The Only Dissertation App

Have you ever fantasized about an app that could help you get through grad school? What about an app that could help you write your dissertation. No, I don’t mean a writing app or a productivity app. There are many great versions of both of those things.

I mean something different. I mean, an app designed exclusively by graduate students for graduate students to help with the problems graduate students face like impostor syndrome or sharing a small office with 3-10 other graduate students.

An app that seamlessly integrates mindfulness to help with the stress and mental illness that can be exacerbated by graduate school. An app that integrates movement you can do at your desk, or in a coffee shop, or even on a bus–anywhere you work–to help with a stiff neck and shoulders that comes from reading and writing for hours.

I have.

The idea for that app was the beginning of abd2phd. It’s been three years in the making and . . .

It. Is. Finally. Here.

Our app is up and running. We are currently looking for 30-50 people to help us test the app.

The deal is simple. You get a free month of the app in exchange for your honest feedback on what works and what doesn’t. If you’re interested, or know a PhD student who might be you can sign up to be a beta-tester here:

Free Assignment! (First of Many)

This post is for my new teachers or teachers newly committed to centering black women’s voices in their classroom. As with all things, let me start by telling you a little story.

The day after Donald Trump was elected to lead my country due to our outdated, racist electoral college system I flew to Canada for the annual National Women’s Studies Association conference.

I also forgot my phone, which I did not realize until I was trying to get a car to the conference center from the Montreal airport.

What this meant for me is that, instead of gallivanting about Montreal in an orgy of avoidance I spent the day sitting in the lobby of my hotel because the only way I would know when my roommate got there would be if I was also there.

This was how I ran into Dr. Stephanie A. Allen who, after defending her dissertation, launched BLF Press. (Yes, she’s amazing.) It was so good to see a friend. We had dinner and drinks in the hotel restaurant and Dr. Allen generously gifted me two advance copies of new releases from BLF Press. One of those books was Solace, featured in the cover image of this post.

Solace is a wonderful anthology that feels a bit like an oracle. Every time I open it up I seem to open up to the piece I need to read that day. Just this morning, I dipped into the book before writing this post and wouldn’t you know I opened right up to a short narrative that tied together several quotes from Black Queer scholars that had been rattling around in my head.



BLF Press has many great offerings and I wold encourage you to check out their website for your syllabus. What I love about Solace is that it has something for everyone which means it is extra-fantastic for Intro level classes–the types of classes that PhD candidates are most likely to teach. Below is an assignment from my own Intro to Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies class which you have full permission to copy and paste into your own syllabus or online class module.

Solace Project.

Short Description: Pick an entry from Solace: Writing, Refuge, & LGBTQ Women of Color. You can pick any entry, there is no length requirement, but you are encouraged to pick an entry that resonates with you in some way.

Purpose: This essay project will help us continue to develop our understanding of the theory and praxis of intersectionality while applying our critical thinking and textual analysis skills.  

Method: Textual analysis requires is to consider both the intent and the impact of the author in their larger cultural and historical context. Questions to consider when doing textual analysis include but are not limited too:

  1. What do you know about the author?
  2. Does the piece have an intended audience?
  3. What is the main theme/argument of the piece?
  4. How is the author using logos, pathos, and ethos to make their point?
  5. What is the tone of the piece?
    1. What words does the author use and how does the choice of those words shed light on these five questions?
    2. What about the author’s syntax?
      1. How does it affect the reader?
      2. Does it disrupt the reader’s expectations or met them?
      3. How does the syntax relate to the other five questions?

Assignment Requirements: Using textual analysis for your chosen piece from Solace you will connect that piece with two other course texts. You will make an original argument of some kind in your paper. This argument may be about how the language of metaphor helps us connect with academic theory or how a story from someone’s life helps us see from a different point of view. Question to ask yourself to get started include but are not limited to:

  1. What about this piece resonates with me?
  2. What other course texts does this piece remind me of?
  3. Does this piece echo or expand on a theme we have covered in class?
  4. How does this piece relate to our course objectives?
  5. If I was going to explain this piece and it’s importance to someone what would I say?

