Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Writing to Read

As I sat in my Intro to Grad Studies in English course and listened to the professor talk about our upcoming colloquium, I began to panic.

How am I supposed to write something interesting and original enough for people to want to listen to me read it for two minutes let alone twenty minutes?

How can I make reading it sound captivating and entertaining, and not like Ben Stein in a Clear Eyes commercial? (Sorry, Ben Stein, but you would put us all to sleep in no time.)

And so I began to worry, but I was not and am not alone. There are not only my classmates who feel the same way about presenting a paper to an audience full of professors and fellow students, but there are people all over the world agonizing about giving a presentation: in class, at a conference, at work.

Wherever they may be, anxiety is flooding through their veins as they anticipate that moment when they have to stand in front of a room full of people (who look like a firing squad ready to take their speaker down at the first fumbling of words or gap in logic)

and impart their knowledge and/or argument.

It is intimidating. No one likes to make mistakes or to embarrass him or herself. And even less people like to admit they just don’t have the answer to a question shot out from the firing squad (the audience) in the Q & A portion of their presentation, because no one likes to look “stupid.”

So, how can you or I or anyone around the world make our writing better for a piece of work to be presented orally?

I think one of the best things anyone can do is remember our audience; the rest falls under this umbrella of advice.

If we wouldn’t want to listen to our paper be read aloud, the odds are – no one else will either. So, the best place to start is to pick a topic that we are interested in and passionate about in some manner.

Once we have our topic, draft the paper. Edit, and draft again until you feel it is “just right.” It should be organized in such a way that it is cohesive, not all over the place. If we lose our audience in the first two minutes of our presentation, they will most likely stay lost (or start checking their Facebook) for the remainder of the allotted time.

It should flow in a way that makes it easy to follow, even if a printed copy is not available for the audience to read along. Good transitions are a key point in avoiding losing the audience. They act as guideposts. They let the audience know where we are and where we are heading. Once we have all this down on paper…

Practice, practice, practice. And practice some more. Present it to an audience of one in the mirror. Read it to some friends. If they are good friends they will tell us, “Dude, this is SO boring. No one cares,” or they will say, “I really didn’t expect to be that interested in it, but that was really intriguing.” Feedback is our friend in this situation: good or bad.

That mirror or those friends will let us know when something is awkward or confusing. Practicing also gives us a better idea of our timing: how long will this take to read? If there is time for questions, when do we need to start wrapping up the presentation? If we have humor or an emphatic point embedded in our presentation, how many seconds can be allowed for laughter or applause (it could happen) before moving on to the next lines?

Thinking about all of these things as we write will help us become more engaged with the material and how to arrange it in just the right manner to keep our audience as engaged as we are.

Of course, the point of these sorts of presentations is to “Wow!” the audience. It helps our self-esteem to know we did a good job, and it is even better if we did a great job. Hearing the applause at the end or being asked engaging questions at the end are just a couple ways to tell bad from good, and good from great. They will also boost that self-esteem or knock it down a couple notches, but that will most likely come as a direct result of how much time, thought, and effort was put into the work presented.

So arise, go forth, and conquer that writing and reading!  Oh, and try not to sound like Ben Stein.

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