Butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms, can’t eat very well and don’t feel like talking to anybody. If you’re a little bit like me you know when you feel this way. Yes! shortly before delivering a talk to more than 4 people! If you get sick to your stomach just thinking about public speaking then keep reading. Because I used to feel just like you.
once upon a time
Back when I was in elementary school I was a shy little boy. The thing I dreaded most was speaking in front of the class. When it was my turn to deliver a speech I was a nervous wreck. During the speech I usually forgot to use any of the visual aids I brought, rushed through my prepared text and barely dared to look at my classmates during the whole ordeal. Just thinking about doing this again voluntarily makes me sick. It wasn’t from lack of preparation. Quite the contrary. I wrote down every word I wanted to say, rehearsed with my parents and then read the whole speech from paper. During high school this situation did not improve much at all.
fast forward 15 or so years and I’m getting ready to do a talk in front of more than 300 people. I am still nervous, small winged animals are invading my stomach and my palms are sweaty. But the feeling of excitement is stronger than any of the other feelings. Excitement that so many people turned up to listen to me, excitement that I get a chance to share my knowledge on stage in front of so many people. I step onto the stage an introduce myself. By the time I have spoken the first 3 words all nervousness is gone, I move around on the stage, look my audience in the eye and deliver my story. Definitely not without error but definitely with passion for the subject I am talking about.
After that talk I did many more talks. The nervousness is getting less and less each time but some of it is still with me. Thankfully. Because I kinda got addicted to the adrenaline it produces. It keeps me on my toes, keeps me sharp and makes me feel alive.
You can do it too!
I am not getting a TED talk or keynote speech any time soon but I am proud of what I have achieved. And if this shy boy can do public speaking so can you!
I noticed a lot of people are very hesitant to do a talk at a tech conference or user group meeting. And I understand that. As you now know I used to be exactly like that too. So, if public speaking is something you want but never dared to try following my 3 tips below.
Passion and knowledge
For your first talk, heck for any talk, pick a subject that you’re knowledgeable about and have a passion for. Chances are if you’re passionate about something you also like to talk about it a lot. So talking about it in public shouldn’t be that difficult for you. It’s probably also a subject you already have a lot of knowledge about. This will make preparing the talk easy because everything you want to say is already in your head. No need for paper :). It makes answering questions a breeze and gives you confidence that you are the right person to talk about this subject.
Confidence and Experience
speaking about confidence, self confidence is probably the most important property you need before going on stage. The problem is that confidence needs to grow over time. Every positive public speaking experience strengthens you confidence. So if you never did any public speaking you are starting near confidence level 0. I know this is not true for some people but it probably is for most techies.
What helps getting a jump start in confidence level is being convinced you are the right person with the right knowledge for this talk. So again, pick a subject you’re knowledgeable and passionate about. This helps jump start your confidence. When you gain experience in public speaking your confidence level will rise.
But you have to start somewhere. Preferably not in front of hundreds of people :). So to get started try giving a talk to your colleagues or to a few customers. The next step could be a lightning talk at a user group conference for example. The way I got over my public speaking fears and got better at presenting was by delivering technical training. I started out by doing some on-site custom trainings for my customers. The moved on to be a VMware certified trainer. Doing this I learned a lot about how to deliver material and how to speak for a larger group.
prepare but don’t over-prepare. What I mean by this is that you should think about what you want to tell. Think about how you build up your story and what the exact message is you want to convey. Also prepare some slides, don’t go overboard though, less is more when it comes to powerpoint. However, never prepare the exact words you are going to say. Don’t make the mistake I made back in school and write everything down. Just don’t do that. We already agreed you are going to talk about something you know by heart. So there is no reason to write your story down. Just put some talking points on a few slides and then just let the magic happen on stage. If you are over prepared you will just stress about not being able to remember your text. That same stress will make you forget your text and ruin your talk.