Formatting: Two to four (2-4) pages, 12 pt. font, Times New Roman, 1” margins.

Citation: You may use any citation style you like as long as you cite everything that is not your original thought and are consistent. For example, don’t do your in-text citations in APA style and your bibliography in MLA.

Here is a helpful video on how to cite your sources in word:

Making the Most of Coursework: Part 1

The very first thing you need to know about your PhD coursework is what NOT to do. That’s what we focused on with the first installment of our Making The Most of Coursework webinar series.

This upcoming Monday, at noon PST, we’ll have our second installment which will focus us on how to use coursework to develop good dissertation habits!

Get ready for the binders! The tabs! The organization!

Why We Need Your PhD

Ok, let’s get one thing straight: This is not a shame post. If your anxiety-brain or Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria-brain interprets the title of this post to say that you, specifically, need to keep doing your PhD even though it feels unbearable I want to tell you that this is not that thing. I’m not here to force anyone to do a PhD that doesn’t want to.

The world 100% needs your brilliance but there are near infinite ways for you to share that with us.

[SIDENOTE: You know those posts that are all, “Self-care isn’t all bubblebaths and cupcakes. Sometimes it’s paying the bills!” Who are those for? Seriously? Who needs that message?! Everyone I have ever met with anxiety is already berating themselves for not being more responsible. Let us have our bubblebath posts!]

So, with that long-ish disclaimer you may be wondering who this post is for.

This post is for all of you struggling to work on your dissertation right now.

Which, honestly, I think is all of us?

That’s okay. That’s being human.

I know when the world has so many immediate needs it can be hard to sit down and work on dissertation things.

After all, dissertations aren’t read widely. The average dissertation has an audience of five people: you and your committee. It doesn’t feel like a world-changing document and every humanities PhD I’ve ever met got into the game because they wanted to make the world a better place and in times like these the dissertation, or even the PhD, doesn’t feel like a good way to do that.

Many of us can see our teaching for the activism it is–helping students see and understand privilege, giving them a critical vocabulary, and even inspiring them to take action.

We are not the first scholars to face a deadly virus, endless war, and an extreme right wing. Since Donald Trump became the leader of the Republican party in my country I have often turned to the opening lines of Gayle Rubin’s 1984 essay, Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality. Rubin writes,

The time has come to think about sex. To some, sexuality may seem to be an unimportant topic, a frivolous diversion from the more critical problems of poverty, war, disease, racism, famine, or nuclear annihilation. But it is precisely at times such as these, when we live with the possibility of unthinkable destruction, that people are likely to become dangerously crazy about sexuality. Contemporary conflicts over sexual values and erotic conduct have much in common with the religious disputes of earlier centuries. they acquire immense symbolic weight. Disputes over sexual behavior often become the vehicles for displacing social anxieties, and discharging their attendant emotional intensity. Consequently, sexuality should be treated with special respect in times of great social stress.

Rubin’s writing particularly appeals to me because, I, too, am a scholar of sexuality and I know that, in times like this, yammering on about sex can feel very silly.

Perhaps your topic feels a little silly when compared to pandemics and protests too.

But your topic is not silly. Your topic is needed. Your voice is needed.

As Rubin notes, when so many things are out of control people become a little crazy about what they can control, or feel they can control.

That is one reason why we still need your dissertation. We still need your knowledge to combat those who forget history, don’t understand politics, have misconceptions about sexuality, and don’t understand whatever human problem your dissertation is studying.

Your dissertation is, in and of itself, activism. It is a way of creating new knowledge and making the world a better place. It is a way of giving your community of origin a voice. It is a way of speaking truth to power.

For all of you who are here despite this system not being built for you, to people of color, to working-class scholars, to first-generation folx, to queer scholars, women, and scholars with visible and invisible disability–Just showing up into this hostile space is its own form of activism. When we add your dissertation to the repository we destabilize the canon of knowledge based on wealthy white male experience.

Keep showing up. Keep writing. Let us know if we can help.

Delayed But Not Deterred

First, wherever you are at the moment I hope that you and the people you love are well.

Like many of you, I spent part of the weekend protesting police brutality in the United States. Like many of you, white supremacists groups have formed in my town and are threatening violence against Black Lives Matter work.

