12 Deeper tips for great public speaking electricity and circuits physics

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Steve Wheeler posted a nice article called 12 Tips for Great Speaking today.He’s had a lot of experience on the public speaking circuit and there’s no doubt his tips hit the mark. I’ve also had some experience on the circuit, so I thought it would be useful to add to his remarks. So, here are his tips (in italic, abridged) with my additions.

This is a classic tip that applies not only to public speaking but also to long-form magazine writing. I tend to avoid trying to open for a job, because humour doesn’t travel well, but I do add a paragraph or two to set the stage before I summarize the talk as a whole or introduce my main point.

Why? I apply Mike Bullard’s three steps to a great joke to public speaking. The three steps are: find something you have in common with the audience, bring them around to your point of view, make them laugh at themselves. In my cause, instead of making them laugh, I try to make them learn about themselves.

So I’m trying in those first two paragraphs to find a point in common. This point in common will create a theme which I’ll return to throughout the talk. It’s where we connect. It can be a joke or a story, but it can be something I’ve seen, something I’ve experienced, or something I can imagine or dream about.

The text on any slide must be easily read from the back of the room, which means it has to be pretty minimal. If you have more than six or eight lines of text, you definitely have too much (and the text is too small). There’s no point having any text if people can’t read it.

I also like to have images on my slides. Typically, I’ll allocate half the slide to an image, and the other half (the top or bottom, left or right) to an image. Not always, but typically. For me, the images provide a parallel story that can be read alongside the text. Sometimes the images illustrate the text, but more often the images say something different.

– first, when speaking to international audiences, it’s essential to have some text that helps people follow along. People who are weak in English might lose track of the talking, but the text helps them follow along (this also helps me a lot when I’m watching presentations in French or Spanish).

– second, not all people in the audience are at the same level. So I want to offer different ‘tracks’ in my talk: a simple message offered by the text, a deeper message offered in the talk, and an animation of the message offered in the images.

I generally don’t read from the slides, but I make some exceptions. Why? Because I’m also recording my audio. So I can’t simply say "you can see this for yourself on the slide" because people listening to the audio recording can’t. Also, I might have blind people (or almost blind, like me) in the audience.

Specifically, if I’m quoting someone else, I’ll often read the quote word for word. This way, I’m putting the exact quote into the audio recording. I’m also quoting the person exactly to my audience, ensuring that they hear directly from the source.

I used to walk around a lot while I presented but once I started doing audio and video recordings I started staying still (unless being professionally recorded) in order to stay in the frame.I do tend to gesture a lot and speak with my hands, because this is yet another track to my message, the non-verbal track.

I don’t sweep my eyes across an audience. I look at individuals. I pick out a few individuals who are supportive of me (you can tell – they smile, they nod…) and look at them, each for a few seconds. These are my main source of confidence and support during the talks. I also pick out people who are scowling or with their arms crossed. These are my challenges – the sceptics I want to reach.

I’m sure there are tutorials that will teach you how to look and how to move, but I’ve never used them. What I do is to speak as though I’m having a conversation with a few people, so my expressions and movements are natural. I smile and engage and remind myself that this is fun (my real smile, not the big fake toothy smile some people like so much).

There are two tricks to this: keep your sentences short, and pause between each sentence. You need to do this in any case if you’re working with an interpreter (even simultaneous interpretation) but it’s also really important for audiences generally. The pause is usually shorter than the sentence, just a second or so (that’s enough for the interpreters, who have learned to listen to one thing while saying another).

Speaking clearly is important. You need to speak loudly enough to be heard. You can’t mumble. Keep your hands away from your mouth (this muffles the sound). Keep at least six inches between your mouth and the microphone (so it doesn’t muffle) and keep the microphone below your mouth (so you don’t get breathing sounds and don ‘pop’ your Ps). Pronounce the Ts and Ps and Bs in your words.

I’m not a fan of repetition. If you’re trying to get people to remember something, then sure. But I’m almost never trying to get people to remember. I want to take them on a journay, or give them an experience, which will inspire them to think about something.

And sometimes, repetition is a rhetorical strategy. It creates a vivid landmark. It marks the edges of a significant theme. It creates a rhythm or pacing to the talk. But again, this has nothing to do with remembering, and the words being repeated can be almost anything.

Yes, stick to the time constraint. Yes, this is hard, and I’ve had my fair share of misses. But if you pay attention, you should be fine. It takes two things: a clock (which I often forget to bring with me, which is why I miss) and a structure (more about that below).

And then keeping time requires only a sense of pacing. For example, if your talk has three parts, and thirty minutes, then each part should take 10 minutes. Make sure you have a clock. Don’t depend on your computer; sometimes the clock disappears.

I never rehearse my talks. Some may say that I should (heh) but my experience is that the rehearsal never looks like the final product in any case. I prefer to be able to watch the audience, to react, to take advantage of the setting, of previous talks, of my mood and my imagination.

For each of your three parts, think of three subparts. Like this: three facts about blogging, three fictions about blogging, three predictions about blogging. If you have an hour, each of these will be five minutes. If you have half an hour, each of these will be two minutes, so be quick!

When you answer a question, restate the question – this shows you’ve understood the question, and also helps people who may not have heard the question (usually most of the audience, and definitely people listing to audio and video recordings).

I rarely say I’ll get back to people with an answer. If I don’t know the answer, then the questioner and I are in the same situation, and I don’t feel an obligation to do research for the questioner. They can do it as easily as I can. But if they write me after, I do promise to answer them.

This is true, and also true for my audio and video recordings. My audience after the event may be in the thousands, even if there were only a couple dozen people in the room (which means that, for me, a small talk is just as important as a large keynote presentation, and I treat it equally seriously).

I use slideshare ( http://www.slideshare.net) to upload my slides. I use Audacity ( https://www.audacityteam.org/) to record my audio, which I then upload to my website (you could use SoundCloud) I use xSplit to record my videos, which I either stream directly or upload later to my channel on YouTube. The most important thing when you record is to use a decent microphone.