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Public speaking is tough (speaking.io)
371 points by FredericJ on Jan 14, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 106 comments

Here's two pieces of public speaking advice nobody will tell you about, but actually work.

1) Beta-blockers. Ask your doctor.

2) Alcohol. Obviously, be careful with this. :) But having a drink really will take the edge off. This works better when giving a toast as a best man than it does at work. It could probably work at a conference too.

Other than this, for a big talk or pitch, I just practice until I'm blue in the face, then I practice some more. If you experience a fight or flight response, your brain cannot think straight, but you can fall back on something that has become rote long enough for you to regain your footing.

After 30 seconds or so, your body will start to calm down, you just have to make it through that 30 seconds without pulling a Michael Bay. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tqRyzTvNKE

Ask HN: I was thinking the other day, someone should make an Oculus Rift app that is just a giant conference room of people staring at you. People with stage fright could use this to practice public speaking and hopefully improve.

The most important thing is that after 30 seconds or so, your body will start to calm down

This is so true. While I haven't given many speeches in my life yet, I've had some experience playing in public at concerts (max I had was 500 people probably so not a huge crowd, but still plenty).

Every time I would step on stage with my band, I'd feel like I locked up, unable to do anything other than just stare at the crowd. It's not really anxiety in my case, more like a "oh crap, what if I fuck up?". Thanks to practice with the other members and eventually having fun (once the music starts), you tend to forget it all and just get into action. The same happened during my graduation speech, once you start the only option left is to get to the end.

More often than not I got to the end of a concert thinking "that was all?" because time really flies when you put all of yourself into doing a very focused thing (and speeches aren't that different, at least in my experience).

Also, the best thing you can do to recover from stumbling is to just keep going. If you realize you have screwed up something, just keep going and everything will be fine. The thing you definitely don't want to do is to lock up and freeze. The moment you freeze you know you have failed. The worst experience to me was during an acoustic solo part when a string in my guitar broke, I was just there, standing in front of a crowd and then silence. We just laughed it off and kept playing (with a substitute guitar), but it felt terrible for those first couple of seconds.

ps: shameless plug if somebody cares, here's my band: http://www.youtube.com/user/HavenlostBand

This is my experience as well, and I think alot of it might apply to speaking as well. I still have a tingle of anxiety almost every time I go on stage, but I've learned exactly how to manage it. A few things that helped me:

- Start out with something simple you could do in your sleep, and build your confidence from that. For me, I know the rest is going to work out fine once I hear myself playing the opening riff.

- Rehearsing is key. But don't try to re-enact your rehearsal, just keep it in the back of your mind as something to fall back on.

- Worrying about anxiety doesn't help at all. It sounds counterintuitive, but think as little as possible about what you're about to do. You've already prepared, there's absolutely no need for last minute checking and fiddling.

- Being on stage automatically makes you cool. People are going to judge you less harshly. They're looking to you for something to think or feel about, and if you are enjoying yourself, they are going to have a good time as well.

- Fuckups are going to happen. Only you will notice most of the time. If you know where you are going but not exactly how, just improvise. And if it's a temporary showstopper, embrace it. Nobody will mind as long as you show that you're not fazed. Get the audience laughing or tell an anecdote if you can.

Alcohol takes the edge off stress, but it also works the other way around. Fear sobers you up, so don't try to get a buzz going while you are panicking beforehand, or you'll risk being a bit more drunk than expected once you start relaxing.

> Also, the best thing you can do to recover from stumbling is to just keep going.

It can take a little practice and some preparation, but figuring out how to do this is really what leveled up my public speaking skills and mostly eliminated the worst parts of stage fright.

Sweet I thought I was the only metalhead on HN.

I think there are plenty here.

Yep. Some of us are lurkers.

Beta-blockers and alcohol are a shim, they don't help you get better at it. It's scary, but you can use the adrenalin if you let yourself.

Yesterday I gave a talk - the first one I've ever given that wasn't a research talk. 30 minutes. I didn't pre-write it at all - just laid out the slides the day before. On the day of the talk I looked through the slides in the afternoon and thought about the main points I wanted to make and some funny stories and jokes I could slip in. Then I forgot about it until the evening, when I gave it. It was easily the best talk I've ever given, and people were coming up to me for the rest of the evening to thank me.

I did have a small drink before the talk, and that definitely helped with the first 30 seconds of fear. But apart from that, it was the adrenalin that drove me the whole way. It felt really good. I absolutely don't agree that you have to memorize lines.

Yeah, I don't need much help with public speaking anymore.

But, for many years, after one bad experience, I just couldn't shake the jitters. I needed a way to break the vicious cycle of one bad experience leading to more bad experiences. I needed a shim to break the cycle.

Now, like you, I actually look forward to the pre-talk adrenalin hit.

Also I should point out, that combining Beta-Blockers with Alcohol isn't good for your health[1][2], your blood pressure can drop dangerously low[2]. Also I should point out I'm not a doctor [3].

[1] https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/treatments/medications--...

[2] http://texasheart.org/HIC/Topics/Meds/betameds.cfm

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=valarauca1

Oops, yeah, certainly don't do both!

One is for less-formal speaking engagements, and one is for professional situations.

Alcohol only DECREASES the effects of beta blockers, right? That's not a bad thing.

Your idea for a Rift app sounds like an excellent idea! It'd be a lot of fun to try to create a realistic model of an audience. The small motions would make all the difference: that guy who suddenly looks up and stares at you, the person who sits stiffly with their arms crossed, the person who just can't sit still.

However, one big problem is that, currently, the Rift is designed to be used when sitting down. What you really want is some way to track your position and stance within a fixed area (the 'stage'). Then you'd be able to practice your whole stage presence, not just your spoken deliver. I'd love a program which could analyse your movements, and tell you that you look down too much, or that you're slouching, or that your hands shouldn't just be hanging limply.

In addition, it would be difficult for it to accurately show the crowd reacting to what you say.

In my experience/opinion, one of the more stressful things about public speaking is how the audience reacts.

Isn't there any voice recognition software able to detect stuttering, tone change (I'm a pro at that), irregular rhythm and the likes ?

