Presenting Skills and Marching Band

Aug 25 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

One of the things no one really warns you about in high school, when you start considering a career in science or engineering, is how frequently you'll have to present. Even if you do get warned, unless you're involved in speech in debate club, no one teaches you presentation skills, right? Wrong. Some of the most important things I've learned about how to give a good presentation I learned in marching band.

1) How to stand attentively, yet relaxed ("at ease"): Standing up straight conveys confidence to your audience, but most people tense up when they think they're standing straight. I also learned the fine art of not locking my knees... seriously, fainting doesn't look good.

2) How to breathe properly: Yes, you aren't fainting from a lack of oxygen, and you've been breathing your entire life (hopefully). That doesn't mean your doing it in the most effective way possible. When you take a deep breath, you stomach should move, rather than your shoulders and chest lifting. Taking a controlled breath can slow down your heart rate and help you calm down, if you're like me, and race through presentations.

3) Speaking loudly without yelling: How many presentations have you been in where you can barely hear the speaker in the second row of a small room? I'm willing to bet at least a few. Volume in speaking doesn't come from your throat, it comes from the diaphragm. Using air (which you'll have more of if you take better breaths) can support your voice, making you sounds less nervous. Most women with high-pitch voices also find that this helps pitch their voice down a bit.

4) The important of pauses:First, go watch this. Don't worry, I'll wait.

The pauses create interest and drama, making the listener more attentive to what comes next. By pausing, you can emphasize the following statement. This a wonderful time to take a good breath.

So you weren't in marching band? Finding a band geek isn't hard: just mention John Phillips Sousa loudly, and wait for them to come out of the woodwork (warning: there are very few moderate opinions on Sousa...) But really, my point is that skills you thought were unrelated to what you do can come in handy.

2 responses so far

  • Allyson says:

    Very good point. I double majored in theatre and zoology in undergrad, and never thought I'd use the acting training again. At the time it kept me sane and I was just grateful for that. Never expected how many talks I'd be giving on research and how much being a confident presenter helps in the classroom.

  • Zuska says:

    Unfortunately so many budding science nerds thing that all that talky wordy Englishy stuff is stuff they'll never have to worry about again ha ha ha ha! They are free now to just play with numbers and science!!!!! I had an undergrad at Duke once ask me petulantly why he had to bother with spelling, punctuation, and grammar in his lab reports, since English majors didn't have to take engineering classes. They have no idea how much of their life in science and engineering will revolve around communication.