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How did you get into public speaking?
any tips

 10:06 pm on Feb 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

How did you get into public speaking?

Any tips to get someone from a mediocre speaker to a great one?



 2:02 am on Feb 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit organization with "nearly 250,000 members in more than 12,500 clubs in 106 countries" This or a similar organization might turn you in to a powerhouse speaker.


 4:14 am on Feb 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

Toastmasters is OK, but they tend to follow a formula in many areas. It's speaking to be speaking too often. Great speakers stand for something specific. They often are unpopular with some.

So, also go see and hear good speakers and study them. You'll note they are very human and that people like that. You want to be able to "connect" on a basic level with people. This typically means being very open, honest and truthful. That can be very hard to do.


 9:49 am on Feb 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

I just learned there are almost 40 toastmaster clubs in my city. I am going to attend one event on Wednesday . . . thanks for the tip.


 10:16 am on Feb 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

I was asked to speak at a Burns supper about three or four years ago. It went quite well and I now get asked to "do a turn" on a more regular basis.

I attend a few Burns, St Andrews and other functions and I hear many speakers. Some of these are excellent, others are mind blowingly boring. I watch them all closely and think about what they are doing right and wrong and try to apply this to my own speeches.

I believe that experience is the thing. The more you do it the more comfortable you will become. Obviously you also need to know your subject but the most important thing is to inject humour into your speech. People like to be entertained as well as being informed.


 11:28 am on Feb 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

I started by reading poetry at open mic events... worse, my own poetry. I observed how to engage the audience, and eventually how to control the audience. But all that came long after I quit trembling like a leaf whenever I took to the stage.

Probably the most important aspects... know my own material (quit reciting and start delivering), know my audience (different events required unique material), practice practice practice (deliver with confidence).


 6:53 pm on Feb 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

Not directly related to public speaking, but part of it is overcoming the nervousness, letting what you want to say come naturally. I was awful in front of even a small group of 6 or 8 people. The thoughts never seemed to come out of the mouth and always sounded forced.


That's right . . . once you realize you won't die of embarrassment, the fear of speaking/performing just fades away. Karaoke did this for me, I now do a "DJ" thing for a community dance . . . no singing (I'm sure they all appreciate) but I run the show, announce the dancers, etc., and have so much fun with it it's unbelievable.

I guess that's the second part of being comfortable in front of an audience, believing in what you have to say and enjoying it, rather than perceiving it as a scary and difficult task.


 7:33 pm on Feb 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

Back in the 80's as part of a job placement, I was working on an airforce base, working as a programmer, and living in the officer's mess.

Part of an officer's job is public speaking so they seemed to practice it routinely. At many meals, someone would stand up, start giving a random speech, then pass it off to the next person. They liked to pick on the college student - I got lots of practice at being able to speak publicly. And it's stuck.

The single biggest thing is getting over the fear. The only way to get over the fear is to do it. And that's why I suspect toastmasters works. Once they get over the fear, pretty much anyone can be a good public speaker.

It's a good skill to have. Once in a while opportunities open up that many won't do for no other reason than public speaking. It's a shame really, given how easy it is to overcome.


 8:23 pm on Feb 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

Once they get over the fear, pretty much anyone can be a good public speaker.

I would have to disagree with this having witnessed several performances from speakers who were totally comfortable in their own incompetence. ;)


 9:39 pm on Feb 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

Once you get over the fear thing, you still have to know when to shut up. :)


 10:50 pm on Feb 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

A couple of the people involved in Toastmasters at my last job really were good at public speaking. They gave a little spiel abut their group at a department meeting and they were more relaxed and entertaining than the department executives.

I've always been kind of intrigued with attending Toastmasters after I heard those two speak and do so well, but since I work by myself now it doesn't seem like the best use of my time. :)


 3:59 pm on Feb 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

I was extremely nervous when I first started but over time I have grown to really enjoy it. I enjoy the smaller groups where I can have more interaction than the 300 or 400 people ones.
One of the best training courses I took was where they taped me giving a 15 minute talk and then played it back and critiqued it. It is extremely embarrassing but it helps eliminate those speech hesitations and address the long windedness, eye contact and so on that we all tend to have problems with.

I didnt find Toastmasters very useful except to overcome the initial nervousness. Getting feedback and watching the habits of good speakers can be very useful.
Perhaps the most important thing I find today is knowing the audience. What are their expectations and knowledge level at a minimum? The more you know about your audience, the better you can pitch your talk appropriately and connect with them.

If you are using visual aids, learn how to use them properly to complement your talk and not as a crutch or distraction. Perhaps my biggest issue is the laser pointer. I think it should be banned because people end up making circles all over slides and distracting the audience.

Passion and humor are two great ways to connect with the audience also.


 1:54 pm on Mar 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

This is all very helpful. I am earning more public speaking confidence day by day now :)


 9:42 pm on Mar 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

I've fought this battle myself--and it's all the more difficult for me, since I have Asperger's (though it's relatively mild).