That'd be a really interesting challenge to have to keep your speech in a fast paced yet balanced and clutter free fashion.

Things that help me with public speaking when I don't wanna:

1) Extra sleep (a nap an hour before the speaking opportunity kicks in just like medication)

2) Extra preparation (50% more material than I can address in the time allotted)

3) A conversation about any nervousness with my wife (but any close friend ought to work)

4) Calming music just before the event.

(BTW, all of the above would even apply to a simple bike ride, for someone with real social anxiety)

My dad used to give public speeches about two to three times each month. People were continually inviting him to speak more about his areas of interest. I asked him how he got over his nervousness. He said that the best way is to get yourself in a position where you have to get up and do it over and over again. That made me laugh. If you have to start in front of a class rather than a "real" audience, maybe that's more comfortable, but either way you've got to accumulate the experience.

Aw man, a nap right before speaking would screw me up so bad. Not even as in nervousness, but as in I'd stumble over my words and overall just do terrible. My brain just doesn't work right when I first wake up.

But your dad's right. I used to hate public speaking. One of the worst and best experiences of my life was spending a summer selling insurance door-to-door, where you have to make yourself do it or else you don't make money. It's really all just practice and getting used to it.

I say just man (or woman) up and accept the fact that you are nervous. After a few packed conference rooms or board rooms you'll find it gets easier. Skip the drugs.

It's valuable to realize why you are nervous.

If you were asked to get up in front of 200 people and stand there silently for 10 minutes you wouldn't think twice about it. You're nervous because you're trying to accomplish something: secure investment, win new business, impress people, etc. You're nervous because feedback is (often) immediate and you can be challenged directly. You're nervous because you're not completely comfortable with the subject matter.

You can deal with those things. Learn to (intelligently) say "I don't know but I'll get back to you". Learn to deal with rejection. Learn to not take yourself so seriously and make a joke if you screw up.

I get where you're coming from, but what you don't understand is that phobias are not rational. They can't be reasoned away. If you've ever had one, you'd know.

Scared of heights? Man up and go bungee jumping. Agoraphobic? Just spend an hour locked in a box. Depressed? Man up and feel better...

During the few years in which I was stuck in a stage-fright mindset, I learned that phobias work in the unconscious mind. You can know your content well, you can tell yourself there is nothing to worry about, you can prepare perfectly... and you can still be overcome with adrenaline that can cause you to freeze up, shake, and get sweaty.

In a sense, you are right, the way to get over it is by facing it and doing it. However, you have to face it in a controlled, safe, incremental way, otherwise you run the risk of making the phobia worse.

> I say just man (or woman) up and accept the fact that you are nervous. […] It's valuable to realize why you are nervous.

I can realise that I'm being nervous without it getting crippling (literally, with shakes and cold sweat). Which is what currently occurs because following a medical reaction a few years ago my body has apparently discovered the underpants gnome strategy of handling stress:

1. somewhat stressful situation

2. flood the whole system with adrenaline

3. ???

4. profit

> You're nervous because feedback is (often) immediate and you can be challenged directly. You're nervous because you're not completely comfortable with the subject matter.

Well you've got today's prize for the most condescending and least correct statement at least. Bravo, I guess.

That was the royal "you" and wasn't meant to be condescending. It used to scare the shit out of me as well.

The point I was making is that talking or being in front of a group of people aren't terrifying by themselves. You're likely to be worried about being judged in some unfavorable way. Don't be. Shit happens. Just get through it -- without drugs or Jedi mind tricks -- and you're realize it wasn't that big of a deal. Do it a few times and you'll be a natural.

Practicing is VERY under-rated. If I've practiced a speech 4 times, I've nailed it. Practicing with people who are willing to call me out on "Ummms" is great too. Having a hostile practice audience works wonders. It is painful to watch an unprepared speech or demo.

Be VERY careful on alcohol. The downside is enormous. Appearing drunk at a formal speech is a career killer. Even if you have only 1 beer, if someone sees you drinking and then sees you make a mistake, it could be a career killer too.

I'd add teaching. Nostromo is right that you calm down quickly after you start speaking, but the problem is most people only have experience of talking for a brief time. 2-5 min talks in front of the class at school is a common experience.

However if you teach a class for an hour or more, that period of nervousness is comparatively short and you quickly learn to be comfortable in front of others.

I support teaching as a great way to get comfortable with public speaking, and adapting to varied characters in a room. Holding people's attention, and actually making sure everyone grasps key concepts, for 1-2 hours, is not easy. Reacting and interacting with everyone at the same time is tough but, for me, very fun.

A second great way to improve was taught to me on a training course run by an acting school. Standing in a room, delivering an unprepared children's story to no one but to a full sized TV camera. Unexpectedly horrifying. A large lens does not react, does not smile, laugh or frown. After the first take, an actor would return to the room and we'd run over the video. It took a couple of days to get to something acceptable.

I highly recommend both methods.

You're advising medication mixed with alcohol to help people speak better in front of a crowd??

You don't have to mix them. In the past I have used alcohol alone to help with public speaking.

It doesn't take much for me, 1-1.5 beers is all it takes to stop the jitters if I have an under-prepared presentation to give. Not enough to even call tipsy (best to avoid that, for obvious reasons).

Isn't that how everyone prepares to give a presentation? I thought it was standard operating procedure.


For the reference, Michael Bay comment about the incident is here: http://michaelbay.com/2014/01/06/ces/

Beta blockers really helped me when I started consulting and started having to pitch to a room full of people. I was very nervous and used to go red, get shaky and my voice would be unsteady. I went to the doctor and got some and they really helped.

I stopped taking them after about a year and have now found that I get much better feedback and higher likelihood of having bids accepted without! I think it's something to do with passion coming across a bit more without them.

I must say they really helped to start and helped me get the experience of pitching without feeling too out of control. It might also be that I get better feedback without them now as I've had more pitching experience but I do feel the adrenaline flutter you get if you don't take beta blockers is useful - as long as it isn't overwhelming.

He's not saying take them together. He's just spitballing ideas. Lordy.

