July 1st, 2010

Public Speaking for Psychologists

“Public Speaking for Psychologists: A Lighthearted Guide to Research Presentations, Job Talks, and Other Opportunities to Embarrass Yourself”

By David B. Feldman and Paul J. Silvia

American Psychological Association

Washington, D.C., 2010

 Authors offer ‘spot on’ advice about public speaking

Reviewed By James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA-D

Remember your first oral presentation at a conference, grand rounds or similar professional venue? Most of us were anxious and filed with self-doubt. “Public Speaking for Psychologists” was written for the first-time or novice presenter in need of direction and moral support. The book is constructed as a practical guide, its many recommendations condensed in a slim 143 pages. Indeed, you can read the book cover-to-cover in one sitting.

Psychologists David B. Feldman and Paul J. Silvia are keenly aware of the challenges facing young and inexperienced speakers. They’re also skilled writers who communicate with precise language that gets to the point. The book also is organized concisely – brief chapters that quickly introduce a topic, make suggestions, and end with a three to four sentence summary.

The basis for the book is that it is difficult to avoid public speaking. Graduate school advisors expect student conference presentations. There will be employment interviews that require a formal talk and career development demands speaking to interested audiences. So, as the authors warn, “You can’t say no to everything without looking like a scraggly-bearded hermit.”

Feldman and Silvia emphasize several key points for public speaking success. First, know your audience: why have they come to listen to you and what questions are they likely to ask? Furthermore, prepare to speak for only 80 percent of your allotted time because shorter is always better than longer. And also realize that most everyone in the audience is on your side!

A good presentation demands solid preparation, a point of emphasis throughout the book. Feldman and Silvia recommend that you make an outline of your presentation, write out sections, set time limits and practice speaking alone and with other people present. Soliciting feedback from trusted peers is also worthwhile before you take the podium.

There can be technical problems during presentations and the book addresses many of them. For example, be sure to back-up your computer files, arrive early to test the equipment (microphone, LCD projector) and, whenever possible, bring your personal laptop. Because virtually all presentations include Powerpoint slides, the book shares tips about arranging graphics, selecting font styles, pacing the flow of information and “keeping it simple.”

Other suggestions found in the book have to do with answering questions from the audience, using humor, speaking spontaneously without reading from a script, maintaining decorum and responding to unanticipated events such as a wedding reception taking place in the room next to you! True to its title, all of this information is conveyed lightheartedly in a manner that should entice even the most intrepid public speaker.

If you teach college and university courses, “Public Speaking for Psychologists” would be welcome supplementary reading for students beginning their speaking careers. Young professionals wanting to hone their speaking skills should also read the book. As someone who has given hundreds of presentations, I can attest that the straightforward advice from Feldman and Silvia is spot on. Even seasoned public speakers may want to pick up the book to validate their own presentation tactics and perhaps, learn something new.

James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA-D, is senior vice president, applied research, clinical training and peer review at the May Institute in Norwood, Mass.

By James K Luiselli EdD ABPP BCBA-D

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