A Chat with Public Presentations Professor Glenn Byrne

Professor Glenn Byrne (Th.D.) teaches Professional Presentations, the only public speaking class offered at Boston University. Here he speaks on his experience as a professional public speaker and gives some tips for those hoping to shake their fear of public speaking.

You were a student here at Boston University, right?

Professor Glenn Byre: Right, I came here to get my Doctoral degree in Theology. I was just sort of floundering around, and advisers suggested I do a minor in COM. Later, the program chair told me I should be teaching the class and offered me a job. It was serendipitous.

That definitely is serendipitous. Can you give me a little more backstory?

GB: Yes, so I am a Catholic priest. Before BU, I had been in Cambridge working on my master’s degree, but I wanted to pursue education and have the opportunity of teaching. BU was very flexible and allowed me to do both.

I was going to say that being a professor and being a priest are very different jobs, but now that I think about it, they are probably rather similar.

GB: Right. There are a lot of similar ideas, concepts, and interactions as a professor and a priest.

As a priest, there is weekly preparation, practice and presentation—which is how I run my class. Religious professionals really need to keep themselves updated, because as professionals, once you go and start working, there are no workshops–but a good way for anyone to improve is to observe. Listen to others.

Both of your jobs require a lot of public speaking. What do you think about public speaking’s importance for the average person’s daily life?

GB: How can you avoid it? That sums it all up. It is unfortunate that public speaking is not a requirement for everyone. I have had pre-veterinary students in my class because it’s a requirement for veterinary school. It should be a requirement for all COM students. Public speaking appears in all shapes, so expect it! The more prepared you are, the better you will be. 

Those are very true points. I know you are an experienced public speaker, but have you ever had any truly disastrous public speaking experiences?

GB: I was speaking at a workshop in Nebraska, and I did some research before. You know, read the local papers and tried to get a sense of who these people were. But I misread them and could not relate to them at all. I made jokes and they fell flat. I could not connect with them at all.

Oh, gosh, I can imagine how uncomfortable that must have been. Do you have any big tips to avoid situations like that?

GB: Obviously, practice. That is my biggest tip–but it’s important to note that public speaking has changed. It is no longer just one person standing and talking. People are visual learners, and there have been huge technological advancements. I mean, the things that are used daily were unheard of 20 to 30 years ago. I remember the first time I saw someone use PowerPoint; it was just like, “Wow. Amazing.”

I know you have been at COM for some time. Can you speak a little more about your experience here?

GB: I have been here for 20 years. When I started here, I didn’t have a computer, and there weren’t computers in the classroom. Now there are computer labs everywhere, and everyone’s got a computer in their bag. Using CD and DVD were radically new when I started.

I think that COM is a good, solid education for the value. Hopefully, more students will take advantage of Professional Presentations. I like having students from other schools. It brings some diversity into the classroom. The class is for everyone, not just COM majors.


Paige Hill, Staff Writer

Paige Hill is a sophomore in the College of Communication studying public relations with a minor in political science. She loves working in the Community Service Center and tutoring at the Intergenerational Literacy Program in Chelsea. Ultimately, Paige hopes to combine her passions for education and communications to pursue a career in nonprofit PR.

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