If you’ve been with us for awhile then you know that today we were scheduled to start something I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time: a free course on coursework. The shift from courses in a student mindset, like the courses in your BA and MA, to courses preparing you to be an expert is HUGE and we never talk about it.

As a result, I have seen a lot of good scholars burn themselves out on coursework without setting themselves up for success in prelims/fields or actual dissertation writing. I certainly burned myself out during coursework. Some things I did right. Most things I did wrong.

The things that I did manage to do right set me up, without exaggeration, for years to come.

The things I did wrong weren’t insurmountable, but the rest of my PhD process would have gone much smoother if I hadn’t made these early mistakes.

My whole mission with abd2phd is to help other people avoid the mistakes that I made.

I thought long and hard about cancelling this course. How can we focus on this fall’s coursework when we are worrying about our survival in the summer?

I’ve been thinking a lot about my country and it’s deep, deep roots of white-supremacy and anti-intellectualism. I’ve also been thinking about my research on Christian patriarchy which is both misogynist and white supremacist. Finally, I’ve been thinking about why we need PhDs. I posted a little bit about this last week. I’ll post more about it in the week’s to come.

In the meantime, I wanted to let all of you know that we will go forward with the course on coursework. Instead of starting today we’re going to start next week on the 15th.

We are still accepting participants for the course. If you’re interested then just let me know here.

I hope you’ll join me.

In the meantime, punch Nazis, wash your hands, and remember that you are loved.


The day after Donald Trump was elected I went to Canada.

I was presenting at the National Women’s Studies Association’s annual conference which was held in Montreal that year.

I had gone to bed early the night before, when polls started to show that Trump was winning, hoping that, while I slept, there might be a miracle.

There wasn’t.

I woke up, looked at my phone, put it down, and got ready for the conference in a daze. As my husband drove me to the Indianapolis airport, an hour away from our home, we punctuated the stunned silence with short bursts of outrage.

It was not until I got to the Montreal airport that I realized I had never picked my phone back up after setting it down in disappointment.

There were a lot of memorable moments from that conference. Protests and thinking groups were organized quickly among our panels and presentations. The last night of the conference my roommate and I held an impromptu party in our room with new friends and old. The hotel bar gave us a dozen wineglasses. I had bought a cake on impulse from a bakery around the corner from the hotel. Someone brought bottles of wine.

We were laughing and talking about the conference and about life when my roommate’s partner called and told them to watch SNL’s cold open. It was Kate McKinnon, as Hilary Clinton, singing “Hallelujah.”

The Americans in the room started holding each other and crying. The Canadians looked on in politely befuddled commiseration.

I’ve often thought that our Canadian friends would tell their children and grandchildren they knew the US was headed for something dark in that moment.

And, well, here we are.

Getting a PhD is never easy.

It is harder when, in addition to doing the work, you have to spend time convincing people you can do the work.

It is even harder when you have to do the work while also fighting your government for your rights and the rights of marginalized folx.

I spent many, many weeks in 2015 and 2016 sitting in front of my computer wondering how on earth I could write when the world was on fire.

What a sweet summer fool I was.

For what it’s worth, the answer I came to then, was that my dissertation was an act of resistance. If I could help some people see how and why the oppressive ideology of virginity was interwoven with foreign and domestic politics in the US then I could help dismantle those systems. As I phrased it in the introduction to my dissertation:

In one sense, the entire purpose of this dissertation is to explore the contradictions inherent in virginity and how they are expressed in medical, legal, and popular cultures, but this begs the question: to what end? 

To create a flood. Virginity, like sand, is always shifting and never stable. The patriarchal nation-state, the master’s house, is built on sand. The master’s tools cannot destroy it but a flood can wash away the foundation and bring the whole edifice crashing down. 

In times like these, we can need many things. Sometimes we need a break from work. Sometimes we need time to be quiet and sometimes we need time to laugh with friends and remember the goodness in the world.

Sometimes, we need our work. We need our work as a vital expression of who we are. We need our work as a form of resistance. We need our work as an escape.

I started abd2phd in the summer of 2017.