Betablockers are for those who want a quick emergency fix (not judging, they have been good help to me as well). A 20-50 minute aerobic workout has the same net effect for many (healthily burning adrenaline instead of using high blood pressure medication to reduce anxiety).

Be sure to check Dr. Medina's brain rules for presenters: http://www.slideshare.net/garr/brain-rules-for-presenters

but working out before something like a speech where you can be nervous and have an elevated body temp is a bad idea because you will be much more prone to sweating. i've experienced this and it is terrible.

There's a very interesting TED talk related to this, by Amy Cuddy (title: Your body language shapes who you are) - http://on.ted.com/Cuddy

Basically you can manipulate yourself into being calm by taking on a relaxed and confident body language. Sitting up, stretching out, taking in a lot of space, ..

I tried this several times and it does help, of course it doesn't make your stress vanish entirely.

One thing that's extremely helpful is to care as little as possible about the opinions of other people. What do they matter, anyway?

I'm half joking, but not caring what people think really does let me be calm in public speaking. There's no reason to be nervous if the only possible negative consequence is a bad opinion you don't care about anyway.

Of course, this isn't something you can just turn on like a switch....

I did the drinking thing a couple of times. Once when making a pitch to an investor I stopped at a bar first for a quick beer. It worked. The other time I had to present in my non-native language (French). Stopped in the hotel bar for a glass of wine. That worked two. I've always been told I am more articulate when tipsy. Of course when I am too tipsy I speak in a Scottish accent for some reason.

About the Oculus Rift app, I saw some years ago a documentary about phobias, where some investigators used a VR headset to treat height phobia for example.

It was really primitive (doesn't had head motion sensors and the 3d rendering was nothing realistic) but they said it had positive effects.

These are more suggestions for anxiety than they are for public speaking. Reducing anxiety is just one (common but not ubiquitous) issue, and there are 100 other things that people work on to improve their public speaking- like storytelling, building rapport, body language etc.

About the app, these guys do something like that - http://cyberpsyc.com/

> Ask HN: I was thinking the other day, someone should make an Oculus Rift app that is just a giant conference room of people staring at you. People with stage fright could use this to practice public speaking and hopefully improve.

This is a brilliant idea.

Other interesting tips & phenomena from my small amount of experience:

- No one cares if you fuck up, seriously! A bit of self deprecating humor goes a long way here. "Ha-ha! I'm so terrible at this!" or even a more sincere "I'm terrified of public speaking so I forgot what I was going to say next!" usually elicits a laugh and sympathy. No one is natural at this, and most people don't practice it at all, and they don't want to. They get it.

- Following that, the only notes you should have are "checkpoints" as I like to call them. A 3 or 4 word phrase about what you're going to talk about in the next 30 seconds. If you forget, you fall back to the checkpoint, realize what you were talking about, keep going. An outline, if you will. Don't ever have "notes" that have exact wording in them. No! Disallow yourself to memorize wording, because that's how you lock up and forget. Instead, make sure you can explain each checkpoint yourself, to a friend. The wording will be different each time, and that's fine. You want that. It makes it more organic and gets you out of robot-recital-mode and puts you in ad-lib-i'm-good-at-this mode.

- While you're presenting, it feels like you're in warp speed. Things are happening so fast, and you're responding to them so fast. I suspect it's the adrenaline. Once in a while, you forget what you were going to say, or you think you're spending too much time thinking about an answer. Then you watch yourself on video and you realise it was only 2 seconds.

Even Michael Bay could have recovered from that by saying "wow, major brain fart!", and people would be commenting on how sincere he is. And if he hadn't memorized some impressive sounding bollocks word for word, and instead had a message to convey, he'd recover from that soon after.

If it's not just the presentation heebie-jeebies and you think you legitimately have crippling social / performance anxiety, you should try one of the many great programs out there that help you with that. In the Boston area, MGH has an entire center dedicated for that, I believe.

These basically help you develop those skills in a safe sandbox, until you get better and more confident, and let you go step by step.

There is no reason you can't try the same approach, if you think you can do it. Present at a small 10 person user group for your favorite obscure programming tool that you're passionate about. If there isn't one, start one! That way you can't avoid public speaking, and you know you're in good company.

Finally, re: Q&A: If you don't know the answer, say that you don't know! If you are thinking, think out loud so it's not boring and awkward for the audience. Both of these I see in tech presentations a lot.

also, prepare for cotton mouth. it's really hard to talk when your mouth is completely dry.

Awful advice.

The best thing to do IMO is to avoid eye contact if you are nervous. Look at foreheads.

Everyone probably has some good advice for public speaking. Here's my #1 piece:

Slow the fuck down!

You don't "win" at public speaking by getting more words in. In fact, you'll likely lose your audience by going a mile a minute. It makes perfect sense, but it's still hard to do. You can practice your talk in private a hundred times and it'll be X minutes. You can present your talk to colleagues and co-workers and it'll be X minutes. Then, when you get in front of a room full of strangers, the adrenaline will hit, you'll go into manic-caffeine-squirrel mode, and you'll blast it out in X/2 minutes! Some people deliberately make their talks too long, knowing they'll finish early if they don't. This is a mistake. They're just cramming too much material into the time allowed and will shell-shock their audience. Slow the fuck down!

The method by which you slow the fuck down is going to be somewhat personal. Different things work for different people. Personally, I do a lot better if I've gotten to know even just a few people in the room a tiny bit. If I can get a few people (hopefully in the front row) into the colleague-zone, I can focus on them during the talk and ignore the strangers.

I've repeated advice given to me: speak so slow you feel silly, then slow down.

This is great advice or large audiences. Speaking slowly ensures that the audience can understand every word, even non-native speakers. More than that, large groups may be varying distances from sound amplification, meaning the only way to cope with the inevitable rumble/echo is to modulate slower than it. This isn't such a big deal in groups that are easily in ear-shot without amplification, but it will definitely help prevent the speech from turning into a race to decompress an idea fastest! And it also helps prime your style, so that when you inevitably hit your stride, it fails normal, not fast.

