Public speaking

Present ideas persuasively to diverse audiences both visually and orally. Develop skills and confidence in public speaking.


Jump to section:  Understanding Public Speaking| Cultivating Public Speaking Skills and Confidence | The “Four Vs” Communication Model & Funding | Quick Guide to Public Speaking | Taking Action | Resources | References


Understanding Public Speaking 

Presenting to an audience goes beyond verbally communicating ideas to include visual aid components. Such components include slides, posters, or videos that serve to clarify the presenter’s ideas, animate the presentation, and captivate the audience.  


Why does it matter?

It is typical for all students to be expected to deliver oral presentations at some point, whether as part of a course, in a department seminar, or at a conference. In addition to promoting your ideas in school, presenting skills are as essential during your professional life. Beyond academia, mastering strategies of persuasively communicating information, opinions, and arguments boosts your interpersonal skills, thus facilitating teamwork, from discussions to collective decision making. Moreover, this skill set allows you to captivate the interest of others (e.g., colleagues, investors) and to establish collaborations and partnerships. However, employers claim that graduate students often lack the experience and skills to “sell” their ideas to a general audience. [1] 

Cultivating Public Speaking Skills and Confidence 

As graduate students move to the professional world, they carry over many of the communication skills that they’ve built over years of practice (e.g., in class presentations, group discussions, research seminars). Give oral and poster presentations at a conference or a Research Day in your department or institute; it is an opportunity to improve your verbal communication skills, network, and get feedback from peers and experts.  

Today, a slideshow is a given in any type of presentation to the point where screens dictate how classrooms and conference rooms are set up. While visual elements are crucial for clarity and entertainment purposes, presenters can be overly dependent on them for cues and information. Explaining your ideas without a slideshow is a real test of your knowledge and communication skills. Try practicing an Elevator Pitch, where you need to explain who you are and what you do to a general audience in a short period of time (usually between 30 seconds to 3 minutes). Another example is the Chalk Talk where the presenter uses a chalkboard or whiteboard to explain his ideas. In fact, Chalk Talks are common practice during the hiring process of academic researchers. [2] In Law schools, moot competitions are popular and involve a simulated court where students practice argumentation and advocacy in front of an experienced judge.  

Consider your Audience 

Imagine a surgeon trying to explain what pancreaticoduodenectomy is to a group of economists. Presenting your work to your peers is a simpler task that grants you the freedom to use the language you are familiar and comfortable with. But like any specialist, you face situations where you need to explain your work to peers who, while being in the same field, may not be familiar with your specific subject area (e.g., behavioural economists may not speak the same language as development economists).  

Other instances may involve you explaining to non-experts such as your parents or your curious eight-year old daughter. Explaining what you do to someone you know is a stress-free strategy that allows you to formulate and simplify your ideas while not worrying about public speaking (don’t worry, your mom has likely seen you at your worst!). Presenting at public forums or conferences tailored for a broad audience is an alternative, professional way to practice (e.g., ACFAS conference).  

Building Public Speaking Confidence 

Are you stressed before giving a presentation? Is “stressed” an understatement? You are not alone. Fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, is highly prevalent and considered one of the top social phobias, with only 8% of affected individuals seeking professional help. [3] [4] [5]Developing strategies to manage this fear is an important step in cultivating the ability and the comfort to speak in front of a small or large audience. This is especially important if you aim to work as part of a team or have a leadership role within an organization. To work through your fear of public speaking, practice speaking to a group in a non-formal setting where expectations are not too high. For example, join a student club at your department and participate in group discussions. You can also sign up for classes where you perform in front of others (e.g., improv class). 

The “Four Vs” Communication Model 

The “Four Vs” communication model (a modified version of the “Three Vs” model by psychologist Albert Mehrabian [6] was conceived following a behavioral analysis of 100,000 public speakers including politicians, corporate executives, and keynote speakers.[7]  

This model emphasizes four practical elements to be a persuasive, confident, genuine, and articulate speaker:  

Verbal elements: Be succinct, choose audience- and context- appropriate words, and avoid hedging language (indirect language that conveys hesitation such as “just” or “sort of”). 

Vocal elements: modulate the volume and rate of your speech according to content, and avoid disfluencies (non-lexical sounds such as “Um” or “uh”) by monitoring your inhalation and exhalation patterns.  

Visual element, i.e., body language: Audience often equates competence with their perceptions of a speaker’s confidence. Take a confident stance by squaring your shoulders and hips and using broad and extended gestures (in moderation); maintain eye contact with your audience as a whole, instead of a particular person. 

Vital elements, i.e., authenticity: Let your energy and enthusiasm show your true passion for the topic. Use words and actions to connect with your audience and to show an understanding of their needs and concerns. 

Quick Guide to Public Speaking 

  1. Demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of the topic of your presentation: use specialized vocabulary, know gaps in research, and anticipate questions [8] 
  2. Break down and summarize complex ideas to non-expert audience [9] [10]
  3. Develop agility in producing refined arguments in various situations and to a wide audience (e.g. investors during request for funding presentation vs. peers during conference keynote presentation) [11] 
  4. Engage in diverse verbal interactions such as discussions, interviews, lectures, or debates [12] 
  5. When using slides, keep them simple with the clarification of information being their main purpose

Taking Action 


Websites & Apps

Books, articles & reports

Groups & Associations 

Need Help 


As a McGill student, your participation in full to activities such as training workshops and volunteering are tracked on your Co-Curricular Record (CCR)! Having your co-curricular activities listed in one document can help you revise your CV or cover letter, prepare for interviews, and explore career options. Learn how to leverage this important document through myInvolvement, and make your training count!
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