Expert Advice / Lisa Braithwaite ’87
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
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
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.