Granted, if you have a strong command of yourself, then you needn't worry about it, but then you already have a style you're comfortable with and works.

Famously Kennedy talked fast because he learned that people can talk at most ~200 words per minute but can understand ~600 (or some such). So talk fast to keep people's attention.

If you're going to talk slow, make sure you say something worth thinking about in there, so folks' wheels are turning during the silences. With practice you can judge where the wheels have got to, and feed right into that with your next remark.

Kennedy doesn't speak that fast compared to people in manic-caffeine-squirrel mode. He downright ambles through his talks compared to many I've heard, and he slows down for the important bits too!

Also, comprehension doesn't always result in retention, which is what you really want your audience to come out of your talk with, unless you're a politician and you just want to leave an emotional impression like "Wow, this guy is really great and I'm so happy I'll probably even vote for him again!". In fact, I bet the very last thing most politicians want is for you to remember everything they said four years ago! For most of us, public speaking is about sharing ideas, and if you can say something with fewer words your audience has a better chance of remembering it.

I get this piece of feedback a lot when I give my talks, since I usually try to pack about 6 hours of material into 20 minutes. But honestly, I get really bored when speakers do slow down, so I'm kind of conflicted: am I aiming my talk at myself, or am I aiming it at a person that supposedly exists but I don't intrinsically know?

This has absolutely nothing to do with who you're aiming at and everything to do with our general tendency to speak way too fast publicly. As a techie who has given talks that was a professional actor for many years as well, I can tell you, with confidence, that "slow down" is just generally good advice for absolutely everyone who must be on stage in front of a crowd.

Some people are just fine and don't have to worry about this. However, for most people, even well trained stage actors, it is completely unconscious that you are speeding up and you will almost certainly not be aware when it's happening. So, if you just remember: "slow down" whether you feel like you're talking fast or not, chances are you're just slowing down to "just right."

Hmm, OK. I'll give it a try.

Public speaking became much easier to me once I recognized that all good speeches follow a concrete formula.

It's kind of like writing. You wouldn't pick up a pen and start scribbling a lengthy essay without considering its structure.

Similarly, effective public speakers follow a pattern — not necessarily the same formula, but a formula. For example, Bill Clinton likes to...

1) Begin with a personal, visual anecdote about a specific person or small group. (e.g. A family walking miles to collect water.)

2) Relate the small example to broader theme. (e.g. Poverty is a big problem.)

3) Weaving that broader concept into the theme of the speech.

Another thing to remember is that while speeches share a structure with writing, they are not written articles. The biggest difference, I think, is that people are not capable of processing as much information.

While repeating yourself in a written piece is often bad form, most public speakers repeat key phrases to keep the audience focused. Listening is usually harder than sitting down to read.

I'm a so-so to "good" public speaker. I used to be a terrible public speaker. I'll probably never be a great orator or Steve Jobs, but I'm pretty happy with my presentation skills. In group settings, I'm often the one chosen to give the public presentation.

Some things that improved me:

1) My university undergrad CS program required a semester of public speaking. Everybody hated it. It's probably one of the top 3 most important classes I took. If you're in a school that doesn't require it, take it as an elective.

2) I had a teaching job for a few years. Getting points across day in and day out, and trying to drag a class along of people at very different learning speeds teaches you very quickly how to project and enunciate so people can hear you well. Watching the faces of, and talking to, the people in the back rows becomes a very important speaking tool.

3) To deal with stage fright, I learned to mentally "not care" about giving the talk. It's hard to explain, it doesn't mean "not caring about doing a good job", it just means to adopt a viewpoint of detached apathy. Before I learned how to do this, even small stumbles would send me into a panic state which only made it worse ending with an avalanche of stutters and tied tongues. Detached apathy turns those little stumbles into such unimportant things that I don't even know they happened until I listen to a recording of my talk or see myself in a presentation.

4) Practice your speech. Because it's important to look up every once in a while in order to project. Practicing your speech helps you do that, instead of looking down into your note cards or your script. I don't practice it relentlessly like Steve Jobs or President Obama. 2 or 3 runs through is usually good enough for most of my purposes. But it helps you keep your focus on not caring.

5) Practice giving speeches. I haven't done it, but I've heard lots of good things about Oration societies like Toastmasters. In my case I got plenty of practice while teaching. But for those people who don't have that option, this is a great option. Nothing gets you used to the routine of giving speeches like giving speeches.

Do you write word-for-word scripts, or just loose collections of keywords? I've never managed to give a good speech while trying to exactly recite a prepared script, I either screwed up or it sounded as if I was just reading it off (vs really talking to the audience). I also struggled to find the current position in the script when looking down. Completely memorizing doesn't work since I just can't.

My best talks (based on the feedback I got) have been based on a few keywords and connecting them with a narrative, live. Free-form storytelling, so to say.

I totally agree. Coming from a teaching background, I'm much more comfortable with working off of a loose framework of bullet points, then filling in the talk with my own anecdotes and narrative.

Still, practicing a few times helps me remember, in a broad symbolic sense, what I'm going to improvise. It's a bit like jazz or improv comedy. You build up a body of material and just draw off of it at the appropriate point, using your bullets or slides or whatever as a "pointer" into your own memory.

I've had to work off of a word-for-word script a few times and it's very hard for exactly the reasons you mention. I remember practicing a speech like this 20 or 30 times because I kept losing my place in a couple spots in the speech whenever I looked up.

It's probably why teleprompters are so popular these days. If you watch the president give a speech, he appears to be looking around, but in fact he generally looks directly at one of two or three transparent teleprompters.

As an introvert, I have no problem talking in front of a large group. I thrive on one-on-one conversations where each person has an opportunity to talk thru long complex interesting thoughts without interruption. Speaking in front of a large group is exactly that: I get to talk at length on a favorite topic, at whatever level of detail I choose, to someone who is interested in what I'm saying and will not interrupt; that I'm doing this with 10,000 individuals at once is just being efficient about it.

Helps that I've decided that if I'm going to be wrong, I'm going to be definitively wrong.

