A 20 step plan to being viscerally horrified of public speaking and giving a talk anyway

Step 1. Daydream about the talk until 3 weeks prior

Seriously. Don’t open your slide software; just fantasize every once in a while about you giving a talk. You’ll find that related “things” will present themselves, like good opening jokes, clever one-liners, occurrences in the news, anecdotes, tweets, or cat gifs that relate to your point. Remain open to these and jot them down or save them for later.

Step 2. Write an essay

3 weeks before the talk, write your talk out in essay form. If you despise essays, call it a monologue, or a report. Use punctuation and sentence structure. Treat it like a report on your topic that’s due in a week. Target 3000 words for a 45 minute talk, or 2000 words for a 30 minute talk.

Step 3. Paste your essay into speaker notes

Keynote has excellent Speaker-Notes support

Step 4. Backfill Graphics

Use the speaker-notes as a guide to your slide transitions. Try to populate every slide you’ve created with a graphic, or a small combination of words that illustrate the point you’re currently making in the speaker notes. It’s ok to use the same graphic for 3 slides (this will appear to the audience that you aren’t changing slides when in fact you are), but NO MORE THAN 3 slides. If you have to rework bits of your essay to make the graphics fit better that’s a good thing. Do that. Keep tweaking until the end of Week 2.

Step 5. Practice

1 week before the talk, begin performing run-throughs to yourself. You need not be standing or projecting loudly. You can sit at your desk with your laptop and display, reading the speaker notes to yourself at a mumble (it must be out loud though). Move your lips. Practice inflection.

Step 6. Repeat Step 5

Step 7. Repeat Step 5

Step 8. Repeat Step 5

Step 9. Repeat Step 5

Step 10. Repeat Step 5

Notice the timer in your slide software, and begin timing yourself. Your talk might be over-time, or exactly matching your time limit. In either of these cases, delete 8–10 slides. Pick the boringest ones. Be brutal and honest. If you’re coming in with 7–10 minutes to spare, you’re in the zone. (Yes. Your talk will take 10 minutes longer when you eventually give it at the podium. Yes this is a hard law of physics. No, I have no idea why)

Step 11. Repeat Step 10

Step 12. Repeat Step 10

Step 13. Repeat Step 10

Step 14. Repeat Step 10

Step 15 dress rehearsal

At this point, you’ve performed 10 run-throughs of your talk. For a 45 minute talk you’ve been reciting it verbally for 7 full hours. Your transitions and inflection should feel natural and practiced. You need to be done tweaking it now. It’s not going to get any better, but it might get worse. Now it’s time to stand up and project.

Step 16. Repeat step 15

Step 17. Repeat step 15

Step 18. Repeat step 15

Step 19. Chill

1 day (if possible) before your talk, put it down, and don’t look at it before you’re ready to go up to the podium. Take this time to reflect on the fact that nobody is probably dropping bombs on you, and that you probably aren’t sleeping in the dirt or starving, and use that perspective coupled with the fact that you’ve already given this talk 15 times to assure yourself that shit’s gonna be fine. Allow yourself to believe it, because it’s true.

Step 20. Give the talk.

Stick to your notes. Bring water to the podium. Drink some when you feel unable to speak. Everybody wants you to succeed, which is exactly what you’re doing. When it’s over, drop the mic and run. Get outside and let the sun hit your face. Plant your feet and allow yourself to take a compliment. Respond with lies like “Thanks I really had a blast”. You nailed it. I knew you could.

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Dave Josephsen

Dave Josephsen

SRE @Fastly; Hugakazi; Carpe Datum!