I started it, in large part, because I was so frustrated trying to balance my time between teaching, dissertating, and activism.

Your dissertation and your activism are core parts of who you are. They are inseparable.

That’s why creating space for activism is a core part of the mission of abd2phd and my coaching philosophy.

Over the next however long it takes we will remain here with advice on how to do your dissertation, yes, but also how to take care of yourself; how to be an academic and an activist.

Our social media is about to get REAL political because fuck fascism and Fuck Donald Trump.

We’re still here for you.

We love you.

What They Don’t Tell You About Coursework

It’s not about the courses.

There are a lot of reasons that PhD programs start with two years of coursework but it’s not about the courses.

One of the biggest mistakes that new PhD students make, that I 1000% made, is thinking that PhD coursework is like the types of coursework we’ve done previously in either our undergraduate or MA courses.

In reality, PhD coursework is completely different and the skills that served you well in your previous career as a student will hinder you as a PhD student.

The reason for this is because the point of the entire PhD process is to turn you into a producer of knowledge. Because the PhD process in the United States is built on a Medieval apprenticeship model you are not just learning to be a producer of knowledge in general but you are representing your graduate institution, your program, and your faculty as well.

That is to say, you aren’t just learning to be a producer of knowledge but,specifically, a producer of knowledge steeped in the tradition of your place and professors.

For instance, in my own discipline of American Studies, PhD programs fall into two broad categories. The first takes a historical bent and the second a cultural studies approach. There can be a great deal of overlap between these two approaches but that’s the broad breakdown. My own PhD program of American Studies at Purdue University is widely known to be focused on the cultural studies approach to American Studies scholarship.

Thus, when I tell someone in American Studies that I got my PhD from Purdue they have a sense of how I approach my work.

That’s what the PhD process is designed to do–turn you into a specific type of producer or knowledge.

That’s what PhD coursework is about.

In contrast to the coursework you’ve done at other stages of your career where the goal of the course was for you to learn a set amount of material the goal of PhD coursework is to start your journey as a producer of knowledge.

As such, the goal of the course is less about memorizing content or reading a book cover to cover and more about developing the skills you will need to write your dissertation and represent your field, and your institution, well.

Things that served you well in previous coursework where your goal was to learn content may actually hinder your PhD coursework.

Basic things like how to read, how to take notes, how to structure your assignments, and how to allocate time to your classes ALL change when it comes to PhD coursework.

I learned this through painful experience. I did almost everything wrong during my PhD coursework and the few things I did right I mostly did by accident.

I don’t want you to go through that.

That’s why I’m debuting a new group class for people who are in the coursework phase of their PhDs.

This course will detail how and why PhD coursework is different from your previous coursework. I will cover what you should do and what you shouldn’t. Most importantly, I will always tell you why.

I’ll tell you why the things that seem like good ideas aren’t and why the things that seem like a waste of time might be the best use of your day.

Topics covered in this course will be:

  • What the real goal of PhD coursework is
  • How to approach your PhD coursework from course selection to getting that A
  • How to make your coursework work for you (even if you don’t know yet what your dissertation will be about)
  • How to read for PhD coursework (Yes, really. I wish I had known this SO much earlier).
  • How to take notes for your coursework
  • How to balance teaching and coursework
  • How to use your coursework to prepare for your prelims/fields
  • How to use your coursework to build your scholarly reputation

I’m open to including other topics of interest to participants.

The weekly time commitment will be around 90 minutes with about 30 minutes of recommending reading and a one hour weekly group meeting.

The course will run for 5 weeks starting June 8th.

Participation in the inaugural course will be free since you are my guinea pigs 😉

If you’re interested then fill out the contact form! Admission will close once we have ten participants.

Circles (Not Post Malone Related)

I’ve always thought that “writer’s block” is a horribly named phenomenon. It certainly describes that feeling of not being able to make progress but, in my experience, writer’s block feels less like being stuck and more like not knowing where to go. I’ve found that most of my clients feel the same.

I propose that writing block isn’t about being stuck but about not knowing how to move forward.

What’s the difference between those two things?

Think of it this way. If you’re driving through town and have to stop at a railroad crossing then you are stuck.

