A Quick Guide to Public Speaking
Background: I've spoken internationally at universities and conferences about STEM education, women in tech, and social good through technology. Read More »
Confession: I'm an introvert.
I'm happy to sip on tea at a coffee shop and read a book, but I realized that there was something bigger than letting my ideas simmer in my head. I found public speaking as a gateway to connect with more people.
Here is how I gradually gained experience and created an authentic way of communicating.
I now see public speaking as Storytelling.
It's a lot less intimidating when you call it that, don't you think?
Here are the 2 style of talks that I'm most familiar with:
- TED-style* Talks
- Technical Conference Talks
I'll share some foundational resources that can tie into both. What I'm not going to share is 'traditional' advice like:
- be confident
- imagine the audience naked
Those are all good techniques, but they don't tell you where/how to start!
(* = If you aren't familiar with TED which stands for 'Technology, Entertainment, Design', check out the website and view a few talks on topics that sounds interesting to you.)
Where I Began
Start small. My personal journey into public speaking went something like this:
Type of Talk
1. Lightning Talk
4. Keynote Speaking
What It's Like
quick sharing, no slides
group questions, no slides
slides, specific lesson/idea sharing
I didn't wake up one day and decide "I'm going to become a public speaker!", but rather "hey, wouldn't it be cool to share this thing I learned?" This could be anything from a technique for programming language you just learning, to a social cause you care about.
I started by attending meetups, and where there were calls for speakers for Lightning Talks, or Panels that get organized, it's a less intimidating way to get started. Panels especially because you're answering questions with a group of people.
Eventually I was invited to speak at events and sought out interesting events that I wanted to speak at. Having a speaking page listing my experience has also been a great way to let people know I'm available to share my story, experiences and background.
Let me let you in on a little secret...we're all still learning! You don't need to declare yourself an expert on a specific topic to start sharing your ideas.
The truth is, sharing and teaching is one of the best ways to become an expert. On the side I've also been a Teaching Assistant (TA) for different places to learn to code like General Assembly or Dev Boot Camp.
Learning to explain things to people is a great career stepping stone. It helps you break down your thought process, and try to understand others'. This will eventually help you identify with your audience when you're speaking.
Over time from connecting with others you'll discover what you'd like to speak about. Don't rush it!
Engaging speaking is crafting what you want to say in a way that the audience can relate (not everyone will, its ok!)
This is different from the way I grew up and was taught in school. I had to 'speak' and give book reports or presentations on topics I didn't care (or only mildly cared) about and was trying to 'word vomit' as many facts as I could. The goal felt more like 'here's how smart I sound, please give me a good grade' vs now, which is 'here's how real I am, and what I really care about'.
Think of storytelling as empowering the audience to become the hero on a journey.
'But wait isn't this talk about me, or a subject?' It can but still be a part of a story.
Think of the great speakers or talks that you've heard, they empowered you, right?
They got under your skin or gave you chills. Where they just throwing facts at you, or weaving them into a story? Exactly.
What lights you up?
What is your message?
Starting to speak doesn't have to feel like you're getting graded. Make it feel like you're having a deep conversation one-on-one. Once you've started to get that feeling down, you can focus on outlining your topic/idea or presentation and share it.
I've listed a few resources below that can help with that.
- Start attending meetups and/or events that you find interesting.
- Notice if there are any topics or ideas that resonate with you.
- Find small ways to get involved like informal group discussions or lightning talks.
- Setup a speaking page on your website/portolio or mention that you speak.
- Use these experiences as a way to grow and share what you're passionate about.
What are you interested in speaking about? If you've started speaking already what has your journey looked like? Let me know in the comments below.
Lightning Talk - "A lightning talk is a very short presentation lasting only a few minutes, given at a conference or similar forum. Several lightning talks will usually be delivered by different speakers in a single session [...]" via Wikipedia
Panel - "A panel discussion, or simply a panel, involves a group of people gathered to discuss a topic in front of an audience, typically at scientific, business or academic conferences, fan conventions, and on television shows. Panels usually include a moderator who guides the discussion and sometimes elicits audience questions, with the goal of being informative and entertaining." via Wikipedia
Call for Proposals (CFPs) - events ask or open a 'Request for Proposals' (RFPs) to invite people to submit ideas and/or outlines for speaking which could be for panels, lightning talks, etc.
- speaking.io - planning out your talk, prepping, delivering and reflecting
- Resonate by Nancy Duarte - "An interactive visual guide on creating stories that transform audiences."
- 'Talk Like TED' by Carmine Gallo - "In order to succeed, you need to be able to sell your ideas persuasively. This ability is the single greatest skill that will help you accomplish your dreams."