The Shy Presenter: Why conventional advice on learning public speaking sucks, and how to really get started

| presentation, speaking

Want to get started in public speaking?

There are thousands of books and blogs and classes with advice. To save you time, I’ve summarized them all for you:

Figure out your key message. Come up with a catchy acronym. Be clear.

Find a surprising fact. Tell a story. Ditch the bullet points. Use a clever title. Make your slides prettier. Use full-screen images. Use no images. Draw your diagrams.

Go to Toastmasters. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice with a friend. Practice with a small group. Videotape yourself.

Make eye contact. Don’t stare. Imagine your audience naked. Don’t read the slides. Watch others for inspiration. Practise. Practise. Practise.

Did you get all that? Are you ready?

Right. So let’s talk about what you need to know in order to get started. You can figure out the who and when and where. You can learn the how. But there’s a huge gap here because of two questions no one can answer for you:

Why would you get up there in the first place?

And what do you have to say?

Why speak? Why spend hours putting together a talk? Why risk stage fright, stutters, stammers, technical difficulties, hecklers, off-topic questions, incorrect information,  embarrassment, rejection?

There are lots of surprisingly good reasons. It doesn’t have to be about promoting yourself or working on your career.

Me, there are two reasons why I give presentations. First: I love learning. And short of making something a life-and-death matter, there’s nothing that makes you learn something more than teaching it to someone.

Second: I’m an introvert. It’s so hard for me to walk up to one person and say hello. You know what’s easier than that? Talking to 200 people. Particularly if I can rehearse first. Then people have an excuse to talk to me if they want to. So if you’re an introvert, give it a try. And if you’re an extrovert, give it a try too.

That’s why I speak. Learning is fun. I want to teach what I know. I want to learn from others, but I hate starting conversations.

What’s your reason? Why are you going to get up and speak?

For you, that question could be the worst question to ask. Here’s a surprise. That’s because you might not be able to find out your why until you figure out your what.

Don’t wait for some grand passion to sweep you away. Don’t wait for  the aha! moment. You’re not going to suddenly “get it”. Don’t let that stop you.

You won’t know why until you begin. It’s not going to become fun until you’re doing it. (And sometimes not even then). Just treat it as an experiment. A way to improve your communication skills.

How do you start?

You need to figure out what you have to say. This is very useful.

Now someone said, “I need you to do a presentation on X,” problem solved. But you’re probably starting from scratch. Try this simple question instead:

What do you know that someone else doesn’t? Write it down or go tell that someone about it.

What do you know that you didn’t know yesterday? What else do you know? What do you keep saying? What are you curious about? Share.

You don’t have to be an expert. You just have to help.

True story. The only reason I got started in public speaking was because some friends of mine were organizing a conference. By the third call for speakers, they sounded pretty desperate. I said, hey, I’m just a student, but I can talk about this if you really can’t find anyone, and I’m playing with that as a hobby. They booked me for two talks. I learned that even as a beginner, you can help other people learn.

Now you’ve got the raw material for a presentation. You’ve got the what. Share it and see how it makes people’s lives better. You’ve got the why. The when and where and who and how – that’s easy, once you get over that gap.

So think about this: What did you learn? How can you share it? Why does that matter?

Figure out your what and your why, and everything else will follow.

What can I help you learn?

Draft of upcoming talk for Ignite Toronto based on previous braindump. Short enough to fit into five minutes, I hope. If you like this, you might also like The Shy Connector. Have fun!

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