Table of Contents

This page contains tips on speaking in front of people. These tips could prove useful, for example, to teachers of
Personality Courses and members of Personality Societies who will be speaking at conventions.

  1. A talk should have an hourglass shape: it should start big, narrow to specifics, and finish big.

  2. Even the narrow part should not be too technical for your audience. Technical terms should be explained. The overall theme should be understandable by your grandmother.

  3. The first few sentences should grab attention using a question, story, paradox, or similar device.

      A.  Example weak start: "This research is based on the earlier work of the Kaiser Foundation Research Group, who drew upon the ideas of Sullivan and subjected them to empirical test."

      B.  Example strong start: "Two persons meet at a party. They find each other attractive, but as they continue to talk, they fail to hit it off. Why? Because they share the same interpersonal goals and behaviors!"

  4. The narrative must be delivered dramatically. Never read a speech; use an outline, tree diagram, or other alternative representation. Prepare transitions in advance.

  5. Body language speaks volumes. Here is how others will interpret your body language:

      A.  Arms crossed behind the back = "I'm nervous."
      B.  Arms crossed in front = "I'm defensive."
      C.  Hands crossed in front like a fig leaf = "I'm hiding something."
      D.  Hands on hips = "I'm inexperienced."
      E.  Feet slightly apart, arms at sides = "I'm self-assured and at ease."

  6. Be warm and energetic. Gesture. Make eye contact. Smile. Act as though you are happy to be there.

  7. Look professional. Although academics generally have a more casual attitude about style than, say, business executives, it is still important to dress well; it is never in bad taste to be a little overdressed.

  8. The following speaking styles are used by an audience as cues to intelligence:

      A.  less halting speech (r = -.72),
      B.  more standard use of language (r = .55),
      C.  speaking more words (r = .50),
      D.  speaking each word clearly (r = .43),
      E.  speaking faster (r = .33).

    These cues are all auditory. Visual cues such as self-assurance and attractiveness are nearly unrelated to judged intelligence, although they are inversely related to measured intelligence (Reynolds & Gifford, 2001).

  9. Content matters. The relations between judged intelligence and Cue B (standard speech) and Cue C (number of words) are accounted for by the content of what one says (Reynolds & Gifford, 2001).

  10. Do not worry about curmudgeons who want to stump you with difficult questions. Mostly such creatures are matters of myth--the audience feels uncomfortable if you stumble and wants you to succeed. In any case, you know more about your topic than anyone in the audience (right?). Be confident!

  11. Further advice on giving talks can be found in these rules of argument. (See also Schlosberg, 1965.)

~ Flip to top ~

~ Flip to top ~

Last modified February 2001

Home to Great Ideas in Personality