Connecting with other people through spoken words may seem like no big deal: after all, we talk with our family and friends all the time. Conversations with people we know are often comfortable, following familiar routines and patterns. But it can be different when you are in situations that are unfamiliar, like entering a college classroom for the first time (in person or online) or starting a new job. Striking up a conversation with a classmate, speaking with a professor, asking for help from staff in college offices—these are different types of conversations, and they might feel uncomfortable (or even a bit frightening) as a new college student.

Developing confidence as a speaker in these situations will help you make connections and find your community on campus. It’s also vital preparation for your career, when you may need to communicate effectively with many different people—customers, clients, coworkers, supervisors—in a wide range of situations.

Introduce Yourself!

Everyone’s name is important to them. Among the many reasons to attend the first day of class is the fact that this is a good opportunity to begin getting to know fellow students. Professors may ask students to introduce themselves on the first day. This request may be to state your name and tell the class something about yourself. When your turn comes, take a deep breath and then speak slowly and clearly, so that others can hear the correct pronunciation of your name. Use the name that you wish to be known by on campus and tell something about yourself (your major? where you live? a favorite hobby?) that might help you meet like-minded peers.

You have now spoken publicly. Did you hear yourself speak? Your voice is welcome in every City Tech classroom.

You won’t catch everyone’s name but listen carefully as your classmates speak. Learn as many names as you can and take note of students who share your major or other interests. These brief introductions may be the basis for new friendships!

There may not be formal introductions in some classes, so go ahead and ask your classmates’ names. Start with those sitting near you.

  • “Hi, I’m ______________. What is your name?”
  • If the name is not familiar to you, ask the person to spell it and ask if you are saying it correctly.
  • If you do this with the students to the left and right of where you are sitting, as well as those in front of you and behind you, you will now know the names of four people.
  • If there is time, introduce the people you just met to other people. For example, the person to the left of you is introduced to the person in front of you…
  • If there is a break or during the next class meeting, ask each person to tell you something about themselves, for example, their major and why they chose it. Then respond:
    • Oh, that is really interesting. I’d like to know more about….
    • I didn’t realize…
    • That’s my major too…

Use the time before class starts to introduce yourself and talk with fellow students. Too often, students sit in silence looking at their phones, missing out on the opportunity to get to know peers who are right there with them in the classroom.

Use Your Voice in Class

In the classroom, most professors will expect their students to participate in discussion and in group activities. Some professors formally evaluate class participation as part of the final grade in the course. Even if class participation isn’t graded, professors will notice your engagement in the class. This helps them get to know you, and it is something they will remember if you ever ask them for a letter of recommendation, or for help finding opportunities like internships or undergraduate research. Participation is also a vital part of your learning process. Your professors cannot pour learning into your brain.

Speaking in class discussions or asking a question during class may make you feel anxious.  Your heart may race. Your voice may sound weird. Yet forcing yourself to speak out loud and participate in the classroom is the only way to overcome this common fear. Speaking up in the classroom is a first step to acquiring professional and leadership skills.

For shy students, speaking in class can be intimidating. If this is you, remember the sooner you speak up, the easier it will be to do so a second time.

Other students may be in the habit of talking too much. If this is you, be aware that other students have valuable points to contribute.

Here are some tips:

  • Speak loudly! If your professor keeps asking you to repeat what you’ve said, speak louder and consider sitting closer to the front.
  • If you are quiet, set a goal to speak once a week the first month. The second month, try to speak twice a week. Soon this will feel natural.
  • If you are a talker, be respectful of others and allow them to have a chance to speak.
  • Take part in group activities which are often designed to get you and your classmates talking to each other about the discussion topic. Get to know your fellow students: You can help each other.
  • When addressing your professor in the classroom individually or in discussions, the default address is “Professor___________.” If you do not know or remember the professor’s last name, the default is “Professor.” Do not use “Mister” or “Miss.” Some instructors may invite students to address them by their first name.

