Public Speaking Lessons for the Introverts, the Inexperienced, the Pathologically Shy, and the Rusty
Updated: Jul 9
These lessons are ostensibly public-speaking performance lessons. But they can moonlight for other situations, too: Any time you're called on to do a presentation to your team. A pitch to a client. A TED-style talk. A virtual breakout session. A workshop. An Instagram Story. A LinkedIn Live.
Learn the first names of a few people in your audience. Use those names on stage. Ask questions of your audience. Poll the people in the room.
Seek team support
Plant someone supportive in the back of the room. Draft an encouraging friend, an empathetic colleague. Direct them to nod like a bobblehead throughout your talk.
Pause. Force yourself to pause a second or two between sentences. Don't rush through your points. Don't clip your own sentences so you can start your next point. That puts you (and your audience) on edge.
Flit your eyes to and from 5-6 people seated in different parts of the room. Unlike your Planted Friend above, these are people you don't know. But identifying them once you're on stage helps remind you to speak in turn to the entire room, not just the people in front.
Keep your slides simple. Don't allow your PowerPoint to steal the show.
Practice your talk with a loving spouse or compliant child, or before the loving gaze of your pandemic puppy. I suggest family here because you need someone who isn't too close to the material- a colleague isn't the best choice. Actually, neither is the dog. Too much love is sometimes too much.
"Please hold questions to the end" is a no. What your audience will hear: "What I have to say is more important than what you want to know."
You don't need to have all the answers. It's preferable to say, "I don't know. I will get back to you on that" vs. fudging an answer to a question that has that telltale slick veneer of absolute nonsense.
Remember that questions are about dialogue. Buy yourself time to answer a question by asking, "What do you mean by..." Sometimes you need a minute or two to consider an answer. (There's nothing worse than suffering esprit de l'escalier.)
Try this Q&A power move. Cap your answer to a question by addressing the asker again: "Did I answer that question for you?" You're signaling that you're okay with their saying, "Not really." It's a confident move.
Everyone has to start somewhere. If I've learned to speak comfortably on stage, you can, too. This was my ridiculously stressful first time.
( This post has been adapted from the newsletter of Ann Handley)