Oral communication skills are vital for your success in a wide variety of academic and professional careers. Whether through research presentations in seminars, lab group meetings, or professional conferences, or through explaining concepts while teaching, graduate school provides many opportunities for you to develop your oral communication skills.

Steps You Can Take

Cultivate Public Speaking and Interpersonal Skills

Public speaking is a significant part of most careers, whether this is speaking up while working in a team, giving presentations, or teaching. Like all skills, public speaking does not come naturally for many, and will take time to develop. Berkeley offers diverse resources for helping students cultivate self-confidence, clarity, and efficacy in public speaking. CAL Toastmasters meets weekly to help students, educators, and professionals develop confident and effective public speaking techniques. Toast of Berkeley is part of Toastmasters International, a world leader in communication and leadership development.

Many people experience some anxiety with public speaking. To learn more about managing anxiety related to speaking in a group or in class, see “Learning to Live With Public-Speaking Anxiety,”Chronicle of Higher Education (2001), or to learn more about anxiety with giving presentations, see “Public speaking and graduate school: How to cope with and master your anxiety,” American Psychological Association (2014).


Develop Your Research “Elevator Pitch” and Participate in Grad Slam

In academia, the elevator pitch is a succinct summary of your dissertation or thesis research for academics or professionals in other fields. The ability to clearly explain complicated concepts in a short time period, and to people previously unfamiliar with the material, translates well to any number of professional careers. In fact, you may wish to develop multiple versions of your elevator pitch; depending on the type of question asked (What is your topic? How did you develop your topic? Why does your topic matter?), you may need a range of “elevator” explanations. See “Mastering the Elevator Speech,” University of California, Santa Barbara Career Services.

Consider participating in Grad Slam, a UC systemwide competition in which graduate students present their research in a three-minute presentation for a general audience. Competing gives you an opportunity to get feedback on your public presentation skills, and also a chance to win cash prizes. Information sessions held in conjunction with the Grad Slam competition provide resources on effective public speaking and designing slides to communicate your message.


Give a Guest Lecture or Teach as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) and Receive Feedback

Teaching as a GSI is a required component of many graduate programs at Berkeley, but it also provides an excellent opportunity to cultivate the widely utilized academic and professional skills of oral presentation and communication. You may find it valuable to work with a consultant from the GSI Teaching & Resource Center to be recorded in the classroom and receive feedback on your oral communication skills. Learn more about opportunities to work as a GSI in the Teaching and Mentoring Competency of this guide.

Many opportunities exist at Berkeley to give guest lectures—you just have to find the right situation and make your interest and expertise known. Consult course catalogs in your department or related fields to find lecture courses being offered in your area of specialization. Contact the professor to ask if they would be willing to let you offer a guest lecture in one of their course sessions that semester—many are happy to let graduate students gain lecturing experience and will offer subsequent feedback. You can also record your lecture and get feedback on your oral communication skills from the GSI Teaching & Resource Center.

For tips on improving your presentation and communication skills in the classroom, see these two articles on “Public Speaking for Teachers” from the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning at Yale: “Lecturing Without Fear” and “The Mechanics of Speaking.”


Present a Poster or Paper at a Professional Conference

Conference experience can be important not only in academic employment, but in other careers where the ability to analyze information, synthesize concepts, convey and exchange ideas, and receive and respond to feedback is valued. Annual campus, state, national, and international conferences provide regular opportunities to practice these skills. You can learn more about the importance of getting involved with conferences in the Career Preparation and Exploration Competency of this guide.

For advice on presenting at conferences, see “Conference Rules: How to Present a Scholarly Paper,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2008) and “A TED Speaker Coach Shares 11 Tips For Right Before You Go On Stage,” TED Blog (2016).


Present Research to Academic, Professional, or Community Groups

Fostering interest in your research both within and beyond academia can generate career possibilities. Identify groups for whom your research is relevant and seek out opportunities to speak about your research in public venues such as local libraries, schools, museums, and relevant professional or community institutions. You may find that stepping outside the academic setting affords a fresh perspective on your research and provides invaluable practice in speaking to a wide variety of audiences. As one example, the Office of Resources for International and Area Studies (ORIAS) provides opportunities for graduate students in area studies to present their research in local schools.


Practice and Get Feedback on Your Job Talk and Prepare for Interviews

A key opportunity to demonstrate your verbal communication skills is the job interview. For detailed guidance on job interview preparation see “Prepare for Interviews” in the Career Preparation and Exploration Competency of this guide.

Before presenting your research to potential employers (academic or professional), you should practice in front of multiple audiences, in a timed setting, to understand the mechanics of a good presentation. Learning to tailor your talk to different audiences is an invaluable communication skill in any employment setting. Invite friends—whether academically trained or not—to observe your presentation and ask questions. You may wish to provide them with sample questions, or suggestions on types of questions to ask. Afterward, ask for feedback on various aspects of the talk: how clear it was, whether you spoke quickly or slowly, if you engaged the audience, etc.

For advice on how to prepare an academic job talk, attend the Berkeley Career Center’s workshop  “Nailing the Job Talk.” This recurring workshop usually takes place in the fall, so check the Handshake for scheduled workshops. For additional resources, see “The Job Market: The Campus Interview,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2017); “Talking the Good Talk,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2012); “Giving a Job Talk in the Sciences,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2001).