It may also help if you're what's known as an "outward introvert." This topic is discussed in the book "the highly sensitive person" where introverts are basically dissected along the lines of "outward" and "inward." I would consider myself an "outward introvert" (like an extrovert except I pay a bit more dearly for it after the fact) and have no problem with public speaking, teaching, etc. I have a good friend who is an "inward introvert" and she avoids anything even close to speaking to a group.

As someone in your audience, I beg you, please do not tell me what you're going to tell me, then tell me, then tell me what you just told me.

Agreed, this is the lamest kind of presentation. Humans like stories. Tell me a story.

Even the best technical presentations play out like a story. Guy Steele's "Growing a Language" is a classic example.

Public speaking has caused a great deal of distress, panic, and anxiety for me in the past. To remedy this situation, I joined a local Toastmasters club. They are located literally all over the world, and there is probably one in your area. I cannot say enough good things about Toastmasters. Through frequent, repeated public speaking exposure, over time, you become desensitized so you don't feel as panicked. And your speaking skills improve as you have to give speeches on a regular basis. I completely disagree with comments that suggest this problem can be solved through drugs or alcohol. I had ONE stiff drink before an important talk, and I completely hated the feeling while I was speaking.

I've a talk in 30'.

Another suggestion should be "do not read suggestions on how to do talks right before giving one".

after a life in academia, what I usually suggest is: like your topic, keep it easy, and reharse, reharse, reharse.

I used to be really scared when i had to give "important" talks, especially in English which isn't my native language. I was so anxious that I couldn't even work the days before. I remember my first professional talk. My mouth was so dry that talking was difficult. (tip to beginners: take a bottle of water).

Interestingly, I had much less problems when I was presenting somebody else's work.

The thing that really helped me was benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax). I took them a few days before until the day of the talk and I felt much much better. I know these drugs get a bad press, but in my case, they really helped. The side effets is that they tend to make you sleepy, but it didn't really affected me.

Now, I'm certainly not a great speaker, but I don't have any problems with public speaking.

Don't think of it as public speaking, think of it as a performance.

You wouldn't go try to perform a play without scripting it and memorizing your script first, nor should you do that with your presentation. Once you do that you can ad-lib and it will seem natural. Even the off-the-cuff jokes aren't really off-the-cuff.

And go twice as slow as you think you should, and pause a lot. When people get nervous they talk faster and don't realize it. If you're nervous your perception of time will change and small pauses seem like an eternity. Slow down and force yourself to break for five seconds between "paragraphs" and you'll be way ahead of most people.

Practice at Toastmasters meetings.

This. I discovered Toastmasters about a year ago and it's done wonders for my confidence about speaking. I wish somebody had told me about it five years ago.

If you're at a largish company they may even have their own internal Toastmasters club, which is a great way to get involved without having to venture far outside your comfort zone.

I'm president of local Toastmasters club in SF - I strongly agree with this comment ;).

But seriously, it's a very supportive environment and you get great, actionable feedback on every speech. Really fast way to develop yourself.

Tried to attend my first Toastmasters last night and they didn't show up!

So you got experience of a really bad public speaking situation - the audience doesn't care enough to come!

Another +1 for Toastmasters.

I've gotten a lot more comfortable speaking in front of people.

I had never spoken publicly, as in a featured speaker in front of a large gathering of strangers. I had spoken in front of everyone at my old company (80 people) but that was the closest I came to public speaking, and since I knew everyone it didn't count. I remember freshman year of high school having my stomach in knots when teachers would call on me. I just had that nervous personality. Want to know how nervous I'd get in public with everyone's attention on me? I almost fainted at my wedding - at the altar. The priest had to cut the ceremony in half to accommodate me. To this day people make fun of me for it (I feel bad for my wife).

A couple months ago, I surprisingly got asked to be a speaker at a pretty large and prestigious conference in town. It was at a large venue with over 1,000 attendees, some of whom are important to impress for various reasons. It was a great opportunity so I accepted, knowing that this could be a problem.

Anyway, I rehearsed my 10 minute speech ad nauseum, I could do it in my sleep. Every little last verbal tic, joke, everything. I knew I'd still be nervous. I wanted to be so good that I could do it on autopilot and hopefully be more confident. I got on stage, lights shining brightly, and took a seat as the host read a brief introduction about me. While he was doing this, I was so nervous that I thought I was either going to vomit or faint, or some horrible combination of the two. I was literally telling myself not to puke over and over again. My stomach was tossing and my head was spinning...I could barely breathe.

He finishes his intro and I start my talk, visibly nervous. Then a funny thing happened. About 20 seconds in, something clicked and I just thought to myself, "Why are you nervous? You know this stuff cold. You got this." And wouldn't you know it, from there on out I killed it. I dunno, it was weird, I instantly became as relaxed as I am with my friends and delivered a great speech. I had tons of great jokes, kept everyone really engaged, and I think even delivered an interesting idea to the audience. By the time it was over I was actually disappointed it was over since I was having so much fun. I got tons of superlative-filled compliments afterwards and was really in shock about it all.

I dont know what the moral is. Just have fun I guess. Know what you're talking about and the rest will sort itself out.

I think the moral is "practice makes perfect". Nice work!

The easiest way to speak publicly is to actually believe in what you're doing and talking about. The audience then becomes kind of like an omnipresent pressure that keeps you going.

If you aren't 'locked into' what your talking about then nothing will save you. I know from personal experience.

I also heard a talk that if you imagine the audience as 'prey' such as small rabbits or chickens then it becomes easier as it takes power away from the flight or fight aspect.

I have enzyme issue with Alcohol, but I believe that is a nice trick.

From personal experience, and from someone who had tremendous problem with public speaking to someone who performed very well at a toast master event in NYC without any preparation. I can say quite a few things on the subject.

One thing is for sure. We are all afraid of other people. No matter who we are. It is just that fear get expressed in different ways. Some people are being shy and passive, while some are being aggressive and over-confident. Until we discover who we really are. Using tricks (power point) and strategies (drink alcohol/weed) will not take us far.

What made the most difference in my process is some ontological training like this leadership course. The course doesn't really say that it will help you with public speaking. Just that you will leave the course

"Being a Leader and Exercise Leadership Effectively as your own natural Self-Expression"

Nothing more, nothing less.

