Julie Navickas On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Understand Your Audience. To be an effective public speaker, it’s crucial that you understand the make-up of your audience. When presenting to a large group, always consider these six things before opening your mouth: size of the audience, setting in which you’re speaking, the type of audience before you, their interests, their prior knowledge, and their attitude toward your topic.
At some point in our lives, many of us will have to give a talk to a large group of people. What does it take to be a highly effective public speaker? How can you improve your public speaking skills? How can you overcome a fear of speaking in public? What does it take to give a very interesting and engaging public talk? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker” we are talking to successful and effective public speakers to share insights and stories from their experience. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Navickas.
Julie Navickas is a nationally recognized contemporary romance novelist with Inkspell Publishing, known for her keen ability to weave heart-wrenching, second-chance love stories through relatable characters with humility, humor, and heroism. She is also an award-winning instructor and academic advisor in the School of Communication at Illinois State University, the public relations manager for Burning Soul Press, the social media strategist for Labyrinth Made Goods, and is a continuing education instructor with Heartland Community College. Julie is a mom to three children: Lily (5); Colton (4); Brady (2), and has been married to her high school sweetheart, Thomas, for ten years.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Sure! I’m from Johnsburg, a sleepy farm town in Illinois that’s a stone’s throw from Wisconsin. I’m really just your average Midwestern girl from the Chicago suburbs. I grew up playing softball in diamonds carved out of cornfields, hanging out with friends in front of raging bonfires, and cultivating a deep (and sometimes embarrassing) love for stories of all kinds.
In 2006, I moved to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois to start my college career and never truly left the classroom. I completed an undergraduate degree in public relations and two master’s degrees in organizational communication and English studies with an emphasis on book history. Illinois State University has been my home away from home for over fifteen years as both a student and working professional.
And while it’s easy to poke fun of Central Illinois, my Midwestern roots go deep.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I applied to graduate school in 2008, I was offered an assistantship that would pay for my tuition in exchange for teaching a general education course at Illinois State University in the School of Communication. The course graduate teaching assistants are typically assigned to is Communication as Critical Inquiry. In less fancy words, it simply means public speaking!
I didn’t know it at the time, but that experience fueled my passion for teaching and led me down a now fifteen-year career path. While the courses I teach today are a bit different, I sometimes still get the opportunity to instruct this original class — and it brings back many fond memories engaging with students as they learned the ins and outs of public speaking and how it applies to a professional career.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’ve learned over time that most people simply do not enjoy public speaking — and they’ll do just about anything to avoid it! I’m not sure this is too interesting, but it’s certainly fascinating! Once people started to recognize that I was comfortable — and good at — speaking to large groups, I became the token volunteer for every presentation, project, and speech!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I tell this story to my students every semester when we study communication apprehension. One of the first experiences I had delivering a speech was in my sixth grade English course. I was asked to deliver a “how-to” speech, so I decided to demonstrate to the class how to color Easter eggs. In hindsight, vinegar and colored dye was probably a really poor choice for a nervous, shaking, junior high girl terrified to speak in front of her classmates! I’m pretty sure the carpet is still stained in Mrs. Meyers’ classroom in Johnsburg Junior High School.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I credit my knowledge and experience in public speaking to a handful of my peers in the School of Communication at Illinois State University. Dr. Cheri Simonds and Dr. John Hooker are the co-directors of the basic course program. They selected me for a graduate assistantship which led me down the path of public speaking. In addition, I have two mentors in the School of Communication who have helped me grow as an instructor. I owe much of my expertise in the subject matter to Dr. Stephen Hunt and Elizabeth Chupp.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
The advice I have is not earth-shattering — nor is it rocket science! The simple fact is that the more you allow yourself to engage in the art of public speaking, the easier it’ll become — and the better you’ll get at it. I tell my students all the time that it’s okay to not excel on your first try; it’s the effort and desire to do better that makes the difference.
For public speaking, it’s best to start small. I started out speaking to a classroom of about twenty students. But as the opportunities continued, I found that my audience size grew with it. The largest speech I’ve given has had upwards of three hundred people in the crowd. But the truth here is that I never would have done well in that setting without the smaller, more private experience of the classroom.
What drives you to get up every day and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?
