on (novice) presenting

yesterday i presented a chapter of my senior thesis to a classroom of students and a number of professors. i find i am wracked with anxiety days before a public speaking engagement. writing, for me, is comfortable – not because it is easy (it is HARD), but because i have a method for doing it. after years of practice and feedback, i’ve found my sea legs. speaking is different. debate teams and student government are elective positions – speaking instruction is not mandatory. what we don’t know, terrifies us; public speaking combines our fear of the unknown with our fear of judgment and ridicule. no wonder it induces nausea in so many.

reflecting on my final months of college, i realize that i’ve given a handful of presentations – each less terrible (and better received) than the last. confidence is a product of experience, not of natural talent. if you haven’t seen a speaking fellow, do so. it is an excellent and rare resource. in the meantime, if you have a presentation coming up before spring break, consider the following tips (they’ve worked wonders for me):

  •  take a very deep breath before starting to speak.
  • keep a glass of water on the lectern (if your throat gets froggy, as mine does).
  • people read two pages of 12 pt., double-spaced text every 5 minutes – plan accordingly.
  • writing and speaking are completely separate beasts, even though they use the same language. the president has a speech writer for one task and a copy writer for another. when taking notes for presenting, try write as you speak, not as you write.

tao of the back-door brag

in my most recent writing center conference, i worked with a student on her application for an environmental policy fellowship. no amount of “expertise” can prepare a writer for the gauntlet that is the application essay. when i think of my own experience looking for jobs, fellowships, et. al., i must withhold a list of unsavory expletives. how is one to describe oneself in 1,000 words? expository writing is argument-based; however, in an assignment that demands you sell yourself to a committee, there is no contention or contradiction to flesh out. no text, painting, or lab report provides the juicy evidence with which to make your claim.

my strategy for fellowing application essays is simple: i say unto others as i would want said unto me. the best advice i ever received? BACK-DOOR BRAG! you must make yourself as impressive as you are indispensable to the program. the irony behind shameless self-promotion is that it’s actually a subtle art; your obnoxious braggery must sound like an earnest attempt to convey information: “Renaissance art piqued my interest through my passion in conservation, for which I held an internship at the Met for three years…” blah blah blah whatever.

my relationship with language is one of transparency: i prefer efficient, crisp communication. but every rule has its exception, and the application essay is the caveat par excellance. put your platonic essence, your sublime interior, on the back-burner — be the slick politician, and write whatever sounds good.

together, we can (get jobs).