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Public speaking

  1. Feb 23, 2005 #1
    Any tips for the WORST public speaker in the world? Why, just today I had to get up in the front of a class and speak on a "mysterious" subject, I started and then looked into the wave of staring faces and my words just got garbled.. Weird sounds, misplaced words, came flowing out of my mouth and after a few moments of this embarassment, I just sat down again in my seat completely failing this task.. :frown:
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  3. Feb 23, 2005 #2
    Its normal to plop your pants (i.e. most people do) when speaking in front of others. It takes most people a lot of mental dedication (+ a bit of practice) to be able to do it without skidmarks, but after a while you can get to really enjoy it, like any other adrenaline hobby.
  4. Feb 23, 2005 #3
    I'm absolutely horrible at extemporaneous speaking as well. That's why I don't think Bush's lack of public speaking skills are necessarily a sign that he's dumb. (There may be other indicators of that though, depending on your politics).

    The good thing is that most of the time - you have a prepared talk and you can use the information on slides or whatever to guide you.
  5. Feb 23, 2005 #4


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    Take Drama Class.

    That's what I did. They spend the first month making you comfortable, and then it gets better from there.

    Now, I really enjoy it.
  6. Feb 23, 2005 #5
    The best way to do it is to work up in small steps. First just practice in front of the mirror, then in front of a close friend, then in front of a few more friends, etc. If you mess up at a certain part of your speech circle that part in red or put fangs or whatever's nessecary and PRACTICE!
    Oh, and make sure your speech is written as far in advance as possible because it's really hard to know what you're talking about when you wrote something really late the night before and you don't remember what you wrote.
  7. Feb 23, 2005 #6


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    I have no particular fear of heights, nor of caves, nor of deep water. But put me up in front of an audience, my voice sounds like Don Knotts', and I rapidly develop lockjaw of the brain.

    It's funny though: if I knew ten million people were going to read this post that I am writing, it wouldn't make me nervous at all. There is something about the audience being physically present...
  8. Feb 23, 2005 #7
    I agree with this, but he was talking about extemporaneous speaking. That's a different ballgame.
  9. Feb 23, 2005 #8


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    I always think that a presentation which is too well rehearsed can sound insincere and fake, don't rehearse it word-for-word. Ideally, you want to present your topic as if you were presenting it to just one person. Make sure you know the key points inside out, all the other words should just flow. If you're too busy worrying about the exact words you had prepared, you'll just clam up.
  10. Feb 24, 2005 #9
    the other day I had to reach into a hole and clean off a brass disk so I could read the numbers stamped on it. The hole was full of cockroaches, thousands of them. I didn't want to reach into that hole and I had to stop and take a breath and force myself to do it. I told myself that the roaches couldn't hurt me and my fear was totally irrational. then I was able to reach into the hole.
    Public speaking is the same thing. stop take a breath and realize that no matter what happens you aren't going to be hurt. The fear is irrational and you are stronger than that. I get a rush out of doing things that scare me, plus I'm a bad loser and if I give into my fear I would feel like it beat me and I won't allow that.
  11. Feb 24, 2005 #10
    This reminds me of the opening chapter of Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly. Except there were aphids. And the guy was tripping his balls off. Great book. But sad.
  12. Feb 24, 2005 #11
    who you calling a Dick?
  13. Feb 24, 2005 #12
    Not to despair, that post of yours is a perfect piece of public speaking, just in written format. You got your point across and you have the feel for when to use pauses (your ...) and frowns to make your point clearer. And much of the weird sounds and misplaced words is just you getting more self-aware, not something your public will notice. Regarding the staring public, it may happen, but you can quickly snap them out of it by asking questions about your subject, or something completely different, ie. "do I really sound that nuts? I thought it didn't show...". They may very well nod in agreement, but at least they will stop their dull staring. So, much of the experience is also about how the crowd reacts and you can influence it.

