From zero experience to public speaker

Some steps to help fast-track your public speaking

Sybil Hoang
Mar 3 · 4 min read

In the beginning of 2019, I had zero experience of public speaking. 3 months later, I had delivered a talk at 2 tech conferences. Let me tell you how I did it.

Actual footage of me bricking it

The talk that changed my life was Simon Sinek’s “Why leaders eat last”. His talk made me rethink my life and my relationships with my family and colleagues. And the most amazing part? He did it in under 45mins.

I can think of few things more powerful than words. The ability to encourage and spark inspiration in someone you’ve never met, but somehow affect their life is profoundly inspirational.

I’d like to tell you that’s why I got into public speaking, but I’d be lying. The real reason is because I got scared.

I had just undertaken a project in which I felt overwhelmed. Everyone around me seemed so comfortable. Yet here I was, feeling very ready to walk into the office the next day, put my hands in the air and say, “Ok, you got me. I have no idea what I’m doing so here’s my key card. It was nice knowing you.”

The fancy tie is optional

But then I thought to myself, “Hold on. I’ve been designing for over a decade. I can’t know nothing. That’s impossible!”

And that’s when I discovered I had just encountered ‘Imposter Syndrome’, the feeling that you know nothing despite being experienced in your field. Imposter syndrome was something that had effected me deeply so much that I needed to tell people about it to encourage others who may have felt the same.

Tip 1: Pick something that you are passionate about or that has affected you

My bout with Imposter Syndrome had shaken me, yet had also given me ammunition. I knew what I was feeling and how to deal with it. What if I could share that with other people experiencing similar things? Wouldn’t that be powerful?

Pick a subject matter that you can easily write about and you know you’ll have fun researching. If you find it interesting, someone else will too.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Tip 2: Find a cheerleader

Public speaking is a daunting task and although no-one can be onstage with you, having someone supporting you through the process will help immensely. In-between writing the talk and submitting it, I had many bouts of self-doubt and wondered if my talk even made sense. Your cheerleader will ensure you’re not alone, supporting and encouraging you through that uncertainty. (Bonus points: find someone who already has some public speaking or performing experience.)

Tip 3: Figure out your speech preparation style

Public speaking is a skill. And good public speaking is an even harder skill. You can make it easier on yourself by understanding how you can support yourself during moments of nervousness. For example, I found the style that worked for me was to write down my entire talk exactly as I would say it. This meant my content was honed down which left me mental space to work on delivery and pace.

Tip 4: Practice, practice, practice

Practice in front of your colleagues. Practice in front of your flatmate. Practice in front of your goldfish. Record yourself and play it back.

My company has an internal conference it holds every year called Level Up. This was the perfect place to practice in front of a crowd.

I practiced at several free meetups also and used those low risk opportunities to hone my talk and be more comfortable with an audience.

Being at ease as a speaker will also make your audience more comfortable.

Tip 5: Convince the conference committee

I find that the best conferences are places that inspire and give home truths. Even though I had a challenging subject matter, I turned the subject matter around into a positive experience which could help others. When you submit a talk, you also submit a small blurb to describe it. You’ll have to convince the conference committee that you’re capable of talking for 45min-1hr about this subject. Show your passion in your submission application to help boost your chances.

Tip 6: Keep your subject matter broad

The larger conferences are by nature more generic in their content. If you can find a way to introduce your topic of choice more broadly, the more likely it’ll be picked.

Tip 7: Visit

Thank you so much, Zach Holman 🙏

Tip 8: Apply before you have a finished talk

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be tweaking your talk 10 minutes before delivering it. Waiting to have the perfect delivery will eventually make you lose momentum and passion.

Tip 9: Just do it

The pandemic has made access to speaking at many different conferences even more plausible. If you have an idea or experience you’d like to share, someone will like to hear it.

I’d love to hear what has helped you on your public speaking journey.

Good luck. 🍀

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