5 questions with public speaking expert Ray Hull of WSU

Ray Hull at his office at Wichita State University (June 1, 2017).
Ray Hull at his office at Wichita State University (June 1, 2017). The Wichita Eagle

A self-proclaimed Kansas farm boy at heart, author and Wichita State University communication sciences professor Ray Hull recently released his latest book, “The Art of Presentation,” with Jim Stovall.

In the book – the 18th that Hull has published – the authors provide their take on what is needed to become an effective public speaker.

Eagle reporter Bryan Horwath caught up with Hull to visit about an activity that many famously fear more than death.

Q: Numerous studies have shown that a large portion of the population fear public speaking as much as they fear death. Why is speaking in front of an audience so difficult?

A: Once a person is asked to stand up before an audience and they’re ready to give a presentation, they find themselves in an uncomfortable position where they are completely vulnerable. They’re all of a sudden wondering if they’re dressed OK and if they’re standing the correct way. They’re wondering about their mannerisms, choice of words and their poise.

For those that don’t do a lot of public speaking, it can be very uncomfortable.

Q: Some can fall into a trap where they think that people are born as great presenters, but that’s not the reality, is it?

A: You’re definitely not born with the ability to be a public speaker. It takes practice and experience.

When I was younger, I had an issue with stuttering. From early childhood, I had all kinds of difficulty trying to speak.

But I vowed that I was going to make myself become an articulate speaker, so I began, even in grade school, to audition for every school play we had. I entered into public speaking competitions.

You have to provide yourself enough experiences that you’ll begin to lose your fear.

Q: It’s interesting that you talk about conquering the fear of public speaking, but also say it’s good to be nervous before a presentation. What’s the difference?

A: If we lose our nervousness before we speak as a public speaker, we’re not going to do as well. There have been a number of great movie stars and stage actors who have said if they stop becoming nervous before a production, then they better give up the business.

You have to lose at least some of the fear that so many feel, though.

Q: When people shy away from speaking in public or presenting, what are they missing out on?

A: You miss out on being heard. We all have something to say from time to time. I don’t care if it’s just at a board meeting when people are asked to stand and speak on a certain issue.

Nobody is going to laugh – they’ll appreciate what you say if you’re expressing an opinion.

Q: What’s the most important thing to remember when presenting?

A: To just be yourself. If a person takes a course on public speaking or reads a book on how to give a good presentation, it’s almost as though they’re advocating that people become an actor or actress. That’s not the way to impress an audience.

To impress an audience, we have to be ourselves and present in a genuinely sincere manner. We’re not speaking in a theatrical manner, but speaking as though we’re talking to people in the audience.

I tell people to look at the audience – look at their faces. You’re making contact with them and speaking in a calm and poised manner.

Bryan Horwath: 316-269-6708, @bryan_horwath

Ray Hull’s tips on public speaking

1. Be yourself.

2. Practice, practice, practice.

3. Talk to people, not at them.

4. Don’t place the microphone too far away; it should be only a couple of inches from the mouth.

5. Join a club like Toastmasters.