A Fools Guide to Public Speaking

Glossophobia — The fear of public speaking.

Now I can’t seriously claim to suffer from it, after all I’ve spoken in public on a number of occasions. I’ve spoken in large cinemas, and small meeting rooms. I’ve spoken for hundreds, tens and even ones of people. I don’t have any formal training, except a two day training course my employer arranged a year and a half ago. I won’t claim that I’m a master of it, not even by a long shot.

I probably break all the rules on how do great presentations, because I don’t know that there are any rules to follow. I try to follow one personal rule though, limit text usage on slides, and some times I even break that rule. My 18 year old son, and 15 year old daughter, both get trained in public speaking at school. They create their own presentations, and present in the classroom on a nearly weekly basis. I don’t have that kind of experience, or training, at all. Todays kids are so lucky, just ask Weird Al.

But that’s beside the point. The biggest room I’ve publicly addressed was at the Norwegian VMware vForum in 2013, with about 250 or so people in the room. I met up with my colleague, and co-presenter, in Oslo about two hours before we were scheduled to go on stage. Beforehand, we had agreed that he would do live demos, and I would do most of the talking. We knew what we were presenting, just not how. I had prepared some slides showing the technical details behind the solution we were presenting, but that was about it. We had a few slides, and a few demos. The rest of it, well, we winged it.

An one hour presentation, in front of 250 people, and we pretty much winged it.

Some might call that bold, or even stupid, but hey, it works for me. That’s when it dawned on me, I have to prepare my talks in a way that suits me.

How I prepare:

My workflow in creating a presentation has pretty much evolved into four points:

  1. Settle on a title and abstract
  2. Decide on a storyline
  3. Create slides with keywords and graphics that fit the storyline
  4. Present

That’s it. I don’t plan every word. I use my slides for structure, and key points. The slides are there for emphasis and to keep myself on track. If I were to present something on a topic I don’t know well, and I would never do that, obviously this method wouldn't work and I would pretty much be screwed. This method works for me, and I’m not saying it would work for everyone.

I don’t think there is a secret to public speaking. I do believe it is important to practice, but the only real practice you are going to get is by doing it. You can practice in a controlled environment, surrounded by people you trust, but that only gets you so far. Jump in at the deep end, and just do it — it’s the only way. Like everything else in life, if you want to get good at it, practice.

Sure, you can read about techniques, and watch the great TED talks. You can read articles, and you can mentally prepare to deliver your talk, but the only thing that will help you in the end is actually doing it.

So, if there is a secret to it, it’s this:

Know Your Shit, and The Rest Will Follow.

By the way, the photo on the top here is by Ryan McGuire / http://www.gratisography.com. Awesome.