Public Speaking

I wanted to write a recap of this session for a long time. I'm in a flight trip above the Atlantic ocean, so I have a bit of time in front of me. Let's get started.

Introduction

One of the most valuable learnings from my previous company was the public speaking course I attended (thanks again Marc). With two days of training I went from "Speaking in public? Are you kidding me? I'll NEVER do that, that is way too scary" to "Speaking in public? Sure, I love that, I have a lot to share!".

Let's see if I can write down here everything that class taught me. It might be a bit rough, but this is basically a rewriting of my notes at that time.

The class was about what people see when they see you speaking publicly. We did not go into what is happening inside, because it is too intimate, we focused on what was visible on the outside.

We were asked to tell how we thought our public speaking skill was. What scared us, what we thought we do well, etc. I said that if I know the subject I'm talking about, I think I can handle the situation well. If I have a complex set of ideas to share I might get confused and forgot important details. I also know that I speak fast, so I need to be careful. Also, I've been game-mastering fantasy roleplay for more that 15 years, so I know a bit about improvisation. I'm also scared of how to start a talk, when everybody is talking among themselves.

Basic principles

We were taught the 4 most important rules:

  1. We need to stay natural. This is not a theater play, and we are not playing characters, we are ourselves. We do not have to show everything, only what we want to show.
  2. We must remember that this is nothing personal. You do not go on stage to be loved. You go on stage because you have something to share. People care about what you say, not who you are.
  3. We should not listen to that little voice in a corner of our head that repeats "you'll never be able to do it", "what you say is not interesting", "they already know all I can say".
  4. The speaker is the only accountable person. The listeners are always right. If they did not understand something it's not because they are foolish, it's because you did not explain it well enough.

Public speaking is not only about speaking. Oral speaking is just a small part of it. Your whole body is expressing your ideas when you are on stage. We are trying to convince people of what we are saying, and we do that by more than words. We do that by being convinced ourselves and our whole body will show it, in the way we breath, the way we walk, the way we move, etc.

Conversation, Information or Communication

We also made a clear distinction between a conversation, an information and a communication.

A conversation is mundane and informal. It's small-talk and there is no definite point. It can happen anywhere, anytime, there is no specific pattern.

An information is formal. It goes one way, from the one who knows to the one who does not know. The boundaries are clear. Think of the flight speech about exits in planes.

The goal of a communication is to say something and that the other party understands it. It is meant to have an impact. It is part what I say, part how I say it, part who I am and part how I am linked to what I say. It's content, form, behavior and relationship.

Make your message clear

You want people to have a before and an after your talk. Because if they don't, what was the point? You must have a message they will remember.

  • You should be able to pitch that message in one or two short sentences.
  • Do not hesitate to repeat the message throughout the talk, with different words, but with the same meaning.
  • Give context to what you say. Give examples, and facts.

People might understand the theory of what you're talking about, but if you give them real examples, they will remember it better once you've finished talking. If it helps the listener understand and remember, you should do it. Remember that the audience is always right. If it's too complex for them, they will stop following.

People have a limited attention span. Maybe you're the first talk of the day and they are not yet fully awake, maybe you're the last talk before lunch and they are hungry, maybe the speaker before you was boring and they are falling asleep, maybe you're the last speaker of the day and they are tired. There are countless ways that the audience will not be in the perfect mood to listen to you. This will not matter if you've adapted your speech so it is really easy to understand.

Split your talk in chunks. Do small breaks. Don't let the audience doze off because of your monotonous voice. Throw an image here and there to wake them up. Make it feel like there is something new to discover at each new slide. Try to hook them. If they are not hooked, they will just go to their smartphones and check Twitter. Talk about you and how you relate to the subject you're talking about.

Now that we've seen generic ideas, we'll go a bit further into the content itself.

Introduction

Keep about 1mn for an introduction. Start by creating a desire, explaining why, sparking curiosity. Giving a real anecdote is nice way to start.

