervous. I've never done anything like this. Helpppp!!!

I have two questions:

1) Any tips on how to quickly become a better speaker? (Do marbles in the mouth really help?)

2) Protocol for being a panelist? It's not at my school. Should I bring a hat or sweatshirt from my school? Maybe a bottle of wine? Nothing? I'm assuming I should wear a suit, but I don't know much else and don't want to inadvertantely offend my host.
posted by null terminated to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Toastmasters. Trust me. Find the very first meeting in the spot that is closest to you. Tell them your problem - have them help you.

Please know that these people are there to help you. It is really a fantastic group.
posted by dabradfo at 8:31 PM on June 12, 2005

Biggest tip - Bottle of water. Gives you moment to pause, think and reflect. Don't just let words leap out of your mouth.

Don't forget that you've been asked because you know something. Revel in that for a moment.

Panels have a moderator...usually it's Q&A...sometimes each panelist comments...sometimes each panelist chimes in as necessary.

You will be likely expected to explain who you are, where you're from, and how you're relevant/qualifications etc.

Can you hold a conversation at your family dinner? Try to keep in mind that lots of public speaking very, very similar. Try to give a simple answer...mention relavent details. The advantage of being on a panel is that you don't have to carry the talk.
posted by filmgeek at 8:53 PM on June 12, 2005

Agree with Toastmasters. An excellent organization.

Regarding how to dress - simply ask the person who invited you about the dress code at these events. Be truthful - tell them that this is your first panel, you want to make a good impression.

Obviously you are already impressing the panel selection committee so much, that you are invited to the panel - so relax, enjoy the day, speak from the heart and from the mind, be diplomatic, represent your school well and have fun.

If you are asked to speak as part of the panel, then prepare 5 minutes (or however many minutes they ask you to speak) then enjoy the proceedings.

The speech should cover the essentials of your message - your research, what is known, what is yet to be known, issues outstanding, how you are contributing to the research. Be passionate and enthusiastic about what you will talk about - and be yourself as well.

And bring business cards. If you don't have any, then have some printed with the name of the school, your name, email and [degree] Candidate. Even if you are not graduating this year, networking must begin early.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:58 PM on June 12, 2005

Any tips on how to quickly become a better speaker?

(1) Practice. You don't need to practice for this, but in general, practice. You get used to standing around and pontificating in front of 10, 50, or 500 people.
(2) Allow yourself to be silent for a moment. Standing silently for 2 or 3 seconds while you think or collect yourself sounds a lot better than umm-ing again and again. Remember that silences that seem eternal to you seem brief to the audience.
(3) The audience isn't there to criticize you. They don't give a damn about you, either way. What this means is that nobody is going to be talking about what a bad job you did over beers later, or in pillow talk with their honeys. The very worst thing that can happen (unless you vomit on stage, go berserk, suddenly develop Tourette's, etc) is that they'll forget about you inside of ten minutes, in which case you've suffered no harm at all.

Protocol for being a panelist?

Coat and tie, or at least chinos-and-oxford, unless you know otherwise. Ask the organizer.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:11 PM on June 12, 2005

1) Imagine everyone in their underpants.

2) Be cordial to your fellow-panelists. Especially if they are older or higher ranked. BUT, do not give in if you think your arguments are reasonable.

3) Look at the panelists (if the layout permits) but also at the audience.

But possibly the best advice I ever got:
4) Videotape yourself practicing. Check your positioning, moving your hands, tone of your voice etc. Let other people correct you. Even if you cannot simulate the same exact situation you will be in, you can gain insight on how you come across.
posted by carmina at 9:24 PM on June 12, 2005

I don't want to hijack the thread, but can someone explain (or point to) the process used in Toastmasters?
posted by o0o0o at 9:31 PM on June 12, 2005

I used to do a lot of public speaking, including television news work. Good suggestions here, especially ROU_Xenophobe's #2 and #3 suggestions. Avoiding "umms", "ahhs", and other verbal crutches and using short silences instead is a relatively easy skill to work on, and instills instant authority and confidence. That is of course assuming you know your subject matter inside out, which is the other foundation of a good speech.
posted by rolypolyman at 9:49 PM on June 12, 2005

For any kind of informative speaking, the rule I learned was "tell them what you're going to say, say it, then tell them what you said." It follows the writing standard of thesis, body and conclusion and makes it easier for the audience to remember the important points you talked about.