However, the course has nice side-effects, like public speaking.

The course is NOT cheap, but I consider it worth more than my college degree. Next one is at Singapore. FYI, I have no financial tight to the course or University.


Between grad school (teaching, seminar talks, etc) and other occasions, I've spoken in front of groups of 3-300 people hundreds of times. I have no idea if I'm all that good at it, but at least I'm comfortable with it. :-)

The biggest trick for me is realizing that talking in front of a group is different from talking to one person, but talking in front of a small group is not that different from talking in front of a medium or large group. Under 5 or so people is still pretty much an intimate/conversational atmosphere in my experience, but going from 5 or 10 up to 50, 100, or 300 is pretty much all the same. The only real difference is the amount and type of projection equipment involved.

Depending on the specific scenario, there are other things I try to keep in mind (e.g. I found that between 0.5 and 1.5 slides per minute worked well for a seminar talk in grad school), but abstracting away the size of the audience in my mind is the one that's paid me the biggest returns in reduced anxiety. Now if I just had a way to make sure the A/V equipment always worked, I could make a crapload of money. ;)

I've given a handful of talks at miscellaneous user groups ranging from 5 minute lightning demos to one way-too-long-but-there-is-too-much-to-cover-in-45-minutes talk about Erlang types (I felt bad it was so long).

While I'm the last guy to walk up to a stranger and strike up a conversation, and I break out in cold sweats preparing to cold-call prospects for my business, I've always had this thing about public performing, whether it be speaking, playing and instrument, or even (gasp) singing.

I'm not sure of the psychology of it all, but it feels like the pressure of presenting, combined with a strong fear of being viewed a failure gives way to a certain comfort zone in presenting. And once up there for a minute or two, I notice that I quickly find myself firing on all cylinders (probably from the adrenaline), and then everything from then on becomes quite natural for me (even if my natural presentation style comes across a little neurotic).

Anyway, that's my anecdotal contribution to the public speaking discussion.

What I've learned is that 20 minutes in, you're hour is up.

Nobody mentioned Speak Up. It's a wonderful community of people where everyone helps each other out in planning and preparing for talks. It's been slightly inactive recently, but every mail gets an assured response.

Link: http://speakup.io/

To me there are different scales of public speaking or presenting.

I actually have no problem presenting to 500 people (the largest audience I've had): I just talk, and try to make some eye contact. There are always a few friendly faces.

Presenting to up to a dozen people is no problem for me: I can adapt (speed up / slow down, skip over stuff, dive deep, repeat, whatever) depending on how the people react.

But there's an excluded valley of somewhere between one and three dozen. I feel weird just presenting as I would to 500 people, yet it's too big to get the intimate preso treatment. When I have presented to a group this size it has almost always fallen flat.

That weird valley is essentially where you become a high school teacher. Most of the time if you're talking to that few people, it's because you're trying to give a lesson in some form or other.

I've spoken in front of large groups of students of all disciplines, large groups of business types and small to mid size groups of scientists. Large in this case is several hundred.

Undergrads get bored easily, but you can make it fun. Scientists are hard, simply because they know their stuff and get a knack for asking really annoying questions, the ones you didn't quite prepare for. Business people are simple in principle - everything has to be dirt simple (could your Mum understand it?) and usually to the point (what are you selling and why?). The hard part for business talks is that usually you can't be remotely technical because people will tune out.

With very few people it's easy to be flexible - odds are you know them reasonably well or you know enough about them that you can throw in a bit of banter, make it fun and respond to their queries well.

Larger groups you're just a drop in the ocean. The bigger the talk, usually the less time there is for interaction. So you can do your spiel, have a couple of short questions and leave. I find they're fairly easy as everyone blurs together.

In between is hard. You're acutely aware if people get bored - they won't hide it like small groups. You may have to answer fairly involved questions too. The only way, as ever, is to practice and make sure you know what you're talking about back to front.

I went to a doctor, and he gave me beta blockers, which helped a lot.

Another thing that helped is reading forums like this where many people admit how nervous they are. In speech class, everyone seemed to do relatively well, so I was under the impression that I was the only person in the world that gets nervous during a speech. Just knowing that other people get nervous has helped me handle it better.

You can also take your contacts out or glasses off so you cannot see people clearly, which also helps a little.

I've also noticed that my anxiety attacks usually happen before the speech, not usually during it, and they only last a few minutes. Knowing that they will not last forever has also helped me.

I assume there are different reasons for people fearing public speaking. But, FWIW, my thing is to really and fully know the subject you are talking about. For me, the nervousness comes from the fear of being found out in some way. So, I find that if I know my subject, Im quite happy to waffle on to who ever wants to listen, but if I know or think the audience might know more than me and be able to some how show me up to be some sort of fraud, Im a bag of nerves.

I dont know if that works for anyone else, but my theory is that the nerves come for the fear of somehow looking a fool, and that becomes less likely the more you know about what you are talking about.

Your theory is probably correct, however, the solutions is to accept "nemo potest omnia scire". (orazio?) - nobody can know everything -.

Public speaking terrifies me. I seem to do alright if I follow five rules:

1. Don't bail and run out of the room screaming.

2. Don't ramble. Don't leave your outline for an anecdote or further explanation - trust your outline to be good. If you have to meander because you did your outline at the last minute and you know it kinda sucks, if you then meander while meandering, you've lost the game and no one remembers what you were talking about.

3. Don't "umm," "right," or "ok." before and after anything you say.

4. Don't laugh at your own jokes (at least don't do it before you finish getting them out.)

5. Remember that you don't look as nervous as you feel.

Just wing it. Seriously.

Why is it that so few schools teach children how to speak in public?

It is not difficult, all you need is a debating society.

I am fortunate enough to have gone to a school where the debating society was the thing to do. Even on a cold winter with snow outside two hundred or so of the thousand at the school would show up, of their own accord and without anyone telling they had to go. To be voted by your peers onto the committee for the debating society was the ultimate in status. Our debating society made public speaking a fun thing to do.