In short, be engaged! Use your voice to help make the classroom experience productive and thoughtful for everyone.

Speak with Confidence

Before speaking, pause – and pay attention to your thoughts. This will give you a moment to consider what you want to say. It is difficult to stop the flow of conversation, and yet, to clarify your thoughts, you must tune in to what those thoughts are. Once you recognize what you are thinking, consider why what comes to mind is important to you. Pausing means that you won’t blurt out the first thought that comes to mind but will allow you to listen to others and speak thoughtfully when you’re ready.

How you are perceived will be shaped in part by the words you choose to use. Don’t try to impress others with big words and fancy jargon; instead, speak clearly and concretely, using language you’re comfortable with. Your words can display confidence about your knowledge and your willingness to share your thoughts.

How can you ensure that your words project confidence? One suggestion is to avoid starting with phrases that undercut your message and indicate you are unsure of yourself:

  • “This is just my opinion, but…” It’s not “just” your opinion—what you have to say matters.
  • “I could be wrong, but I think…” There’s always the possibility of getting something wrong—that’s understood. We’re all here to learn. Make your point, and if someone else disagrees, they can speak up.
  • “I think…” Yes, you do! You’re the one speaking. Get to what you think without the introductory words. If you want to encourage others, state: “Great idea!” “Let’s try that suggestion.”
  • “I want…” Clarify what you really mean: “Let’s finish this report by Wednesday so we can review the presentation.”
  • “I guess…” sounds wishy-washy and does not project confidence or clarity.
  • “I suppose…” suggests that you are not engaged. Decide yes or no, and say so.
  • “I mean…”
  • “Like…”

When you simply state your ideas, without these unnecessary filler words and self-deprecating introductions, your points will be clear and your listeners will perceive the value of your contribution to the conversation.

Class Presentations

Presenting what you know is a common assignment. It could be in the form of a quick report or a longer presentation, alone or with peers. The syllabus for the course will alert you to required presentations. These are formal opportunities to hone your public speaking skills.

Presenting is also a common practice in the workplace. Becoming comfortable with speaking, so that listeners can understand and act on what you have to say, is a powerful skill.

To start, what is the main idea you plan to present? Deciding on your main idea and finding ways to support it will provide your audience with valuable insight. This decision – presenting a main idea with supporting evidence – will help you to avoid “winging it.”

Now that you have decided on your main idea, write one sentence that becomes your key message. After that, make sure that the data or evidence you present, the arguments to support the main idea, and other segments of your presentation all tie in to the one main idea.

Here are a few points to consider as you prepare for a presentation:

  • Speak a bit more slowly than you would in a conversation. This will help your listeners understand what you are presenting.
  • Know what’s expected. Are you supposed to present with a visual aid such as PowerPoint? How long should the presentation be? Are there formal guidelines from the instructor? If not, ask what the expectations are for the presentation.
  • Consider your audience: What might help introduce your topic to your classmates?
  • Practice! Five minutes can be a long time or can go by in a flash. It depends on how much you have rehearsed and prepared your presentation.

Take every opportunity to present in front of the class. Each time will allow you to feel more at ease with speaking out loud in front of others.

You are “finding your voice” and becoming skilled in a safe environment. Consider how each presentation is an opportunity to develop professional speaking skills.


How do you continue a conversation with people who may be in the same class, or may be a professor or a staff member in an office on campus? If you haven’t met before, introduce yourself and ask for the person’s name. If you have met, remind the person of your name, ask for theirs if you don’t remember it, and mention something that happened in class or that you talked about the last time you met.

Here are some prompts to get conversations started:

  • I would really appreciate your help on this…
  • Would you mind explaining to me why…?
  • I loved the comment you made in class yesterday about…

When you seek advice or ask someone a genuine question about how something works, it’s rewarding for them:

  • I could use your advice on this…

You may also be able to support someone else with these conversation starters:

  • How can I help?
  • I love how you handled that [specific situation] …
  • We couldn’t have done it without your hard work…

Sometimes, in a conversation, you may need to acknowledge your own limitations. For example:

  • Honestly, I don’t know how to….
  • That was my mistake…
  • I’m truly sorry…I didn’t realize…

Show that you are engaged when someone makes a request of you. For example, if you are invited to an event, accept enthusiastically, or turn down the invitation with regrets: “I have other plans for that date, but I would love to be invited to the next event.”