Also, time yourself delivering an answer to a question that might come up. Many beginners go on for far too long. Have fun!
posted by letitrain at 10:56 PM on June 12, 2005

Re: Videotaping: BEST IDEA EVER. Set aside three hours or so. Get a videocamera. Tape yourself first reading from a script, then speaking naturally in response to some vague questions pulled from a bowl. Then watch yourself. Then do it again. When you can eliminate all of the 'so' and 'um' and fumbling from your speaking, and speak in short sentances and clear ideas, you're set. Pauses are FINE, pauses make you sound like you're very carefully considering what you say. Whether that's true or not. ;)

Re: Dress/bringing: Just bring yourself, your mind, and anything that you need as far as notes or documentation about the topic. You don't want to fumble with that while you're speaking, but if it's a debate style panel, it's occasionally helpful to be able to back up your points -- especially if you're younger. ;)

Re: Toastmasters: It differs by the club. I was with a very informal club where we kept to Robert's Rules of Order during our meetings. Two or three people presented prepared speeches, for each one of those an assigned person took notes in an organized outline (Sometimes other meeting participants would take notes and would talk to people later) and then presented their review of the person's speaking later, focusing on a particular point (such as visual words or outlining). A grammarian also keeps track of vocabulary words used during the speeches, and a count of 'pause words' like "So and Um" used during the speeches. The speeches are also timed.
We also did fun candid speeches called 'table topics'. They were to practice extemporaneous speaking as would be required during a panel.
If someone came into the club and joined and said they had to get better at extemporaneous speaking, we'd take a full meeting to drill them at table topics and we'd do round robin reviews (go around the table and each say one thing positive and one thing that could be improved).
In some of the more intensive clubs, extra things get reviewed, including occasional round-robin reviews. 'So' and 'um' uses get marked during the speech with a 'clicker' or buzzer. The focus is ALWAYS on positive feedback and working to make you a better speaker in every way.
posted by SpecialK at 10:59 PM on June 12, 2005

To sort of reiterate ROU_Xenophobe's #3...

How often do you see others speak, technical seminars or speeches for class or whatever? Most of them are pretty bad, right? That's what we expect from most presentations. Even if you do screw up, you're probably still doing better than most speakers out there anyway. If you do well, people will be silently thanking you for not sucking.

And then they'll promptly forget it all anyway. It's really not the biggest thing to worry about (and I'm absolutely terrified of speaking in front of others...practice does help!).
posted by hototogisu at 11:07 PM on June 12, 2005

Do wear a suit. Be prepared to remove the jacket or loosen your tie. The rule is: Dress a little better than your audience.
posted by cribcage at 11:13 PM on June 12, 2005

Any tips on how to quickly become a better speaker?

A little bit of cocaine will do wonders to your confidence and poise. But, careful.
posted by ori at 12:45 AM on June 13, 2005

Congratulations on being invited to a panel. Presumably you know a whole lot on some specific topic. Probably more than most people in the room. Possibly more then everyone in the room. You should definitely gain some confidence from that realization.

Also, the audience is there because they are interested in what you are discussing. Your information or your story is already of interest to them. In this situation, you don't have to WOW them with your delivery because your information is already interesting and probably entertaining. If you have any idea of the kinds of things you will be asked to say, I would focus mainly on thinking about how to frame your information in a way that it relates to your audience's interests. If you do that and you meet minimum levels of audibility and comprehension the rest will take care of itself.
posted by Tallguy at 4:34 AM on June 13, 2005

I've never understood the "imagine them in their underwear" thing. How is that useful? (Plus, unless you're speaking to a particularly attractive audience, that's likely to be kinda gross...)

