Sep 072010
Authors: Jonathan Kastner

Public speaking is a terrifying concept. All those people looking, silently judging, your entire career and the lives of thousands of innocent people hanging on your every word. And, the whole while, the madman who poisoned you refuses to give you the antidote unless you receive a standing ovation.

Or maybe that’s just what it feels like. The point is that public speaking is regarded as a frightening and difficult prospect. And it is. But that’s not what we’re focusing on today; we’re focusing on finding the strength to struggle under the weight of the impossible
burden that is public speaking.

The first suggestion is to not be overwhelmed by it all. Don’t focus on the negatives, like the consequences for failure or the thousands and thousands of things that could go wrong. Instead, focus on what you are certain will happen ­­–– people will look at you and judge you.
And you must give them a great impression.

To do that, remember the first rule: know your audience. In the most common case on the CSU campus, your audience is a class of students stuck in the mandatory public speaking course. You’ve likely been an audience member in such a course before, and so you know what to expect. After all, you were patient and non-judgmental toward everyone who has spoken thus far in the semester, so you can expect the same.

If, however, you don’t know your audience, make it a priority. Facebook-stalking every member of your audience is time consuming, but thankfully humankind has been perfecting a system for knowing someone without actually having to speak to them –– pre-judgment.

Pre-judgments are a series of supposed facts about an ethnic group, gender, religion, or other grouping. It’s a great way to save yourself time and brainpower –– even the stupidest person can apply a little prejudice to huge effect. So just mix in anything that pops into your head, and I can guarantee that people will be so personally moved that they’ll be quoting your speech for days to come.

Now that you know your audience and they know what sort of person you are, it’s time to move on to the most important part –– remaining comfortable. Depending on the setting, there may be large, bright lights or a lack of air conditioning. You’re going to be thirsty, and your stomach might even get “butterflies.”

To counteract this, I recommend filling up on something energizing before the speech. A nice cold soda will keep you calm and focused.
Eat right before you go onstage in case you get hungry during the speech. Finally, make sure to avoid bringing a glass of water –– you don’t want to appear to be nervously drinking instead of confidently speaking.

If you’re old enough, keep in mind how confident alcohol makes you
feel. You can’t drink on campus, so save this for something more personal, like a job interview.

Keep in mind that much of the work for the speech is supposed to be done before you arrive. Careful practice and clever speechwriting may help you succeed, but they also add a lot of extra work to what is already a stressful event. You could go that extra mile, but keep in mind that it’s mostly about how you look, not what you say.

Most communication is non-verbal, so in order to draw focus on what you’re saying instead of how you look, try to make looking at you as unpleasant as possible. Your audience will then have no choice but to listen to what you have to say. For example, wrap yourself in aluminum foil to really make your arguments shine.

These simple tips should transform you from someone who’s dreading the nightmarish experience of public speaking to someone who’s entirely in control of the nightmarish experience of public speech.

Johnathan Kastner is in his second year of his second bachelor degree, majoring in computer science. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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