Young Professionals’ Corner

Lead Out Loud: The Art of Public Speaking

Lyndsay Golden
Rutgers Post-Doctoral Fellow
Medical Affairs


our heart is pounding at what feels like 100 beats per minute. Your palms are sweaty, and your anxious nerves start to kick in. Immediately before you stand in front of an audience, whether it is five or five hundred people, your heart sinks into your stomach.

These are common feelings many people experience moments before delivering a speech or presentation, and I can certainly relate. Though public speaking can be a nightmare for some and come very naturally for others, fear of public speaking, with differing degrees of intensity, can affect everyone from the most accomplished and experienced to the novice speaker. That said, there are ways we can overcome fears of public speaking and ultimately give the best presentation possible.

Presentation fears may be related to performance anxiety in which a person imagines themselves “drawing a blank” or losing the interest of their audience. My fear stems from not being able to adequately answer questions that an audience member may ask. The good news is, you don’t need to overcome your fear in order to become a good public speaker. Fear is a natural emotion when you step onto the stage. But with some preparation and practice, you may be able to soften that fear. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.”

In pharmacy school, I was told that when you are presenting, you are considered the expert. You performed all the research and should therefore have a better understanding of the topic than anyone else in the room. Don’t apologize for something you say, or reinforce the fact that you forgot to mention a piece of information–it will only cause the audience to devalue what you present. Undue modesty does not serve a speaker well: Go into your presentation confident of what you know and you will surely succeed. Regardless of how the thought of public speaking affects you, here are some tips for overcoming the fear of public speaking and improving your presentation skills.

Be Prepared

  • Know your material inside and out
  • Rely on peers to help you rehearse and review your presentation
    • I rely heavily on my colleagues for each presentation I give. Practicing with them allows me to receive feedback on my delivery, postulate questions that the audience may ask, and incorporate additional content into my presentation based on their recommendations.
  • Incorporate a ritual or routine (such as deep breathing) to calm your nerves before your presentation
  • Ensure that your presentation logistics are set well in advance to avoid last-minute surprises (no projector or microphone, uncomfortable room temperature, etc.).

Understand Your Audience

  • Identify the education level of your audience and adjust your presentation accordingly
    • If invited to give a speech, contact the organizer to learn more about the presentation audience.
  • Adjusting a presentation for the correct audience can be quite daunting. An adjustment to meet time constraints can be even more stressful. Therefore, it is important to identify the most critical pieces of information you want your audience to walk away with. The Fellowship program I am currently a part of requires Fellows to deliver a presentation. For some presentations, the content is intentionally altered to mirror real-life scenarios such as time constraints. This allows us to strengthen our presentation techniques and be better prepared for unexpected situations.

Be Present

  • Establish your personal stage presence
    • Walk around the room, engage the audience by asking questions, and show enthusiasm for what you are presenting.
  • Maintain eye contact with five or six individuals sitting in different areas of the room
    • I personally find this very helpful. When the audience senses you are looking at them, the presentation seems to be more conversational and less like “talking AT them.”
  • Tell stories to engage yourself and the audience in what you’re discussing
  • Think positively!
These are all great tips to improve your presentation and public speaking skills, but there is no better prescription than practice. The more speeches and presentations you give, the more comfortable and better you will become.