Communicating with Professors During Office Hours

Office hours are designated times when students can show up without an appointment at their professor’s office with questions about classwork, assignments, or other relevant issues. Some instructors require at least one visit during office hours for all students at some point in the semester. Take advantage of this time! Your instructor will be able to focus on your work in a way that is often not possible in the classroom. Some tips:

  • Plan to arrive with questions and assignments ready for discussion.
  • Speak professionally and respectfully. Call your professor by name: Professor __________.
  • If you do not have an appointment, come at the beginning of the designated office hours. If you arrive five minutes before the time ends, your professor may have to leave.
  • If you have an appointment, show up on time! Your professor may have other students with appointments before or after yours.
  • If coming in person to the designated office hours is not possible, ask if you can call them during that same time. Many professors are open to this.
  • Though your professor may be in the office at a time that is not a designated office hour, they may be dealing with other professional responsibilities. Do not get frustrated or angry. Schedule a better time to meet.

New students may find interactions with professors initially intimidating. As with many of the other skills presented in The Companion, the only way to get past this nervousness is to jump in and do it. Remember that professors are here to help you learn, and that office hours are times set aside for students—you’re not bothering or interrupting them by going to a professor’s office at the designated time. Start attending office hours early in your first semester, and you will find it becomes more and more helpful over time.

Presenting yourself in a positive and mature manner shows your professors that you are invested in college learning and have achieved a level of self-confidence that will also serve you in the workplace.

Emailing Professors and College Staff

You will often use email as a first point of contact when reaching out to professors and college staff. Communicating through email can seem cumbersome if you’re more used to texting. Although it may seem old-fashioned, the truth is that email remains a primary means of communication at many workplaces, including colleges. Developing professional email habits will make your interactions with college staff more productive, and these communication skills will serve you well on your professional life.

When you communicate with professors and other college staff through email, remember to maintain a professional tone and write with care.

Here are some tips:

  • Use your college email address. Unfamiliar addresses may be mistaken for spam and not opened.
  • Fill in the subject line of the email. Choose a subject that briefly and clearly indicates what you’re writing about. For example, in an email to the Office of Financial Aid, your subject might be “Eligibility for a Subsidized Loan.” If you’re writing a professor for help with an assignment, indicate the class and assignment. For example: “Question about Research Essay in ENG 1101”
  • Do not use informal subject lines such as “Hey” or “HEEEELLLLPPPP!”
  • Begin with a greeting. If you know the name of the person you’re writing, use it: “Dear Professor Williams.” If you’re writing to an office and don’t have an individual name, a simple “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” or “Good day” is always appropriate.
  • Write in complete sentences and write clearly, so that your question will be understood.
  • Proofread the message before sending it. Read it aloud if possible.
  • Sign off at the end with a polite phrase such “Best wishes,” or “Thanks,” followed by your name.

Finally, bear in mind that busy people are not always able to respond to email immediately. Allow 48 hours for a response. If you still haven’t heard back after 48 hours, write again, politely reminding the recipient of your question. If the situation is an emergency, you can also call or visit a campus office in person.

Setting Up an Interview

You will have many opportunities as a college student, and some of them will require you to participate in an interview as part of the application process. If you’re offered an interview, treat it as a chance to present yourself positively and to learn more about the position or scholarship you’ve applied for. Here are four types of opportunities that may require interviews:

If you are invited to participate in an interview, respond promptly to express your interest in the opportunity and set up a time for the interview. There may be specific instructions about how to schedule the interview—if so, follow them! If not, reach out using the same method of communication (typically email or phone) that was used to contact you. This is a good chance to practice your communication skills by writing a concise, carefully proofread email or speaking clearly and professionally on the phone.

