Public Speaking Tips

Speaking in public is a common fear, but it’s one that TAs need to confront to be successful. Fortunately, public speaking is a skill that can be learned and which becomes easier with practice. Below are some tips to help you feel more comfortable, and be more effective, as a speaker.

Before the Presentation:

  • Familiarize yourself with your notes.

  • Practice as frequently as you can—in front of a mirror, friends, pets, etc.

  • Familiarize yourself with the room in which you’ll be speaking.
    • Will you have room to move around?

    • How much will you need to project your voice?

  • Choose an outfit that makes you feel confident and professional.

  • Bring a bottle of water.

During the Presentation:

  • Don’t read from your notes—use them as a guide;
    • You’re not reading to the class, you’re speaking with them.

  • Concentrate on the audience and your presentation, not your nerves.

  • Take a sip of water if you need a second to regain your calm.

General Tips on Delivery:

  • Make frequent eye contact with your audience.

  • Vary the pitch and tone of your voice—don’t speak in a monotone.v

  • Speak loud enough for everyone to hear you.

  • Vary your volume to emphasize a point.

  • Enunciate clearly.

  • Speak slowly.

  • Avoid repetition of filler words such as “okay,” “like,” or “um.”

  • Allow your enthusiasm for the material to come through!

Accept that you will make mistakes. Remember, public speaking gets easier with experience.

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Tips for International TAs video

Projecting Confidence in the Classroom

The way that you express yourself in class can project confidence, or it can convey insecurity. If you tend to say things like: “I don’t know very much about this subject,” “I’m not really an expert in this,” or “I’ve never taught this before,” you should make a conscious effort to stop.

It may well be true that you’ve never taught the material before and you’re not an expert. However, you should avoid deprecating yourself as you’ll communicate to your students that they shouldn’t expect to get much out of the class.

Another way that instructors undercut their authority is by ending sentences with a rising intonation (also known as “upspeak“). In other words, by turning statements into questions. This makes it sound like you’re looking for confirmation or support for what you say. Your students may think, “Is she asking us or telling us?”

Some instructors gain confidence from dressing up for class or having students address them with a formal title. Others prefer a more casual style. There isn’t a right or wrong way. Do what makes you feel most comfortable.

Teaching is often described as a kind of performance. You need to present those aspects of your personality that best help you fulfill your responsibilities as a TA. Before stepping into the classroom, take a few minutes to mentally prepare. Just as an actor would be sure to be “in character” before going on-stage, pause to make sure that you are in an appropriate frame of mind—that you are in your assured, energized teacher mode.

This doesn’t mean that you should pretend to be someone you’re not. It also doesn’t mean that you need to demonstrate how smart you are all the time—that will just intimidate and annoy your students. It also puts the focus on you instead of on them and their learning.

Almost every teacher, at one time or another, will feel unqualified or lack self-confidence. Try to keep in mind that you aren’t alone in those feelings, and that your graduate program didn’t make a mistake. As an academic-in-training, you are entitled to your authority in the classroom. Sure, you will make some mistakes—experienced teachers do too. And you do have more to learn about your subject matter and about teaching.  You do, though, belong in the classroom.

Nervous about the first day of teaching?

Not surprisingly, many TAs are apprehensive about the first day of class. This is natural–even experienced teachers feel anxious in facing a new class.

Among the common fears expressed by TAs are:

  • What if I can’t control the class?
  • What if I freeze and am unable to think or speak?
  • What if I lose my train of thought?
  • What if a student asks me a question I can’t answer?
  • What if I give a wrong answer or make a mistake in presentation?
  • What if a demonstration or experiment does not work properly?

Your position–the person in front of the classroom–vests you with authority. Use this to bolster your confidence before you step into the room. Also, remember that students are probably feeling a bit anxious about how you will judge them.

Having a lecture outline can help you get back on track if you momentarily freeze or forget your next point. Simply telling the class “I forgot where I was going for second” will not erode your authority.

Taking the time to prepare beforehand will help insure that class goes smoothly. However, accept that sooner or later you probably will make a mistake–it happens. Consider beforehand how to respond to such situations.

If you realize that you’ve given incorrect information, correct it at once. Don’t try to cover it up. Admitting that you were wrong will not cause students to lose respect for you–refusing to admit a mistake may.

Not everything will work out exactly as planned. Be assured, however, that your errors will not seem as disastrous to the students as they do to you.

For more tips, check out our TA Handbook.

Tips for Being Confident in the Classroom

Check out our Tips for Being Confident in the Classroom!