In contrast, if you’re GPS tells you that you’ve reached your dissertation but all you can see is a fork in the road and no buildings in side you don’t know how to move forward. You might be able to go any number of places but lacking a clear destination it may seem like the best option is to stay in place.

That’s the difference. Most PhD candidates I work with are capable of moving forward: they have the sources, they have the data, and they have the talent.

So, if they have all the key ingredients then what is keeping them from making progress? It’s lack of direction.

In the dissertation your direction is your argument, and it’s surprisingly easy to lose track of.

Part of what makes the dissertation so difficult as a genre is because you have to account for the trees and the forest. When you’ve been spending a lot of time on the individual trees (e.g. evaluating sources, editing syntax, picking out the right words) it can be hard to remember the path through the forest, so to speak.

[TRUTHBOMB: This literally just happened to me while writing this post. I started asking myself, “Is the forest analogy too confusing? Is it overblown? By the time I decided to keep the damn analogy I had completely lost sight of the argument of the larger post. So, you know, just imagine this post multiplied by 500 and that’s the dissertation experience.]

Okay, so now that I’ve remembered where I’m going with this post I’m going to double-down on the forest analogy. There’s all kinds of advice on how to get out of a forest safely. If you’re in an isolated area but there are telephone lines you can follow those to civilization. If there’s a river you can follow that. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere then moss mostly grows on the north side of trees so you can use that as a guideline and head where you want to be, but what’s the equivalent indicator that will help you know which way to go when you get lost in your dissertation?

It’s circles. Specifically, using a circular narrative structure.

In a circular narrative structure you end your narrative where you started. In fiction, this often means that the character physically ends up where they started out but the journey has changed their perspective. One example would be The Hobbit. The novel starts and ends with Bilbo in the Shire but his perspective on it has vastly changed because of the adventures in between.

Your dissertation, of course, is not a novel, but circular structure still applies. You should always bring the reader back to where you began but you should have given them enough information in between to change their perspective on your claims.

In fact, a dissertation argument is circles within circles within circles.

Your introduction lays out the argument for the entire dissertation so the reader knows what the goal of the argument is, where you’re going to develop your claims, and the sources you’re going to use to support your claims.

Your conclusion reminds the reader of the claims you made in the introduction and shows them how, chapter by chapter, you fulfilled those claims. Like all good circular narratives a dissertation conclusion can also point to the future implications of what you’ve argued.

Just like the dissertation as a whole follows a circular structure each chapter should follow a circular structure. The introduction of each chapter lays out for the reader what claims you’re making and how you’re going to support them. The conclusion of each chapter reminds the reader what claims you proved and how.

And here’s the good stuff: each section of your dissertation should also follow a circular structure.

That is, each section of a chapter should start by stating the specific claim you’re elaborating on in that section and what types of evidence you’ll use to support that claim. The conclusion of each section reminds the reader how you used your evidence to prove your claim.

That means, when you get stuck working on a particular section you can find your direction by looking at where you are in your circle.

In addition, remember that the author’s journey is the exact opposite of the reader’s.

While the reader starts at the introduction and follows the path you lay out to the conclusion it’s often best for the writer to do the opposite. As the author, you often know where you want to get to but don’t always know how to get there.

That’s why one of the most important things you can do as an author is write the conclusion first, whether that be the conclusion of your section, your chapter, or your dissertation.

Let’s look at how this works in practice. Say you’re in the middle of your third draft of chapter three and struggling to incorporate your advisor’s feedback.

Instead of looking at your advisor’s feedback and trying to decide how to incorporate it into the particular section (which can be paralyzing) fast-forward to the conclusion and type out what the conclusion would need to look like to make your argument while incorporating the most significant parts of your advisor’s comments. With your conclusion written out you now know what you’re working towards. Now you can go back to the section you were working on and ask, “What does this section need to do to move my reader from here to the conclusion?” Does it need to set up the next section? Does it need to explain what methods you’re using? Does it need to lay out your claims more clearly? These are much more manageable questions than “How do I make this section work?”

Quite simply, when you know where you’re going to end, you can do a much better job of deciding how to get there.

