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Stand Out as a Speaker (sciencemag.org)
220 points by Anon84 58 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 29 comments

I feel like any conversation about speaking/presenting skills should have a link to Patrick Henry Winston's "How To Speak" presentation.


Thanks, this was great to watch. Now I'm looking forward to my next talk to be applying some of those techniques!

This was excellent thanks for sharing. His ending about not thanking the audience by rather saluting was great I will use it in the future.

Thanks for the link. Seems interesting!

The biggest advice to a speaker giving a fixed speech is: PRACTICE!

People never put in enough practice on a speech. When I build a new speech, I practice it with a clock and record myself. And then edit the speech. And then deliver the speech again. And do it again. And again. And again.

By the time I'm done, you can take my slides, destroy my computer, put the room in a war zone, and I can still deliver that speech cold and make it at least passably interesting to the audience.

Yes, making a good speech is a ton of work. I don't do it often, and when I do I try to make sure I can give that speech multiple times to amortize some of the work.

Completely agree, people don't grok this.

I once gave a presentation 4 times in a row (venue was large with 4 rotating groups) and, man, the 4th time I gave it I was so freaking into it, it was so freaking good. You really noticed that it got better at the second, third, and fourth time. My talk actually got the highest rating of all presentations that day by a LARGE margin.

> Completely agree, people don't grok this.

I think most people grok it for others' presentations; it just appeals to both vanity and laziness to think "I can wing it."

nope, even for others some don't get it. people will still ask you if it's possible for you to deliver speeches with only a few hours or less heads-up. making you feel bad for saying no or endure all the stress if you say yes...

> it just appeals to both vanity and laziness to think "I can wing it."

Some people are just good at ad lib. What is charisma without improvisation?

> > it just appeals to both vanity and laziness to think "I can wing it."

> Some people are just good at ad lib. What is charisma without improvisation?

Indeed, some people are good at ad lib, and can give a good talk without practice; but I think that it is almost always some combination of vanity and laziness to think that one can give a better talk without practice than with it.

That's definitely #1. #2 is be yourself. Make your talk a story you believe in. Tell it in a way that feels comfortable to you and suits your personality.

This. You wouldn’t give a product demo without running through it yourself to make sure everything works. Do the same with a speech.

I found Toastmasters to be fairly reliable for practicing and improving my public speaking skills.

In my city, there are dozens of chapters that vary in quality and expertise. One chapter is really good for people who are shy. Another is for people who are quite advanced and are trying to get on the level of event speaker.

Over a few years, my speech writing and delivery improved to the point where I got compliments during public events. And a friend of mine from the club got to the point where he frequently gets asked to be an MC at friends/family events.

Plus generally speaking, I have found the people who go to be friendly.

There's one in San Francisco on Thursday nights that's all comedy speakers. Boost your confidence and make some fun new friends.

The development programs in Toastmasters are fine, but I think the real value is in providing a venue to practice and experiment. You don't get better at things without practicing in a realistic environment, and that's hard to do without something like Toastmasters. We have a chapter at work and it's been really helpful for a lot of people.

Totally agree about Toastmasters. I went from being completely unable to speak in front of people to being pretty OK doing it. I am not a great speaker by any means but I am doing fine and not having anxiety is great.

And if you are really interested you can go much further in Toastmasters.

From Planes, Trains, and Automobiles:

"Have a point! It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!"

In general, I find most technical and scientific talks are the person gushing about whatever they think is cool, sometimes rushing from topic to topic, and as an audience member, you're like, what is going on, and why is this relevant?

All this knowledge in this article is really good. But I think most people kid themselves about how much they can cover, and what is interesting to them might not be interesting to their audience. Although if you know what the takeaways are, you should be able to know that those are relevant for that audience. I love the part about having one thing you're focusing on. It's obvious, until you try to write something, and have a million good sounding ideas.

I still remember one of the first professional talk I had to give. I was an intern in a company and I had to present my work to about 20 people, nothing very impressive.. Yet it was a terrible experience. My mouth was so dry that I could barely speak. I didn't think of bringing water, and too shy to ask.

I realised that I was much more stressed when I had to present my own work/research than let say, a class, or somebody else's work. It wasn't simply talking in public that affected me, but also the fear of being judged and criticised.

Eventually, I got more experience (I was professor for a while) and it became like second nature. It is really just a matter of practice.

That being said, I'm certainly not a great orator. For instance, I've always disliked giving longer lectures where you need somehow to keep the audience awake. In that context, because I can't rely on my eloquence, I try to engage the audience with some questions, exercises, and alternate the unavoidable boring parts with more interesting parts.

Another thing that I noticed when watching speakers on youtube, is that they often do the exact same speech hundreds of time! When you watch several videos of them, you realize that they tend to repeat the exact same sentences from one speech to the next, even when they answer questions. No wonder they are good speakers.

Same speech, same jokes, same anecdotes, even many of the same answers ... to different questions.

I've looked up presentation / lectures by people I've personally attended, though at different times and locations. The similarity will come down to timing and intonation.

It's far easier to appear polished when what you're delivering is a frequently-repeated performance, than when doing a one-off. The frequent advice and/or pressure for creativity and originality all the time and under all circumstances is also actively harmful. Far better to get the basic framework right, perfect the delivery, and then tweak or adjust slightly as you go, than to try to randomly toss out something wholly novel at one go.

The fact that practice (see: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20771763) is a major component also makes drastic changes expensive, and hence, not generally a good idea.

Zach Holman made a site with excellent tips on preparing and delivering a (technical) presentation: https://speaking.io/. That one covers a lot more ground.

Thanks, that's very substantial and practical.

If you want to make great presentations, I can't recommend this book/website enough:


It completely changed the way I make presentations, and my evaluations skyrocketed after making the changes.

I definitely support the author's message: have a point, use pictures, prepare. My style is derived from Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture (Flash, but legendary: https://randomfoo.net/oscon/2002/lessig/free.html) and Edward Tufte (with whom I was fortunate enough to work for one summer).

OT: Are there any Web-based (or other) tools which will ingest Flash and emit video?

Because that format is so beyond dead to me.

I think it's on point that this article is written by a postdoc. It's true - when you're young/less established to have to be very careful about these things and do a good job. On the other hand, it's always amusing to me to observe the inverse correlation between fame and talk quality, at least in science. I once saw a Nobel prize winner give talk with pixelated images and with large blocks of comic sans text. It's honestly somewhat rare, at least in my field, to see a talk from an elder-statesperson of the field that isn't low quality.

I've spoken at a few conferences over several years. I feel (and the feedback seems to reflect) that I've had some good talks and some that maybe weren't so good.

IMHO, perhaps the most important thing is to know your subject inside and out, upside and down. Given that, you can speak freely and ad-lib colorful comments to fill time if needed. You are also a much better Q&A responder.

The soft skills count for a lot, too. But I think super-deep knowledge is a must-have.

Deep knowledge is important but I think I can add a few more thoughts:

- DON'T 'make-stuff-up' If you get a tricky question about something you don't know, just say you don't know - you will screw up and get caught out when you get it wrong. No one knows everything.

- DO only speak on subjects that you have a passion about I believe that this is very important, and the difference between a good talk, a bad talk, and a transforming talk.

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