The thing that helped me break through the fear was speaking during robotics competitions--we had to present our team as a company to a panel of judges, explaining why they should choose our "product". The judges were always friendly people, and enjoyed interacting with us. Once I realized that many or most of the people I was speaking to really wanted me to succeed, most of that fear went away.

Fast forward a few years. At this point, I've spoken during many of my college classes, taken a public speaking course, taught web development classes, and worked in capacities that regularly require me to make presentations, often to quite critical people.

The key for me was that early success. If at all possible, start by speaking to smaller groups that are likely to be supportive--it's a great confidence booster, and confidence is one of the things every great speaker has.

Another thing that vastly improved my speaking ability was the public speaking course I took. The professor I had was very tough, but fair. That course forced me to prepare every speech I made exhaustively--I had to know what I was talking about forwards, backwards, sideways, and upside-down in order to excel. If possible, check at a local college; many of them offer public speaking courses.

Reprint has some great advice, especially with respect to visual aids and knowing your audience. I would also suggest that any visual aids you use should be complementary to each other and to your speech--it may seem obvious, but you would be amazed at how many slideshows I've seen with outright incorrect or irrelevant information, random funny pictures, clipart dogs and cats, backgrounds that changed for every slide, and other visual clutter that really didn't relate to the presentation itself.

Another useful thing is to clean up localized accents, habitual phrases, and other verbal clutter, especially if speaking to audiences from other geographic areas. Coming from Kansas, I never really started with that much of an accent; but it took me months to realize why there was a half-confused look on everyone's face whenever I mentioned "pop"--apparently, most people call it soda. Looking back on those speeches, I know that these people were trying to process what I was trying to refer to, and that they probably completely missed the point of what I was saying in the rest of the sentence. In the vein of verbal clutter, I'm constantly reminded of one professor that would end nearly every sentence with the words "for us". One day I counted how many times he said those words during a class period and multiplied that by the length of time it took him to say it. The end result: over the course of my college career, I realized I had spent over 6 hours listening to him say "for us". Ouch.


 7:06 am on Mar 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

Another useful thing is to clean up localized accents, habitual phrases, and other verbal clutter, especially if speaking to audiences from other geographic areas.

I find that very important too, though I am struggling myself with a few very localized accents.


 7:21 am on Mar 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

Playing music.

I am the voice for the band, which means I have patter, speech, commentary, jokes, etc.

But I doubt that resume is key to this particular discussion other than the fact that I speak to groups as small as six and as large as 6,000. In all respects I always speak to one person in the audience, thus have no fear. Then again, I've been doing it for nearly 42 years.

edit: Meant to add that I do IT and computer based speech as well... just relating how I got my confidence.


 12:29 am on Mar 19, 2010 (gmt 0)

I am earning more public speaking confidence day by day now :)

Earning already? At the top of this thread you were mediocre. Well done WebmasterWorld! :-)


 9:54 am on Mar 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

The dot com boom of the late 90's saw me start training several dozen new employees weekly. I wasn't a pro at public speaking or holding 3 hour meetings several times a week before then but I knew my area of expertise well and I cared enough to make sure everyone got the most from those long sessions.

My tip - speak about something you are passionate about and let the audience set the pace of how much or how little gets covered. Include them as much as possible in the process without losing momentum or letting them derail the session into other subjects and you'll do just fine.


 10:27 am on Mar 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

Yep I think JS hit it perfectly ...

A believe a great speaker is PASSIONATE about what there talking about.

I dont need to hear jokes, but passion shines.

I have been on the public speaking circle here in spain for a little while now, and its passion that matters to the listeners. Then can even get over my english accent destroy there language !


 11:53 am on Mar 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

Good info in this thread.


 12:16 pm on Mar 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

Here's what someone taught me years ago when speaking was new to me, it really helped. If you get the fear or lose the plot, say "curtain down" and visualise a big red stage curtain coming down between you and the audience, then take a deep breath and say "curtain up" and carry on. This can be done in the space of a slightly longer than normal pause, which can also draw people in, or help when giving detailed technical info.

Once you get over the fear thing, you still have to know when to shut up.

So true, being too confident and enthusiastic about your subject totally makes you lose track of time and waffle on a bit :)


 12:43 pm on Mar 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

Pay attention to the audience, not your notes. Look at the faces in the audience. Are they "leaning forward" or falling asleep, checking their email, etc? Look to the audience for clues/signs that indicate what most is most interesting to them, what they feel is the best use of their time and attention.

Sometimes it's best to shorten the presentation and allow more time for questions. The more complex the issue the more likely there are questions.

Sometimes, if you are paying attention to the audience, you can sense either greater interest - or confusion - about a topic you just touched upon. Adjust your presentation accordingly. Be ready to branch out, pause, do into greater detail. Offer assurances that you will be available to answer questions after the presentation.