The last step, as you may have guessed, is writing the introduction to whatever piece you’re working on. Now that you’re laid out what the conclusion looks like and assessed how the various components, be they paragraphs or chapters, lead your reader to your conclusions you can think about writing the introduction.

This is a great time to get feedback on your draft as well. Personally, this often the stage when I would take what I was working on into whatever class I was teaching. I would share with them what I had so far and then ask for the questions. My students, as educated and inquisitive young people, often had great questions like “What does that word mean?” “Why aren’t you talking about X?” “Why are you talking about 1938 instead of 1940?” Essentially, the kind of questions any educated reader new to your topic would need to know. I would then incorporate their feedback into the introduction by, essentially, modifying the conclusion I had already written but reflecting the questions. The general format looks something like this.


In this chapter/section I have shown that [claim is true]. First, I looked at how X is related to claim and argued Y by way of Z.

You repeat some version of that second sentence for as many claims as you’re talking about. If it’s one section you may have made one big claim and two or three sub claims so you’ll start by talking about how you proved your big claim and then break it down into how you proved your subclaims and end by reiterating that all of that together shows that, yes, you did prove your claim. If you’re concluding a chapter you’re gonna have one big claim, 3-5 subclaims, and about a dozen sub-subclaims. You repeat the same process breaking it down by level.

Now, for the introduction, after you get feedback in the form of questions you edit your conclusion to flip it to your introduction like so,


In this chapter/section I will show X. Although, I could focus on elements A to Z about X I have chosen to limit my study to elements D, E, and F as most relevant to my argument for reasons Y and Z. (This could be something like the other elements are already well-covered in the secondary literature or they are outside of your time frame or whatever your reason is). I will begin by looking at D in detail including examples 1, 2, and 3. Once I have shown that D is, in fact, an important element of X I will move on to element E.

And on and on it goes in a similar vein where you are setting your reader’s expectations telling them what you will show, how, and why it’s important while also telling them what you won’t cover and why.

So, my dear friends, if you are feeling stuck in your writing and not sure how to make progress feel free to go in circles. Specifically, start at the end and map out the section/chapter so your reader can get from where you’re writing to the conclusion. When that’s all done, have fun writing the introduction!

Video Recording/Conferencing Tips and Tricks

A Dedication: This post is for my dear friend who gave me some lovely compliments on recorded lecture on virginity and the patriarchal nation-state. She has an important interview coming up soon that’s taking place through zoom and I want the committee who sees her to know what an imitable bada** she is. Originally, I was just gonna share this with her, but we are both educators and we figured, if one person has the question someone else probably does too, you know? So, this is dedicated to Tehmina, may she shine in zoom, and a gift to all of you who are feeling antsy about being brilliant in front of a camera.

Tip 1: It’s okay to acknowledge this is weird.

No, really, it is. We don’t all have to sit and pretend that a recorded lecture isn’t different from an in-person one or that a zoom teaching demo won’t be the same as an in-person one. In fact, when you acknowledge that the situation is a little strange you build rapport with the audience and you build your credibility a little bit. The audience feels something like, “hey, this person knows what’s up they aren’t one of those weird people that pretends this is normal, that’s cool.” So, go ahead and acknowledge it’s a little strange, but, like, don’t make it weird.

One of the ways I do this when I record a lecture is to say, “When I give this lecture in person I ask students to do X activity.” This acknowledges that we’re all making concessions to do this video thing but, more importantly, it allows students to think through the activity with you which gives them a little bit of ownership over class and helps them take the lesson of the activity with them.

There’s a lot of variations of this. You can say, “If I was doing this teaching demo there with you I would walk you through this activity but I’m not sure it translates to zoom so let me tell you how this normally plays out . . .”

Tip 2: Eye Contact All The Time Is Creepy

I haven’t watched the show “You” but I’ve been told one of the creepiest things the main character does is make intense eye contact with his victims. Think about it, in real life, one of the things that gives you a creepy vibe is when someone’s eye contact is too intense.

In normal conversations our eyes move around a bit. They are naturally drawn to motion. Don’t think that just because you’re in a video conference you have to

Stare. Directly. Into. Camera. At. All. Times.