As well as being able to propose/oppose a motion from the stage with a self-prepared speech it was also possible to learn how to listen, ask questions from the floor and respond to points made.

So, when I left school, I had a head start. I had spoken in front of a crowd on two hundred or so occasions from a very safe sandbox. In my adult life this experience has been invaluable. I know about what happens if one is not totally prepared. I know what happens if one is over prepared - i.e. reading instead of talking. I know about posture and how to make meaningful eye contact with a sea of faces. However, most importantly, I knew that public speaking was a desirable thing to do, a privilege.

If anyone reading this has kids and their kids are not involved in a school debating society, think about it. Get together with the school and a few teachers and sell them the idea of a debating society. Get someone charismatic - a head teacher who has to present in front of all the kids - to make the debating society the most important thing he/she does. Your local posh school will have a debating society, visit them, learn how they do it and steal their procedures and organisational structure.

Then, if you are lucky and the school debating society kicks off and becomes the thing to do, your child should grow up to be a darned good public speaker. What they will learn from that will help them no end. If they also end up knowing a subject inside and out at some stage of their adult life they should be able to literally wing it without having to use any of the silly suggestions presented on this thread (betablockers - you must be kidding!!!).

> Just wing it. Seriously. > Why is it that so few schools teach children how to speak in public? > It is not difficult, all you need is a debating society.

Speech and Debate was, by far, the class in high school that has done more for me than any other class. The ability to stand up in front of people and start speaking is powerful. The ability to think of a topic and speak interestingly for 10 minutes on the subject is powerful.

Doesn't matter that I still have to remind myself to slow down or stop pacing or make eye contact or whatever else. People ask me how I learned to do that, and I always tell them about my Speech and Debate class.

The Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking I did during debate events in high school was wonderful. I still remember may favorite comment on a judges sheet. They'd told me that when I started speaking and shared my position, they disagreed immediately and thought I was wrong, but after those seven minutes, I'd completely changed their mind. That, for me, was the highest praise I could obtain.

Today, the ability to speak in front of people on the spot makes me more confident to speak up. It makes me more confident in so many areas of my life. I agree, schools fail to recognize how important that skill is. They don't realize how often it becomes useful in one's life.

I was lucky. My school wasn't the largest, but we had a full debating team, and frequently attended events throughout the year. But yeah, spot on. Get your kids into speech and debate. It will serve them the rest of their lives.

Personally I think winging it is very difficult to do well. If you know the content very well you can get away with it, but if it is new content, I think it is important to prepare. The best speakers I know spend a lot of time on prep.

As someone that has and is teaching public speaking my number one tip: sound like you care.

I can't tell you how many terrible speeches I've sat through where the person was saying "this is really important and means the world to me" but sounded like they didn't care at all.

Number two: don't write out ever word of your speech. It is public speaking not public reading. Being able to read a text out loud without sounding like you are reading is a skill and you should learn to speak from notes/outlines first because that is easier to sound like you are talking with us rather than at us.

Exhale as deeply as possible and keep it this way as long as you can. After that breathing restores with first few rapid big inhales. Restarting your breathing this way is also restarting your brain in a way so the thinking becomes calm. Works every time.

Another tip is to eat 1-2 bananas half an hour before the event and maybe a glass of fresh orange juice. Banana works as a natural beta blocker reducing anxiety. While on stage, plain water, no juices..

Where can I submit a pull request to remove the F-word from these otherwise great tips, or do I need to fork. One could consider "dropping the F-Bomb" against many conferences code of conduct pertaining to "harassment includes offensive verbal comments." Also, as we try and mentor more youth to code, including school age girls, is this the persona we ware marketing?

For talks to user groups where I'm generating new slide decks and demos one piece of advice I was given was reckon on around 1 hour of prep for each minute of speaking time. The successful stuff that I've done seemed to match this.

Also for a one hour time slot you'll probably actually want around 40 minutes of material allowing time for introductions and a Q&A session at the end.

If you have something exciting to talk about, public speaking is not such a chore (a joy in fact). The challenge is having content that's easy to make exciting.

If that's not possible for you, then try to get excited of the fact that you're out there to excite the hell out of something mundane. Surprise your audience.

Being in that state of mind alone should knock out the jitters.

Here are couple ideas I've written on the topic: http://baus.net/i-don%27t-like-public-speaking/

I did quite a bit of public speaking in the past couple years and it gets easier over time. I think the best advice is prepare, prepare, prepare.

Say someone is a mediocre-to-decent public speaker already. How does one "level up" to be a really great public speaker? I've thought about a speech coach or class, but I don't know anyone who has had any success with this who could recommend where to find a good one.

Speak more often.

Either find an avenue to speak (internally at your company, or at local conferences) or attend a local toastmasters in your area.

My goal last year was to do some public speaking at least once a month. I only managed to speak 5-6 times during the year, but that was a lot better than the year before that. This year I think I will be able to hit the "speak at least once a month in public" goal. Speaking is a skill, and the only way to improve is practice.

Plant your feet and square your shoulders to the audience. Walking around is ok, too. But slouching and shifting your weight from left to right can hurt your confidence as well as hurt the way your confidence is projected. You'll develop your own more natural style over time.

The only way a phobia can be conquered, if it can be conquered at all, is through repeated exposure.

Shameless plug, here it is my own advice regarding conference speaking: http://janogonzalez.com/2013/12/02/conference-speaking-how-t...

blatant plug: I'm working on a website aimed at increasing social skills and one "track" of the site will be for improving public speaking -- http://metamorf.us

I have been speaking professionally for a number of years now. In a given week, I'm probably speaking 2-4 full days (minus lunch and breaks), teaching various programming languages and technologies. I also give talks at conferences and user group meetings.

I remember very, very well when I had to give a talk oh-so-many years ago, while doing a student internship at HP. I flubbed it big time, and left the room saying to myself and anyone who would listen that I disliked public speaking, and was bad at it.

I'm not quite sure when things changed, but I think that it had a lot to do with my attitude. Instead of worrying about whether people would like me or believe me, I instead concentrated on trying to teach people something they didn't already know, and have a good time in the process.