You can probably speak more slowly than you're naturally inclined to - first of all, when nervous, you might speed up, and second, if speaking to a large group on a slightly technical / academic / unfamiliar topic, it's good to keep a deliberate pace. You don't want to drone, but in my experience, nervous / new speakers are more likely to err in the opposite direction (droners are old & bored).

If looking in people's eyes makes you nervous, look at their foreheads - it will seem the same to them (unless you're particularly close, perhaps). It will make people feel engaged if you look around at them as you speak.

Practice is really the answer, though. It's good you're doing something that makes you 'extremely nervous', as once you live through it, it will be just slightly less insanely frightening the next time. And remember that even if your heart is beating so hard you think you'll have a heart attack, everyone gets that the first time they speak in public, and it decreases the more you do it (though other factors affect things too - don't overdo the coffee - or cocaine!).

I wouldn't worry too much about protocol. Ask the conference coordinators about anything specific, but honestly they will probably not care. I wouldn't personally bother with a hat/sweatshirt from your school; you'll be introduced as a representative of that school, and will be thought of that way. At least in grad school type conferences, keeping track of what school someone's affiliated sort of happens naturally (like, people are as likely to say, the guy from colorado, as they are to say, john smith).

Wine? If there's a post-conference reception, the school will provide wine & finger food; if there's a dinner for participants, you'll order at a restaurant. I can't think of a situation where bringing anything like that would fit. Don't worry. Just bring yourself and your expertise / ideas. That's all they want from you.
posted by mdn at 5:22 AM on June 13, 2005

Prodessional media consultants will tell you the relative importance of the following in communicating your message is:

Your words - 7%
Your vocal tone - 36%
Body Language - 57%

Having just finnisherd a 3-day course in executive communications, in which we were taped numerous times over that period, I can see their point.

If you are naturally reserved make a point of using gestures as you speak - it makes you seem more interesting. Start out with your hands open on the table or at your side (if standing). Be conscious of using them - it's easy to get "locked Up" by hodling them together or putting them in your pocket. DON'T!

As you speak look around at the audience & Use eye contact. Look someone in the eye for each sentence spoken. SMILE!

Put a "period" at the end of each sentence - don't be afraid to pause. Consciously end it - don't feel like you have to fill every second with words - this is what makes you unconsciously say "uh" or "um" between thoughts. Silence is OK.

End the sentence with a downward voice inflection or tone, not one going up.


If sitting at a table, lean slightly forward with back straight but hands unclasped. This makes you appear sincere. Whenever another panelist is speaking look at them, not at the audience or your lap. Gesture when speaking.

Decide what your key message is - make it succinct. Try to get it out early in your talk & repeat/summarize it at the end. If you give a talk & there are then questions afterwards, don't let your portion end with the answer to question (particularly if the impresion is netgative) - repeat your key message to the audience. Take control.

Use some note cards to write down your key message & supporting data. Try to come up with some examples to use to make your point. Think of the questions you could be asked beforehand and jot down responses & supporting info.


Don't feel like you have to keep on talking. This tends to make you wnader & sound uncertain. I'ts OK to pause briefly while you collect your thoughts to answer a question/go on to the next point. Make your key points using clear simple sentences & then move on.

Dress nicely. Don't cross your arms over your chest or your legs in front of the audience - makes you look defensive.


As stated before, get somone to tape you. You'll see what I mean.
posted by Pressed Rat at 5:59 AM on June 13, 2005

Jeez, next time spell check.....
posted by Pressed Rat at 6:00 AM on June 13, 2005

I've just finished my conference season for the year so this is fresh in my mind. I'm hardly the best speaker in the world, but lord knows, I've seen enough bad ones in the last two months.