    So, as others have suggested, practice in front of a mirror or girl/boy-friend and enjoy it. The show is yours!
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2005
  14. Feb 24, 2005 #13
    Oh, yes... I very much agree. I think it has a lot to do with how we are anonymous over the internet and how you get an instant reaction from the crowd. If you post something unexpected as a replay, I can ponder on is as long as I want and finally say something remotely intelligent. There is a smaller chance that I reveal my ignorance, not-so-perfect language or whatever value the crowd measures me by. It all feels a lot safer over the internet.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2005
  15. Feb 24, 2005 #14
    I would not worry too much about extemporaneous speeches. I bet they are a very small part of your total grade. Extemporaneous speeches, imo, need 2 skills that not many people have. 1. You have to be a very good, smooth BSer. 2. You have to be extremely confident about your BSing. So just be confident, make up some BS, and then sit down. Also, you are overreacting, and we all do it: You will always think your speech sounded 100 times worse than it really was.
  16. Feb 24, 2005 #15
    This is true. I always had trouble with public speaking early in high school. In the last few years, as I developed my, uh, creativity and ability to produce fiction (purely artistic, of course), I found I got much better. This kind of healthy, cynical approach helps, so you feel momentarily slightly superior to the audience and thus more confident, if only for that brief period. I found it let me be more natural and <gasp> witty.

    My fear was mostly rooted in the fact that I was being asked to speak so that my speaking could be criticised. I found this ironic because even back then, I was a decent public speaker when I was genuinely dealing with a subject, and wasn't conscious of any ongoing critique. It focuses the class/audience better too. Thus, another approach is to try treat your speech as if it wasn't a test of your speaking as such. Use it as an opportunity to express something that has significant meaning or value.
  17. Feb 24, 2005 #16
    I am considered, by those who have heard me, to be a pretty good public speaker. I am also considered, by those who know me, to be extremely shy. I am not well spoken one-to-one with people, I stutter, mumble, and have trouble finishing thoughts, but if you put me in front of a crowd, I have no trouble at all getting across my point.

    How do I do it? By watching other people speak in public, I have come to certain conclusions:

    1. If they are overly nervous or uncomfortable, it shows.
    2. If they don't know their subject, it shows.
    3. If they don't know their audience, it shows.
    4. If they are confident, it shows.
    5. If they are funny, the audience is with them.
    6. If they are boring, the audience will lose interest.

    That first point was the one that really taught me to improve. If you see someone freeze up, you are uncomfortable for them, you think, "Gosh if they would just be more confident, speak up, and be more amusing, they would do so much better."

    I almost always begin with a joke or a question. Something that really grabs their attention. Jokes are good because they get the audience to loosen up and relax, but if you are not a good joke teller, try the question route. Another possibility is a powerful or amazing fact or statistic, but be prepared to back it up. The main thing is to get their attention early.
  18. Feb 24, 2005 #17


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    Adding to what Artman wrote, a key point is "know the subject". Confidence will come from having the knowledge about the subject of the talk. One usually knows in advance about the subject of talk, so do some reseach - collect some facts, and then develop some ideas or opinions about the facts.

    Public speaking is about relating information to a group of people, the audience. It could be a group of colleagues, of professionals of similar background, or a group of lay people who lack the expertise. Knowing the audience simply means structuring the presentation to take into account the familiarity or interest of the audience. Don't talk down to the audience, and don't talk over their heads either.

    Talk to the audience like you would talk to your friends.
  19. Feb 24, 2005 #18


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    It's a gradual process. While some people can naturally get up and B.S. about anything to anyone, this is not the usual case. Public speaking is something you can learn.

    First, giving a completely extemporaneous speech is one of the hardest forms of public speaking. You really need to work up to that, and while this was something forced upon you for a grade (which only makes it feel worse), it's usually easier to avoid winding up in those situations until you've mastered other forms of public speaking.

    Start out by learning to read from a script to your audience. Don't worry about things like eye contact and intonation, etc., just get past the point where you can stand up in front of a group and read something out loud without turning into a jittering pile of nerves and without mumbling your way through it. Focus on the paper and pronouncing every word loudly and clearly.

    When you can do that, now move onto a speech that you write out, practice by yourself until you have it memorized, and just jot notes for yourself onto notecards to serve as reminders if you get nervous and forget the next line. First practice just saying the speech from memory and work on overcoming the nervousness that you'll forget the next line (it's usually this nervousness that leads to forgetting the next line, so the more you relax, the less likely you are to make a mistake). Once you can get through an entire speech that way, work on some of the other skills. Look up at the audience, try to make eye contact with a few people (don't worry about looking at everyone yet, just find a few people to look at...maybe a best friend who you know will give you a smile of reassurance), try to work on emphasizing important words by your tone. Work on your posture. Stand up straight, don't hunch your shoulders, and get your chin up off your chest. Doing all of this will also help you project your voice further and more clearly.

    Then, try to give your speech without any notes. Still memorize it all, but don't rely on any notes. If you forget a line, stop and think about it, back up in your mind and see if it comes to you, or try to ad lib a bit rather than go back to notes.