If I'm enjoying myself while speaking, then the odds are good that the people in the audience are enjoying themselves, too.

If I've learned something interesting, then the odds are also good that the people in the audience will find it interesting, too, and will be glad that I'm sharing it with them.

Again, I'm not sure when my attitude changed, but when I get up in front of an audience now, I feel like I'm there to have a good time. Of course, I don't want to flub things, and there are times when I worry about that more than others. But for the most part, it's a matter of thinking, "Hey, everyone here has the same goal -- to enjoy themselves and learn something."

As others have written, your enjoyment will be enhanced significantly if you prepare. I'd even say to over-prepare. You probably need to know twice as much as you will actually say in your talk, so that you can speak naturally and reasonably about the subject. Try to outline your talk as a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. In technical talks, the story will often be something like, "Here's a problem. Here's a solution. Here are some examples of the solution in use. Here's where the solution fails. Questions?"

Don't worry about your slides too much. Yes, they should be high contrast. Yes, they should be easy to read. But I think that people worry way way way too much about colors, fonts, and images, and not enough about the actual SPEAKING. You want people to be engaged with what you're saying, not with what's on your slides... and that's going to happen if you have interesting things to say.

Above all, be yourself. There are oh-so-many examples (in real life, and also in movies and on TV) where people are told that they should open with a joke, and so they tell a ridiculous joke that no one finds funny, including the presenter. If you're naturally funny, or are willing to have people not laugh at your jokes, then go for it. If you're a serious kind of person, then be serious. (Although it's always better if you can be somewhat silly, in my book.)

Over-preparation is poison to me. I come off wooden, and get very nervous about attending to the script. I present much better when I'm speaking to simple notes, with only a few carefully prepared phrases to introduce topics. Like everybody, I used to be petrified of speaking to groups. Now I like to say I can talk on any topic to anybody for 10 minutes with a few moments' preparation.

Oh, I should have been clearer about this: When I say "prepare," I don't mean, "write everything down that you want to say." I agree, that doesn't work well for many people, including me.

Rather, I meant that if you're giving a talk on a subject, try to research it beforehand to a far greater depth than you'll actually be addressing in your talk. That way, the stuff that you talk about will seem relatively simple to you, compared with the knowledge that you've accumulated on the subject.

FWIW, I never write any speaker notes. I want the talk to be a natural extension of me and my knowledge, not something artificial that I'm reading, as if from a teleprompter.

Another great resource: We Are All Awesome! http://weareallaweso.me/

Tell them what you are about to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.

> Tell them what you are about to tell them

Where's the element of surprise?

> Tell them

Yes, tell them.

> Tell them what you told them.

If they were listening then they'd know what you told them. Fuck 'em if they weren't listening.

To some extent the point I want to make I'd similar to the one made by reuven elsewhere in this thread, but I think it is still different (and maybe shorter? we'll see ;P) enough to still post. (OK, after writing, this failed at my goal of being shorter ;P.)

So, I also do a lot of conference speaking, albeit nowhere near as much as reuven. I remember in high school, public speaking was terrifying. By the end of college, I was giving one of the graduation speeches.

The difference was not me becoming better at making arguments or telling stories or being prepared or building slides or really anything about what I said on stage: the difference is that I felt at home there.

In essence, I had the fear of public speaking that many, if not most, people have. This fear is mostly about people watching you and judging you. You are concerned about where they are looking and what you are doing: it paralyzes you.

It had very little, however, to do with what you are doing in front of everyone: you could be on stage being told "eat breakfast as you would on a normal day" or simply a lunch meeting where you are standing due to lack of chairs while everyone else is sitting.

I don't feel, therefore, like helping people present is the solution. I will say that it might try to ease the person's anxiety enough to consider doing it once, but that isn't why they are afraid: I am not afraid of bungee jumping because I think I'm going to die due to the cord breaking, I'm afraid of bungee jumping because even looking at a photograph taken from a high-up location makes me curl into a ball.

These fears can be so bad that they aren't obviously fixable (phobia-level fears can be like that). In my case, I likely have acrophobia (heights), but as something of a "class clown" when I was much much younger, I can't ever claim to have had glossophobia (public speaking). My fear was mild, and I tackled it.

I want to be very clear, though, that there is a difference between "preparation" and "lack of fear": if you told me to go stand on stage right now in front of a thousand people, I'd be happy to do that. I would be willing to try to entertain them. I might fail, but I don't mind anymore.

I might thereby recommend more doing something structured that tales away all of the "things you can do wrong" variables entirely before bothering with trying to prepare those away: take an acting class. You are told exactly what to say, you have a director guiding your movements, and on the show day a perfect performance can be identical to the previous day. You don't have to worry if what you are saying sounds stupid: you have no choice in what to say.

(That said, I wouldn't "recommend" it strongly, as I think a lot of these shortcuts in hindsight by people who have defeated something others find hard are missing the point of what made it work for them: that you probably just need to be doing it, constantly, for long enough, to make it easy. This is similar to the "monad tutorial fallacy" in my mind.)

Then, when your fear of being in front of people is gone, maybe the preparation isn't even that big of a deal: if you are comfortable, the audience will be comfortable, and you can "get away with" a lot more on stage.

I mean, preparation is great, but "public speaking is tough" is not because "writing slides is tough" or "answering questions is tough", it's simply tough because "public anything is tough"... you answer questions every day in the hallway: you don't need more preparation to do that on stage, you just need less fear (which again: isn't easy).

This is incredibly well articulated. Fear is the number one issue to overcome for most people, not how to construct their presentation. If you have A LOT of fear going into speaking, this is the essential blockage which must be understood and overcome before anything meaningful can proceed. There are a lot of patterns of thought that go into the construction of a phobia-level fear of speaking which might be so strongly habituated that they simply take time and exposure to overcome.

Meditation with observation of narcissistic personality reflections will slowly start to ease the internal dialogue that generally contributes to this state. Like most people, when you are natural (like around your best friend) your creativity and gifts naturally come out. You don't need to be trained on them (though sometimes that can help a bit too)

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