Normal eye contact rules apply. Yes, your gaze should come back to the camera and should mostly be on the camera, as it would be in a conversation, but don’t worry if you look away while thinking or do anything you would normally do in conversation.

Tip 3: Remember Your America’s Next Top Model Basics

If you never watched the hell and glory that is America’s Next Top Model and don’t have Tyra’s rules for modeling drummed into your brain there are two things you need to know.

First, find your frame. Play with your camera and know what is in frame and what isn’t. We all joke about zoom meetings where you’re professional above the waist and wearing pajama bottoms. It might be comfortable and you can get away with it only if your torso is the only thing in frame at all times.

Second, you gotta find your light. You don’t need a professional lighting set up just make sure there aren’t any weird shadows hanging out or making you look weird.

Tip 4: Trick Yourself Into Looking At Camera

There are a million ways to do this. Some have suggested putting a pair of googly-eyes on either side of your camera so you’re drawn to looking at the eyes. You can put a small picture of someone you love right above the camera. My computer reflects my own face near my camera so I wind up talking to myself–this is where my narcissistic tendencies help. While you don’t have to look at the camera all the time it should be your anchor, the thing you keep coming back to, and this is unnatural for most of us so find a trick that works.

Tip 5: Don’t Worry About Vocal Fillers

Again, even though the medium is different normal conversational behaviors still apply. It’s normal to use vocal fillers. It’s okay. It really doesn’t through off your audience off. If they aren’t excessive your audience probably won’t even notice.

In reality, most people who think they are worried about vocal fillers are actually worried about forgetting what they are trying to say. When we have a panic moment and forget what we we’re trying to say we is when the vocal fillers proliferate and we sound like we don’t know what we’re talking about.

When I coach political candidates on speeches I don’t teach them to avoid vocal fillers. I teach them to replace their vocal fillers. Instead of saying “um” and “uh” I often coach them to replace the impulse towards a vocal filler with their slogan or with standing up straight and taking a deep breath.

My teaching version of this, which you can see in yesterday’s video, is “Why is any of this important?” I ask that question when I feel like I’ve gone too far into a tangent and want to say “What was I saying?”

By posing the question “why is this important?” I create a transition for myself back to my thesis statement and from there to the rest of my argument.

What is the thesis of your job talk? Is it, “this relates to the position because” or is “as you can see, this relates to your programs emphasis on” or something similar?

Don’t eliminate your vocal fillers. It’s a pointless battle. Replace them with something better.

Tip 6: Give Yourself An Outline.

Keep it to bullet points, if you can, and print it in big a** font. I do this for all my conferences and most recorded lectures.

Again, you don’t want to be reading a paper, but it’s okay to glance over at your outline every now and then.

If you’re not familiar with talking and reading at the same time allow yourself to do a dramatic reading of your favorite book for whoever you have at home: your partner, your cat, your wall.

As you read, practice reading the next few sentences and, as you say them, looking at your audience and using your face to express the emotions of what you’re reading.

It sounds weird and artificial but I promise you it helps develop your speaking skills immensely.

Tip 7: Practice

As a veteran public speaking teacher (with excellent evals, I might add) and part-time speaking consultant, I cannot emphasize enough that the key to ALL of the above tips is to practice as much as you can.

Practice in the medium you’re using. Zoom with someone in another country or another room but get someone to be your audience and do your talk four or five times. Get feedback on your outfit, your light, your background. What sounds natural, what needs to be broken down, and so on.

I particularly recommend getting an audience who is a smart layperson. They can give you feedback on whether you are breaking your topics down well enough for an intro audience.

When I’m doing a talk I always imagine I’m giving it to my mom–smartest lady I know but no college education. Would she understand what I’m talking about? If not, what definitions do I need to break down further. What analogies would feel relevant to her life?

Get your audience to listen to you 4 or 5 times.

That’s it friends, those are all the tips I have you. I don’t have a tip on how to make you sound smart or seem brilliant because you already are smart and brilliant. You don’t need any help there. Just follow the tips above and your brilliance will shine through the grainiest of laptop cameras. Sending you love and encouragement in this time <3