Some random thoughts in no particular order:
- the best thing you can do for yourself is to really know what you're going to discuss and to have practiced it a few times. I've found that even when you're nervous, when you mind completely empties, as it will when you first take the stage, if you know you subject well, you'll get back on track quickly.

- On the other hand, don't over practice. Nothing looks more awkward than someone repeating a rote piece. Practice is good, mostly to understand the pacing and to make sure you hit your points, but don't be word-perfect.

- On a similar note, cue cards or notes are bad---they draw your attention away from your audience. You should avoid them if you can.

- Don't try to be something you're not. Some speakers put on a false bonhomie which just comes off as patronizing. It takes a lot of practice to get this right. Don't try it for your first attempt at public speaking (unless that's who you really are).

- The advice about looking around the room really works too. Pick two or three faces and keep coming back to them. It really helps the audience feel connected to what you're saying and makes you more effective.
posted by bonehead at 6:41 AM on June 13, 2005

I've never understood the "imagine them in their underwear" thing. How is that useful? (Plus, unless you're speaking to a particularly attractive audience, that's likely to be kinda gross...)
That's precisely the point: By imagining them in their underwear, you realize that they are just normal people, not gods. If a person feels intimidated and feels below the audience and/or other panelists, imagining them in an unflattering way (i.e., in their undies) can boost his own status relative to the rest of the crowd. The less attractive the other people are, the better this works, actually. In reality, there is a very experienced panelist wearing a business suit. In your mind's eye, though, picturing him in his undies, you realize he's just this middle-aged frumpy guy who is probably just as intimidated of you as you are of him (although he is not intimidated by the format). It's a way to equalize yourself to the others.
posted by Doohickie at 8:00 AM on June 13, 2005

It's a way to equalize yourself to the others

right... yeah, I dunno, I guess the naked thing in particular doesn't really work for me, but the "remember they're just people too" part is good, so if thinking of them in underwear helps viscerally remind me you of that, use it. Somehow it never clicked that way for me (more like, shit, no one told me it was a nudist conference!)

However, for me it isn't so much that I'm thinking of the audience as 'above' me, but just that there are so many of them. Each one individually isn't intimidating, but as a group, we've established an event, and if I mess up my part, everyone present will have to deal with that awkwardness. (When I'm in an audience and a speaker fumbles everything, I feel uncomfortable, too). So the larger the audience, the more responsibility it seems like you have to make things 'go well'. You're still responsible for making things go well if everyone's naked. maybe more so, because if they get bored with you, they might start paying too much attention to all the naked people around them and then it could like, degrade into an orgy with you tapping the mic at the front, saying, uh, guys, so, about illocutionary speech acts? uh, guys...?

okay, sorry for the tangent. Um, yeah. So just have something interesting to say, I guess :).
re: the body language / smile / gesture advice above, I would note that different kinds of public speaking call for different styles. Being on an academic panel will be different from hyping up the marketing department, for instance. Think about what you like about public speakers, and what you're naturally inclined toward / good at. In other words, play to the strengths you already have, and work to develop the abilities you admire.
posted by mdn at 9:40 AM on June 13, 2005

Thank you very much for the advice! I've emailed my local Toastmasters and will get my hands on a video camera to practice with. I'm not sure how mark a best answer to a quest ion like this, so I'll just not and thank you all for your help.

I'll let you know how it goes.
posted by null terminated at 9:41 AM on June 13, 2005

One tip is not to try to make up for the fact that you feel uncomfortable by cracking snarky or sarcastic jokes. I've seen many undergrad panel members attempt this and it never goes over well.

Write down a few key points to make, lean slightly foward in your chair (don't lean back or slump!), speak in a firm, clear voice, drink plenty of water, and you should be fine.
posted by nyterrant at 11:17 AM on June 13, 2005

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