The American writer Susan Sontag once said that “the past itself, as historical change continues to accelerate, has become the most surreal of subjects – making it possible… to see a new beauty in what is vanishing” while the quote itself may not have been about London, one cannot help but think the Bloomsbury area epitomises that sentiment. After all, passing by the flat where the most preeminent economist of the 20th century, John Maynard Keynes, used to live only to find a small, unassuming Bed & Breakfast that 110 years ago was the residence of one Vladimir Lenin is pretty surreal, indeed.
What I would suggest is that for the EconWalk, you need to make sure that the attendees understand the social and historical context of the presentation, and what better way to do that than to establish what was happening in the buildings they are strolling by in the 20th century? Similar to the beginning of any movie, you need to set the scene – bear in mind that the presentation revolves around the presiding ideologies of the 20th century. You could try to paint Bloomsbury not only as an isolated location but as a very well-defined part of London and then, additionally, recount the famous people – artists, scientists, etc. – who used to frequent these places
For example, Karl Marx, a Soho resident, had a habit of coming here to write at the British Library (which used to be where the British Museum is now) whereas Virginia and Leonard Woolf used to host parties for the Bloomsbury Group just around here. This way you are bound to hammer home the idea that Bloomsbury has been London’s most important intellectual hub for more than a century now.
On a more technical level, you shouldn’t aim to recite the material by heart. There are three steps that I believe could be very helpful: 1) Read more in-depth on the subject at hand 2) Find 4-5 keywords and memorise those, preferably in the order that they come into the presentation 3) When presenting, start with the keywords and then expound on those on the spot using the information you retained while doing 1). It is crucial that the presentation feels organic and memorising several lines of dialogue could easily hinder the fluidity of your speech. Moreover, you must remember that it’s not a monologue but a dialogue with brief monologue-like sequences, so do not forget to engage with the audience and ask them questions. Practising your improvisation skills could provide an advantage, too.
This next piece of advice pertains more to the Taster session and it also represents something I had difficulty with at first. Just remember that you are presenting this to upcoming students who may be visiting their future university for the first time. Their aim is not to catch you making any kind of mistake, so while feelings of anxiety are understandable, they are really not warranted. So, if you forget a line or make a small grammatical error when speaking, there is no need to panic. On the contrary, you should just brush over it as certainly, no one else has noticed it.
The overarching theme of these bits and pieces of advice is that you should be confident in your presentation skills and have the ability to relay information in a logical way without memorising it. Finding inspiration in the material and being genuinely passionate about certain aspects of it are key in your conducting an engaging presentation. For instance, I was lucky enough to be assigned the part on the history of UCL’s inclusiveness of women for undergraduate degrees.
As for my experience with the EconWalk and the Taster Session, it has been nothing but enjoyable. Not only have I become more knowledgeable in the history enshrined within the surroundings of my University, but I also honed my public speaking skills.
By Oana Gavriloiu , as part of the CTaLE project “Enhancing the research-education nexus” funded by the UCL Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences.
All photos credit of Kirsten Holst Photography