Want to Build Better Communication Skills? This Alum Has Some Helpful Tips

If the thought of speaking before a group is enough bring on a case of nerves or send you into a full-blown panic attack, you’re not alone. In fact, some studies indicate more than 75% of us suffer from glossophobia, also known as the fear of public speaking.

Besides the personal cost, this fear can hamper professional development. That may be especially true for STEM professionals, who are analytical and methodical by nature but must tap into the creative, spontaneous side of their brains to speak at conferences or symposiums.

Adam Sharples Brooks’08 has a book that can help.

“One of the big misnomers that we find with people, especially with STEM backgrounds, is that they underestimate how often communication plays a vital role in all of their projects until they get really high up in their careers,” Brooks said about “Engineered to Speak: Helping You Create and Deliver Engaging Technical Presentations.”

“So many of the folks in the STEM field have incredible, world-changing ideas and innovations. They just have trouble sometimes getting folks to listen to what they have to say.”

The director of the Speaking Studio at the University of Alabama and his colleague, Alexa Chilcutt, interviewed about 200 working engineers in various jobs, companies and stages of professional development.

“We wrote it with the intention that it could be something that is used not just in a classroom setting but also used out there in the world,” he said. “I don't just want to write a book that's just going to sit on a shelf that no one's going to read. I want this to be something that people are able to use.”

The former speech team member interned at Caterpillar Inc. while at Bradley and worked there after graduation before getting his master’s degree and doctorate at Alabama, where he also coached the speech team while getting his master’s. He continues to work with companies to sharpen their employees’ presentation skills, even in the age of COVID-19 and virtual communication.

“Most of the tips are things we did before Zoom, it’s just adapting (those),” he said. “I'm talking more about how you frame the shot of your webcam so that you can appear as credible as possible.”

“There are all these subconscious, subliminal micro-moments that our brains do when we're listening to someone in person and when we're digital, your brain is working harder because there's a little bit of a lag between when you're watching someone on digital and your brain is trying to make up that difference.”

Try any of the following tips the next time you need to wow a crowd:

  • Begin with the end in mind. Whether a project you are trying to get approved or vital information you need to share ask yourself, “When I’m done what are two things I want everyone to remember”.
  • Don’t write out every word you want to say ahead of time.
  • Every audience wants you to succeed. Make your presentation less about you and more about the people listening to you.

— Bob Grimson ’81

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Engineered To Speak by Alexa Chilcutt and Adam Brooks