Consider as you schedule the interview:

  • Will the interview be in person or online? If you have a choice, consider what format will allow you to be at your best.
    • Make sure that you have ample time to commute to an in-person interview, or
    • You have access to a quiet space with the necessary equipment and Internet service to join an interview via Zoom (or whatever conferencing service the interviewer has specified).
  • You will likely be given a choice from among several dates and time slots. Select the date and time when you can be most relaxed, without other important commitments immediately before or after the interview.
  • Ask who will be present, and whether you are expected to bring or prepare anything for the interview.

Acing the Interview

Once your interview is scheduled, prepare! You probably already know something about the opportunity —you applied for it, after all—but it’s a good idea at this point to learn more about the scholarship or position in question. Search online for information, and, even better, ask a professor who is knowledgeable about the opportunity, or a fellow student who has already held the same scholarship or position.

Anticipate questions you are likely to be asked, such as “Why are you interested in this internship?” or “What skills and experiences have prepared you to complete this research project successfully?” Be prepared for a broader question like “Tell me about yourself” as well.

Plan and rehearse answers to these questions. Think about your own strengths and make sure to highlight what you can bring to the position. Bear in mind that specific answers and concrete examples are better than generalizations. For instance, rather than “I’m really excited to learn what it’s like to work in a hospital” try something like this: “I’ve learned a lot about patient care in my nursing classes, but I’m really excited to have the opportunity to shadow experienced nurses and see how they interact with real patients.”

You will likely be given time toward the end of the interview to ask questions of your own. Prepare several specific questions that you can ask about the scholarship or position you’re applying for. “What types of hands-on experience will I gain in this internship?” “Can you tell me more about the research team I’ll be working with?”

Other considerations:

  • Make sure to get enough sleep the night before your interview.
  • Aim to arrive no more than ten minutes early to in-person interviews. Too early and it causes confusion, especially when there aren’t extra rooms. Too late creates a poor first impression.
  • Sometimes there are emergencies. If you’re unavoidably delayed on your way to the interview, make sure to contact the office by phone or email to inform them of the situation.
  • Be courteous and considerate of the person who greets you and follow their instructions (where to sit and wait, etc.).
  • A firm handshake and eye contact present a confident image. This is the accepted American cultural protocol. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, consider how you might greet someone without compromising your beliefs.
  • If your interview is online, look directly into the camera (yes, you need to have your camera on) and make sure that there is nothing distracting or unprofessional behind you that will be visible on the screen.
  • Your appearance does make a difference. Choose attire that demonstrates your professionalism.
  • Conclude by thanking the interviewers for their time and reiterating your interest in the opportunity.

Send a thank-you note within 24 hours of completing the interview. Email is fine.

Common Interview Problems

Problem: You’re very nervous

What to do:

  • A little nervous energy can work for you – you’re supposed to be nervous before an interview! If negative thoughts are running through your mind (“I don’t have enough experience for this internship”), replace them with positive ones (“My professor recommended me for this internship because I did so well in her class”). Shift your energy in a positive direction: “I’m excited for this interview,” rather than “I’m nervous or scared.”
  • Taking a few deep breaths before you begin speaking can help to calm your nerves.

Problem: You don’t know the answer to a question

What to do:

  • Stop yourself before you try to bluff or fake your way through the question. The person on the other side of the desk conducts interviews regularly and they will know if you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s better to say “That’s a really interesting question. I haven’t had a lot of experience with X yet, but I’d love to learn.”

Problem: You didn’t answer a question in the way that you intended

What to do:

  • Unusual circumstances can make you say weird things or forget something you wanted to bring up. While you can’t unsay them, you can do some post-interview damage control in the thank-you note. For example, if you didn’t mention a relevant experience, you could highlight it in your note.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

The Companion for the First Year at City Tech Copyright © by Office of First Year Programs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book