At this point, we were suggested to use sentences like "Have you ever noticed...", "Are you like me and..." or "From the dawn of ages, humankind have..." to quickly rally the audience to what we are going to say. I personally don't want those introduction because they look too much like one-man shows. Also, the talk being unidirectional, the audience cannot answer and if they do not agree they can't do anything but listen, which will frustrate them. So my personal advice is to avoid those over-generic sentences.

You can also clearly define what the audience will learn. Clearly show what you are going to talk about. Don't let people wonder what the next subject will be. Show your table of content right at the start. You can even announce what you conclusion will be right from the introduction. And then dive into the subject wholeheartedly.

Clearly show where you are

Whenever you transition from something to another, from one slide to another or from one idea to another, verbalise it. Say that we're moving to something else, that way people can more easily clear their mental buffer.

If you ever enumerate things, count on your fingers, or clearly show that every item in the list is different. Do not put too much content in your slides. People will read your slides, and while they do, they don't listen to you. So try to keep the information in the slides to a minimum. It should be just enough to let someone see what your current point is and where you are in your explanation.

Add a clear mention of the current chapter you're currently explaining, so people know where you are. Clearly show how many slides you have, so they know when to expect the end of your talk. If they think it is a never ending talk, they will get bored before the actual end.

You are not transparent

Do not confess your internal state to the audience. Do not tell them how stressed you are, do not say "Oh I'm sorry, I don't remember what I wanted to say". Remember that everything that happens inside of you is not visible on the outside. If you tell the audience that you are stressed, then they'll know. If you say nothing, they won't have a clue.

If you don't remember what you want to say next, just leave a blank. When people add silence to their talks, it makes the audience think about what was said before. It is way better to just put a silence than a "hmm, so... Hmm... Yeah". The former makes your previous sentence feel really important while the latter makes you sound foolish.

Own the stage

Try to be sure of what you say, people will feel your presence on stage and will feel like you belong there. This will give you legitimacy.

Be dynamic, don't be static. This show that you have a strong belief in what you say. And people don't want to hear you talking about something for which you don't really care. They already have plenty of things they don't care about, they don't need yours.

Be synthetic. Everybody can talk about any subject, but only the real professionals can be synthetic about it. This is related to the Dunning-Kruger effect, but the more synthetic you are on a subject, the more people will see that you've mastered it. On the other hand if you start explaining every little details, it show that you do not see the big picture.

Conclusion

When it is time to conclude your talk, make it as interesting in the closing than in the opening. Repeat your message one last time, and what the audience can do to activate that message. Ask if people have any questions, and don't forget to smile, we don't like to ask questions to someone with a closed face.

Do not, ever, finish your talk with "I hope you liked it", it undermine everything you said. Instead, say "With everything I talked about, you are now ready to do {whatever you talked about}".

Bonus

We also got a list of mantras that you can repeat before going on stage:

  • I do not talk because I want to be loved. I talk because I want to be understood.
  • I know it's normal to be scared when speaking publicly, and I know this is not a weakness.
  • My internal stress is not visible on the outside. People cannot read inside of me.
  • If I feel the stress coming up, I slow down, I breath, I take my time.

Bonus number two

We also had a nice discussion about face-to-face talks. For example when you're meeting with customers and you want to explain why something they did is wrong and why your way is better. You want to convince them of your way. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Never say to the others that they are wrong. Their reasons are perfectly valid, knowing what they know.
  • Being convinced of being right is not enough, you need to also be convincing.
  • No-one was ever convinced by an authoritative argument. You have to be reasonable, and nuanced.
  • Give facts, examples, evidences.
  • Avoid antagonism. You and them are working toward the same goal: using the best possible solution. Understand their issues, put yourself in their shoes.
  • Say things clearly, do not make them think they may have not understood things clearly or that you are hiding something.

Tags : #public-speaking

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