Much of what I speak about today revolves around my journey as a published author. As I alluded to in a previous question, I write contemporary romance novels, so my speaking engagements mostly focus on my writing experience and the road that led me to publication. Writing brings me so much joy, that it’s easy to want to talk about it with the world and encourage everyone to share their story.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
My next speaking opportunity is with the organization, PR Women in North America. As part of their leadership talk series, I’ve been invited to share my expertise on “Best Practices for Writers & Authors”. In addition, I have a few smaller scale events on the calendar with the local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and continuing education courses.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Whenever I’m asked to share my favorite quote, I always fall back on, “You’ll never regret being kind.” As noted in your question, this simple quote packs a punch as a life lesson. Because no matter how you look at it, it speaks the truth. As a parent, I strive to teach my children to be kind, generous, considerate individuals who value the lives of others. They’re very familiar with this quote — and I hope it stays with them for a lifetime.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Public Speaker?” Please share a story or example for each.
1 — Understand Your Audience. To be an effective public speaker, it’s crucial that you understand the make-up of your audience. When presenting to a large group, always consider these six things before opening your mouth: size of the audience, setting in which you’re speaking, the type of audience before you, their interests, their prior knowledge, and their attitude toward your topic.
2 — Engage Your Audience. It’s important that you keep your audience engaged throughout the duration of your message, but it’s essential that you engage them from the beginning. Start your speech with any of these tried-and-true attention getters: tell a story, share a personal experience, relate your speech to a current event, show a compelling visual image, ask a provocative question, use a startling fact, spell out what’s at stake for your listeners, offer a humorous observation or anecdote, explain your own interest in the topic, or tell your listeners what the topic has to do with them.
3 — Be Aware of Your Non-Verbal Communication. You may have heard that our non-verbal communication is actually far more powerful than the words we speak. Our facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, posture… all of it — have more meaning than the messages we verbally share. To be an effective speaker, you must ensure that your non-verbals complement your verbal message.
4 — Use Humor Effectively. Listeners can only take so much intensity without requiring a release or a chance to catch their breath. As a speaker, if you do not provide a release, your audience will likely stop listening. If used correctly, humor can be an effective way to keep your audience at ease. One of the best places to deliver a serious point is right after people laugh. Use this to your advantage. As a rule of thumb, just two or three instances of humor in a 15–20-minute speech is ideal. Keep the humor short — it’s a means to an end, not the end itself.
5 — Practice. I’ve never agreed with the common saying, “practice makes perfect.” In speaking situations, we’re not going for perfect — we’re going for impactful. What worked in practice may not be ideal for the live audience. To be an effective speaker, you need to know how to read and adapt to your audience. You should be well prepared and rehearsed, but your message shouldn’t sound like a recording. Be flexible to your audience’s needs to really deliver a solid impact.
As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?
For me, it really came down to intentionally placing myself outside my comfort zone. I learned early on that public speaking terrified me (I’ll never look at an Easter egg the same way again!), so I purposely enrolled in leadership programs, volunteered for speaking opportunities, and really used my instructional time in the classroom to capitalize on my growing skillset.
For anyone interested in trying to overcome a fear of public speaking, I would encourage you to step beyond your comfort zone. You may also consider smaller tactics like deep breathing, meditation, visualization, listening to calming music, drinking room temperature water, or muscle clenching. Any of these strategies help to calm nerves.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
My heart will always fall back on my love for the written word — and my passion for instilling truthful and accurate information into a reader’s hands. If I could inspire a movement that would bring peace to the greatest amount of people, I’d start with global literacy and access to credible — and accurate — information. We live in a world of constant media bombardment (advertisements, social media, television, radio, podcasts, blogs, magazines). No matter the platform, a significant number of individuals have access to obtain news and information in mere seconds — which leads to misinformation if the source behind it speaks little truth. Feuds erupt, differences of opinions spark violence, and the idealistic notion of peace becomes unattainable.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Absolutely — beyond any doubt. Whenever I’m asked this question, my mind travels straight to Middle Earth. I’ve immersed myself in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien in the classroom. I’ve studied abroad and trapsed my way through the historic streets of Oxford University — absorbing the magic, experiencing the passion of his genius firsthand.
And because of that, I am a self-identified The Lord of the Rings nerd with an admiring love of two hobbits in particular. I simply adore Dominic Monaghan @thedominicmonaghan and Billy Boyd @boydbilly (Merry & Pippin) and can think of no other person(s) that I’d rather meet and partake in second breakfast with (or, just be a guest on their podcast, The Friendship Onion @thefriendshiponion).
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
I love connecting with readers and would be happy to continue the conversation on any of the platforms listed below:
Author Website: https://authorjulienavickas.com/
Personal Blog: https://authorjulienavickas.com/blog/
YouTube (Just Write Julie coming soon!) https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNUW07fs9AmSRN2o-yAjISg
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!