Sometimes, if you put up an outline of topics at the start of a presentation, you can ask the audience for an indication (show of hands?) of the topics that they are most interested in, curious about, etc.

An "engaged audience" is the best audience. Don't fear the audience. Invite them in. After all, it's really "about them", isn't it?


 12:46 pm on Mar 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

I started way back with speech and drama club in high school, won some state level awards, the VP / Pres of student body, etc.

The only real trick is PRACTICE, be prepared privately, be unflappable publicly.

Literally, just find a few friendly faces in the audience and sell to them, ignore the rest.

Talk directly to the audience, not the screen, not your laptop, not the wall.

Be prepared to speak passionately from what you know, having a prepared set of bullet points is good but don't just read the bullet points on your presentation, BORING.

Talk to the audience about what's on the presentation, they can read the slides for themselves, just make sure you give them enough time to read the slide.

Don't let hecklers or questions befuddle you, have a few answers prepared in advance.

Above all, always wear Depends in case you totally lose it.


 1:03 pm on Mar 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

Pay attention to the audience, not your notes. Look at the faces in the audience. Are they "leaning forward" or falling asleep, checking their email, etc? Look to the audience for clues/signs that indicate what most is most interesting to them, what they feel is the best use of their time and attention.

Sometimes it's best to shorten the presentation and allow more time for questions. The more complex the issue the more likely there are questions.

This is a good point BUT it is more the more experienced speaker. The first few times you speak, you'll swear no one cares about what you have to say from looking at their reaction.

Here's a tip: Watch YOUR own reactions to speakers. Notice that you aren't acting especially engaged even if you are. Also watch the audience reaction to speakers who you believe are doing a good job. It can be tough to read reaction.

That all said webwork's advice shouldn't be ignored. In a presentation to a group of business leaders last year, I could tell they didn't want to hear my presentation, so I cut it short and opened it up to questions. From there, the meeting took off big time as I was able to respond to what was on people's mind.

(If you are going to take questions, remember that it is OK to say, "I don't know." It's often not helpful and even damaging to speculate or shoot from the hip. There might even be jerk in the audience--like me, for example--who will call you out if you run out into the grass.)


 4:02 pm on Mar 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

Look at the faces in the audience. Are they "leaning forward" or falling asleep, checking their email, etc?

One of the biggest shifts for me over the past two years has been getting used to an audience where a large number are using Twitter. They may be doing it to share their appreciation for the talk, but the feeling of having a truly engaged audience is still not there, not the way it used to be.


 1:01 am on Mar 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

I used to train public speakers, and of course, made money doing keynotes and such things. I'm not a fan of Toastmasters for a number of reasons, but it's better than going it alone. The best way to learn is find someone who is really good at it and pick his or her brains both before and after his/her presentations that you see.

It's actually about learning how to think like a top notch speaker which is tough, and that's why the brain picking can work. Also a lot of people aren't cut out for it, and there's no shame in that.

Passion is important. Solid ego. Being prepared to fail. Learning the skills and techniques.


 1:30 pm on Mar 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

Master the topic you wish to speak about.
Be passionate.
Tell people something they don't already know.
Give people something that is actionable.
Believe that you are one of the best people to deliver the message that you decide to deliver.


 4:12 am on Mar 23, 2010 (gmt 0)

Any tips to get someone from a mediocre speaker to a great one?

Two people can say the same things, one gets hired, the other one does not. One can do it naturally, the other it takes years of coaching and training to get the same result.

Match speaker personality with your audience for best results. In the US this usually means outgoing, driven, and loud. Goto Asia and greatness lies in humility, non verbal cues and a calm demeanor.


 5:09 pm on Mar 23, 2010 (gmt 0)

Did the speech and debate thing in high school, was pretty good at it.

Agreed that the main key is practice, practice, practice. Practice with things that don't have any relation to what you need to speak about (maybe take an hour each week to craft and deliver a speech about a news topic that interests you). Also, make sure your speech has structure and a point. Example:

I. Introduction
II. Point/Main Idea
III. Supporting Evidence
a. supporting point 1
b. supporting point 2
c. supporting point 3
IV. Restate your main idea
V. Conclusion

Now, that's a REALLY rough outline, but it will provide a good outline to get you started on most any speech. To paraphrase someone above, once you get over the fear, the next problem is knowing when to shut up.

You'll know you're good when you can watch a videotape of yourself speaking and not be embarrassed. You'll know you're great when you want to share that video with friends/family/Facebook.

Good luck!


 5:29 am on Mar 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

We should watch how the Politicians talk to the audience. We should watch how the US or UK Congressmen/MPs answer to the questions fired by their foes,press people. We should even learn from President Obama, Bill Clinton, Mrs. Clinton, Sr. Bush,Kennedy,R Reagan, Ex PM of Britain Tony Blair, Margaret Thacher etc. how they spoke in the audience. And above all, we must practice often that will reduce stage fear. Hope that helps.

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