Sept. 18: Public Speaking

This week, we will practice our public speaking skills in a friendly environment. The goal of this unit is to re-familiarize you with some tips and techniques for conveying your message to a particular audience. Your MEM experience will culminate with you presenting your MP project but there will be many other opportunities for you to speak about yourself, your work and your goals throughout your program experience.

There are probably thousands of lists of to-do and to-avoid lists on public speaking. And many of these are contradictory, which is not helpful. Certainly, each of us has a particular style and comfort level when it comes to public speaking and so not all tips and techniques will apply to everyone.

However, one organization that has perfected the art of teaching public speaking is Toastmasters International. On the Toastmasters website, you will find a collection of short videos on topics from Managing your Fear to Giving a Toast. To specifically prepare for your elevator speech, please view Five Basic Tips for Presentations, Keeping your Audience Engaged, and How to Offer Feedback.

We have collated a set of clear recommendations for public speaking on our NSOE Communications Studio website.

Now, what is an elevator speech? Also referred to as a “pitch”, an elevator speech is a succinct presentation of yourself, an idea, or a business venture. You can watch many great examples of pitches if you search “elevator speech” on YouTube. But how do you begin to develop one yourself?

The most important question to answer is… what question am I trying to answer? Can you imagine getting into an elevator and having someone rattle off a 2 minute speech, leaving you to wonder, what was that all about and why did he/she find it necessary to tell me about it?

Since today’s class coincides with the career fair, Kati Moore has put together a nice exercise for practicing talking about your selves and giving “your pitch”:

Imagine you are attending a conference of your choosing. If you need ideas, a list of conferences attended by Nicholas School students last year can be found at the bottom of this page.

At least half the reason people go to conferences is to network, so you will likely be introducing yourself to a lot of new people. Usually this also means you’ll have to talk about yourself, what you do, and what you’re interested in. It’s helpful to have all this information condensed into a sort of pitch about yourself, so that you can give a clear, concise answer when someone casually asks, “So what do you do?”

Typically, and for this exercise, your pitch should include:

  • Your name
  • Your affiliation and title (i.e. student assistant in the Nicholas School Communications Office, master’s student in environmental management at Duke University, etc.)
  • What your company/program does (i.e. It’s a startup that provides a sustainable sourcing certification for NC seafood; It’s a professional master’s program that is a mix of natural and social science classes, with an emphasis on gaining skills for working in various environmental fields, such as X, Y, and Z)
  • What you do there (i.e. I write press releases and news stories for the website; I’m studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation)
  • What your career/research interests are (i.e. I’m most interested in sustainable fisheries management along the Maine coast; I’m working to develop a comprehensive citizen-science butterfly monitoring program in the Triangle.)
  • What work you’ve done recently (i.e. I just spent the summer monitoring conservation easements for a land trust in North Carolina; I just wrote a memo for my Conservation Biology class on the best practices for whooping crane conservation along migratory routes.)

What if I don’t know what my career/research interests are yet? For the purposes of this conversation, it doesn’t actually matter if you end up studying fisheries management or if you are successful in implementing a butterfly monitoring program. What’s important is to show people that you have interests, period, and that you’ve given some thought to your future career.

Below is an example conversation of when such a pitch would be useful. The student, who wants to pursue environmental journalism as a career, is attending a national science writing conference, and has just been introduced to professional science writer Ed Yong.

“Hi, I’m Ed Yong.”

“Great to meet you. I’m Kati Moore.”

“Great to meet you too, Kati. So what do you do?”

“I work in the communications office at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. I’m also a master’s student in their environmental management program, which is a two-year professional master’s that’s a mix of environmental science, policy, and law. I’m studying ecosystem science and conservation, but I’m most interested in science communication, especially about environmental issues such as hog waste in North Carolina. I actually just submitted a story to Scientific American about research at UNC on bacteria in hog waste that’s causing respiratory problems for local residents.”

It may not always be appropriate to give the whole spiel at once, but it’s good to have it up your sleeve just in case.

When presenting your pitch to your group in class, tell them the conference where you might use the pitch and who you might be introducing yourself to at the conference, then give your spiel.


Conferences attended  in 2014-2015 by Nicholas School professional students:

14th Annual North American Pollinator Protection Campaign International Conference
2014 EIA Energy Conference
2014 Net Impact Conference
2014 Partners in Community Forestry Conference
2015 Building Energy Summit
2015 Climate Leadership Conference
2015 SCGIS East Coast Symposium
2015 Utility Management Conference
29th Sustainable Agriculture Conference
7th National Summit on Coastal and Estuarine Restoration
A Community on Ecosystem Services
American Cetacean Society
American Water Works Association:  The Utility Management Conference
ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit
AWRA Annual Water Resources Conference
BLUE Ocean Film Festival
Climate Justice:  Overburdened Communities, Climate Change and EPA’s Clean Power Plan and House Committee Meeting on Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975
Climate Leadership Conference
Clinton Global Initiative University Conference
Energy and Climate Change Conference
Fifth Interagency Conference on Research in the Watersheds
Frontier Oregon Summit
George Wright Society Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites
Global Health and Innovation Conference
Greentechmedia’s US Solar Market Insight Conference
Hispanic Engineering National Achievement Awards Conference
International Symposium on Bioremediation and Sustainable Environmental Technologies
International Union of Forest Research Organizations 2014 Conference
Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body Public Meeting
MIT Sustainability Summit
National Black MBA Association
National Large Landscapes Workshop
National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation
NCSE Energy and Climate Change Conference
Next South Conference
Outdoor Retailer
Predicting and Preparing for a Changing Arctic
Renewable Energy Markets Conference
SAF National Convention
Science Writers 2014
Society for Conservation Biology North America Congress
Society for Conservation GIS East Coast Symposium
Society of Environmental Toxicologists and Chemists Annual Meeting
Solar Power International
Southeast Atlantic and Midatlantic Marine Mammal Symposium
Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance Conference
Southern Division AFS Spring Meeting 2015
The Virginia Water Conference
University of Michigan Renewable Energy Case Competition
VERGE:  Where Tech Meets Sustainability
VERGE:  Where Tech Meets Sustainability
Western Society of Naturalists
World Domination Summit
World Ocean Council Business Forum on Ocean Policy & Planning

Relax and have a bit of fun with this assignment. Think about your audience but also contemplate this question. It’s a big one!

Clearly, you won’t be kicked out of your team if they don’t like your elevator speech so the stakes are much lower here than they would be in other situations. However, after you give your speech (no more than 2 minutes), your team members will have a chance to offer constructive feedback. So, write your speech and practice several times until you are confident that you can deliver it well in under 2 minutes.

BONUS: For those who hate public speaking or who wonder how body language plays a role in presentations, you may want to view this TED talk by Amy Cuddy (Your body language shapes who you are).

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