    The next step after that is to be completely familiar with a topic, rehearse it a lot, but don't memorize a script word for word. This will allow you to start becoming more natural in your speaking tone. As you work to improve at this stage, in addition to all the other things you've practiced, work on ridding yourself of filler words "um" and "ah" etc. This is when they show up at their worst, when you're not always 100% sure what word will come next. Practice silent pauses when you need to think of the next word to say.

    Once you've gotten through all these steps, then you are ready to start handling topics you did not rehearse. You can start out by having people ask you questions about the topic you just gave a speech about. This way, you start out with a topic you're at least familiar with. Then, you can start having them throw random, general topics at you to talk about. Practice on things that you're likely to need this skill for, such as interview type questions. Remember, "I don't know" is an acceptable answer when getting asked questions like that. When starting out speaking, it's common to feel like you're supposed to know all the answers, and the pressure of trying to find an answer to something you really don't know can completely undo you. If you think you might know if you stopped to think for a bit, you can state that as well, "I'm not sure, but I'll think about it and get back to you," or "That's a tough question to answer right now; if we have time at the end, let's come back to it then."

    Once you've gotten comfortable with all those situations, there are other things to focus on. For example, starting to really look at your audience and read them. You may be going to slowly for them and need to pick up the pace, or you may be going to rapidly and need to slow down for them to keep up. You may see a lot of puzzled looks and choose to spend a little more time clarifying a particular point before moving on.

    As you can imagine, this is not a rapid process. You might be able to get a group of people together who all have concerns about speaking in public and take turns practicing together, using each other as your audience. There really is no substitute for practice in front of a real audience.
  20. Feb 24, 2005 #19
    If you need people to practice on I have a list of all the mentors and their phone numbers. I'm sure they would have no problem taking an hour or so out of their day to listen to you speak, that's what they're there for right?
  21. Feb 24, 2005 #20


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    Public speaking is something you can learn. And, unless you're an incredibly good liar, it's more than just learning to BS on the fly.

    I was always horrible at public speaking in high school. In fact, I think the practice of sending totally inept speakers up to do oral reports, based on some premise that if they do it enough times badly, they'll suddenly become good at it, is just plain cruel. I just learned to dread it more and more.

    Eventually, I had to learn how to speak in public in one of the management courses the Air Force makes you take. A little actual teaching of speaking skills does a wonder of good. Especially learning some techniques to take your focus off of yourself and to focus more on your audience. Flip charts and visual aids helped me a lot, so much so that I eventually caught myself using them as a crutch (if I was talking with someone one on one and trying to think of what I wanted to say, I'd automatically reach for something to draw on - worse, I relied on my visual aids so much that whoever I was talking to would lean towards the pad waiting for me to draw something - it was that obvious of a crutch).

    If you at least get some instruction to get you started, you should be able to improve just by giving more presentations (and to get rid of any bad habits or crutches you picked up early on).

    Like Moonbear said, jumping right into extemporaneous speaking is pretty difficult. You need to start out practicing and memorizing your presentations. You lose some spontaneity, but you have to walk before you run. Especially if you're taking a course on speaking - typically, your presentations have to be a certain length and you get hit pretty hard on your grade if the presentation is too long or too short.

    Eventually, you do want to move on to an extemporaneous style of speaking. You should be able to adjust to your audience as you go. Enough practice, you even get to the point where you use that style on timed presentations, as well - you learn to organize and pace yourself on the fly. In later courses, I never actually practiced a presentation - I just made an outline, pulled it out once in a while, and thought about the topic a lot.

    All in all, I'd say it took me almost ten years to go from horrid speaker to competent speaker to very good speaker, but, then, I was very, very bad. More importantly, I went from fearing even the thought of it to actually enjoying it.

    There's also a huge benefit to learning how to speak well. I read a study once where folks had to evaluate an instructor based merely on a ten second film clip. In general, those evaluations almost mirrored the evaluations given by students who had actually taken an entire semester with that instructor.

    Either first impressions mean a whole lot or, more realistically, the instructor's sending a whole lot of non-verbal communication about how successful he expects that course to be. That kind of non-verbal communication isn't something you can easily fake - you have to know the material and be confident in your ability to get it across.

    Same thing happens in sales. They say a good salesman makes the sale in the first ten seconds of a conversation. Providing the product is something the customer would at least consider buying, the person selling the product is more important than the actual product itself. Most customers wind up relying on the salesperson for both education about a product and incentive to buy the product, so their decision is based more on trust and confidence in the salesperson than objective facts about the product.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2005
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