Pomona College Magazine
Volume 45, No. 3
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Pomona College Magazine is published three times a year by Pomona College
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Online Editor: Laura Tiffany

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Editor: Mark Wood
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Expert Advice / Lisa Braithwaite ’87
Speaking 101

By Travis Kaya '10

Lisa Braithwaite ’87 believes the greatest thing any professor did for her was to say no. Two years after graduating from Pomona, Braithwaite set her sights on studying theatre at the graduate level, then received a call from Professor Betty Bernhard, who had decided not to write her a letter of recommendation.

A mentor for Braithwaite at Pomona, Bernhard did not believe Braithwaite’s heart was really in theatre. “I was just mortified,” Braithwaite recalls. “But it only took me about three days to realize that she was absolutely right. So I got the grad school catalog out again, and that’s when I found the education program that completely changed my life.”

After completing her master’s of education degree at UC Santa Barbara, Braithwaite went on to work for women-oriented nonprofits. Along the way, she created Santa Barbara County’s first full-time program aimed at preventing and ending violence in teen relationships, and later established a grant program to provide computers and Internet access to children in poor communities and developing countries.

During her 16 years in the nonprofit sector, Braithwaite spent a lot of time in classrooms and at the podium. “I just really grew to love training and public speaking,” she says. Mixing a love of writing, coaching and public speaking, she founded a private coaching practice in 2005, and has been helping her clients excel in the art of speechmaking ever since.

Although Braithwaite says that the fear of public speaking isn’t as widespread as some national studies suggest, she works to help her clients reduce their anxiety so that they can get their points across effectively. According to Braithwaite, being nervous is normal, it’s what you do with that anxiety that can make or break your speech. “An elite athlete will tell you that if they don’t feel nervous beforehand, they don’t do their best,” she says. “It’s not a bad thing as long as you’re in control of it.”

Braithwaite offers five more tips to get your message across:

1. Get to Know Your Audience.
Learn about your audience and venue in advance. This allows you to adjust the presentation to the needs of that particular audience. If you’re speaking to an organized group, send out a questionnaire to the organizer beforehand to find out exactly what the audience wants to learn about. When you ask the audience to contribute to the presentation, they are more engaged. Plus, you will feel more comfortable because you will not be giving a canned presentation.

2. Get Them Involved.
Interact with the audience, and find ways to get them talking. Not only does this show them that you respect them, it also takes the focus away from you, which can reduce nervousness. If you sense that the audience is sleepy or uninterested, start them off by having them talk to a neighbor. After they’ve warmed up, they will be more likely to share with you.

3. Don’t Sweat the Fillers.
Don’t stress out about fillers like “um” and “uh.” With so many things to think about when delivering a presentation, fillers are given way too much significance. We use those sounds in casual conversation, and as a presenter you are having a conversation with the audience. Memorization is not recommended because it can come out mechanical and robotic. If you allow these fillers into your presentations, it makes you more human. Fillers only become a problem when you are unprepared and overuse them.

4. Be True to Yourself.
Don’t try to be Tony Robbins or Oprah. Your audience can tell when you’re faking it, and it puts up a barrier. When you feel free to be who you are and embrace all of your quirks, it’s a weight off your shoulders. It humanizes you to your audience and helps them relate to you. Being comfortable with who you are makes you feel and look more confident to your audience.

5. Focus on the Audience.
Ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?” What you should care about is giving the audience something practical and relevant, something they can actually walk away and use. It’s not about you trying to show everyone how smart or funny you are. The needs of the audience should always come before your own concerns about yourself.

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by Pomona College
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