Getting Past the Fear of the Unknown Answer: Public Speaking for Philosophers

by Rachel Robinson

A major aspect of doing philosophy is learning how to communicate effectively. The predominant way that we do this is through our writing. However, it’s also important that the same clarity and confidence that appears in our written work is also evident in our presentations. There is a different kind of nervousness that accompanies public speaking than that which comes with submitting an assignment. Whether it be an in-class report, as a guest lecturer, when giving a workshop, at a conference, during tutorial, or at a colloquium, the intimidating part is often during the question period. Sure, the very act of speaking to a crowd can be scary, but after a while a certain rhythm develops, and those people often become blurry faces in a sea of people. When the memorized part is over, and the information is delivered, the question period is inevitable. These questions may come in a number of different forms: the question for clarification, the question that objects to an aspect of your work, or the question that challenges your very authority on the given subject. Regardless of the nature of the inquiry, some kind of response must be given. Perhaps the best way to become more comfortable with this process is to get as much exposure to presenting as possible.

Last week, we had our first colloquium of the year. Two of our own RPGSU members, Chandra and David, spoke on Wednesday, September 11th. Chandra’s approach was that of a traditional conference paper, with a separate time for presenting her material, followed by a question period. David’s presentation took the form of a tutorial or discussion, during which questions were posed throughout the hour, and he alternated between audience participation and his own thoughts on the topic. Both of these approaches are valuable ways of honing public speaking skills. The colloquium is a supportive, non-judgemental way for students to share their ideas and develop their skills as speakers. The topics on which students present do not have to be traditionally philosophical in nature – anything that is thought-provoking is encouraged! RPGSU sends a special shout-out to Anna for her awesome organizational skills, and a thank you to all who came out last week. Our next colloquium will be on Wednesday, September 25th at 6:30pm in VIC 301, followed by drinks at a local pub (to be decided closer to the date). Looking forward to another evening of great conversation!

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One thought on “Getting Past the Fear of the Unknown Answer: Public Speaking for Philosophers

  1. I agree presenting gets much easier with practice. I was very uncomfortable giving presentations to large group when I began the program here, and though it still isn’t easy practice (and power poses) have certainly helped.

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