Janet L. Kayfetz

The art and craft of writing and speaking

Month: August, 2012

Stumbling When Delivering a Talk

One of my advanced graduate students sent me this email:

“I practiced for the [oral presentation of our] defense multiple times and I felt good about the intro without reading from script. At the defense, I stumbled pretty badly. This has happened on multiple occasions where I feel good beforehand, but ultimately stumble. I was wondering if you had any tips or why you think that always happens.”

Here is how I responded —

“In my own experience, the two main reasons why I stumble even when I am well-rehearsed are 1) the story is still not really distilled into its clearest iteration (so I can’t make the logical connections because they aren’t really there) and 2) I am worried about the timing or the audience or something like that (I am not focused, I am  not in the moment and “ready” to perform because I am distracted for some reason). Also being tired — mentally or physically  — is awful for any performance.”

“I think that #1 is just something that needs A LOT of work — way more than we think. And #2 is a matter of self-discipline that comes with some experience, where we finally feel confident about how effective we are (because we have seen it happen so many times by now) and because we have received enough feedback to know that we are good speakers and that our stories are worthy and make sense.”

“We have to work super hard on our stories and we have to build up our confidence and experience. To offer a real example — I coached a postdoc on a job talk this past week for close to 10 hours. I know this person to be a gifted speaker and writer; he is thorough; etc. When he presented the talk to me the first 5 times the story seemed out of focus; random slides with random points being made; like a laundry list. No story. He worked very very hard over a couple of weeks to pull this talk together — major surgery to the storyline; the positioning of his work and where it fits into his field; the visuals; the transitions. The talk came together beautifully, but it was a major effort. I knew that once the story was crystal clear, he would deliver it beautifully.”

“I hope this helps!”


Maeve Binchy

I fell in love with Maeve Binchy’s beautiful, visual, relevant writing. This wonderful writer died this past Monday. If you love excellent, readable writing, and you would like to get a feeling for Ireland and the Irish heart and soul, read Maeve Binchy’s books and stories.

“Maeve Binchy, who was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed authors in contemporary Irish literature, selling more than 40 million books, died Monday at a Dublin hospital after a brief illness, according to Irish media. She was 72.”


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