Good public speaking skills aren’t something most people are born with, they have to be learnt.
How did I prepare for my upcoming talk?
At some point, we tend to shy away when it comes to public speaking. It’s something we want to do, but we’re too scared of the “what if’s.” “What if I say something wrong?” or “What if someone from the audience asks me a question that I can’t answer?” and so on. We’re also worried that  “It will have a negative impact on how we’re perceived at work.”
Thinking that we’re going to embarrass ourselves in front of everybody, we might have stage fright; butterflies in your stomach, and a heartbeat so fast that you can almost hear it. The important thing to note is that you are never alone with regards to those feelings.
In this article, I will be sharing my personal experiences on how I overcame public speaking jitters. That is to say, I still feel nervous and that will always be a part of it! But it is one of the challenges you can overcome to some extent.
“The ultimate test of your knowledge is your capacity to transfer it to another”Thomas Oppong
For as long as I can remember, I hated being the center of attention. I’ve been in several organizations and talked to so many people whilst organizing events but I always feel uncomfortable when it comes to talking in front of many strangers. I loved my comfort zone so much that I never thought of becoming a public speaker.
I started by joining different competitions like broadcasting, script writing, declamations, dancing and reading contests, I also joined a church as a catechists teacher until I got into hosting small events, school parties and ceremonies.
But despite those experiences, I never thought of myself as someone with potential to become a public speaker and to eventually share knowledge learnt over the years with other students and professionals.
If i’m honest, it’s definitely scary. I’m paranoid too! All the what if’s in my head start becoming louder and louder.
“But for some reason, I was drawn to public speaking. And so I studied and I learned”Jason Shen
I practiced, read articles, listened to podcasts. I read real life experiences and stories from other people, watched public speaking videos like TED, and I learned. I am always nervous whenever I have an upcoming talk to do but I never thought of it as a task to be checked off on my list. I thought of it as a learning opportunity and a process that I could make use of long-term.
“Teaching others what you know is one of the most effective ways to learn, remember and recall new information. Psychologists, call it the “retrieval practice”. It’s one of the most reliable ways of building stronger memory traces”Thomas Oppong
Some quick points:
- Create an outline of your speech or topic
- Work on you vocal variety
- Body language
Before doing the above, you should make sure you know your audience who are the primary reason you’re preparing your talk! Always avoid boring them:
- Know your audience
- Age range
- Students? Professionals? Both?
- Number of attendees
- If you have enough information on your audience, select a topic that you think will be suitable for everyone. Determine the level of difficulties of your topic based on your audience:
For a mixed audience, select a level of difficulty between beginner and junior levels and for the last part of your talk, add very quick details for senior level.
- Lecture-focused talks are overrated except when you’re only given a 5-20 minutes time slot. If you’re given 30 minutes and above, however, I recommend activities, workshops, and/or code-labs to increase interaction between you and the audience.
If you plan to host activities, never surprise your audience with them. Give the attendees a quick overview on what to expect during the talk. This gives them added motivation to follow through on your discussions.
- If you have a slide deck presentation, avoid overloading it with text. Big images with fewer text always attract more attention. (From google slide deck tips: whenever we have an event in GDG, Google Design Team provides us with slide deck templates).
- Lastly, if you have an activity, give the organizers a heads up about the materials required or bring them yourself.
I recommend you have your speech prepared a month before the event. You can read this article, How to Dramatically Improve your Public Speaking Skills by Jason Shen to know more about why it is important and essential to prepare months before your event.
Now, here’s how I prepare on the day of the event:
- Be at the event area 30 minutes before the talk
- Feel the stage and get myself settled and comfortable with the venue
- Warm up and go through the slide deck once more
After your talk, it is essential to ask for feedback from your audience. This way, you will be able to assess yourself and make improvements. Some speakers send feedback forms via email after the event, but based on my experience this never works.
Tips on asking for feedback
Make use of technology! Make it paperless and accessible. Right after your talk, include a shortened readable link at the last part of your slide and dedicate 5 minutes to getting feedback from the audience. Pro tip: Add a QR code where attendees can easily scan and access your feedback form. There are a lot of free QR code generators on the internet you can use. Keep the questionnaire as minimal as possible. A yes or no and scaling selection would be helpful.
I use google forms but you can also check this template from jotform as your reference: Speaker Evaluation Form Template | JotForm
Every public speaking event is scary. I always feel nervous but I learned to embrace it. The important thing is to have a strong mindset. Cheer yourself up and think happy! 😄
A final point I would like to make is to enjoy your talk. If you appear to be enjoying your talk, feeling happy and passionate about what you are delivering to the audience, the audience will feel the same. Be confident. Remember that public speaking is a long-term learning process and a skill that can definitely be learned by anyone.
Drink water and keep yourself hydrated!
Useful resources to improve your public speaking skills
I joined a Beginner’s Android Study Jam back in 2015 where we were asked to present a proposal on what mobile application we wanted to build by the end of the sessions. We used Guy Kawasaki’s The 10 Slides Pitch which is very helpful and I believe it’s still a relevant template.
For more public speaking references, I recommend these courses and videos, that are short and won’t bore you:
How to speak in public – Courses – Google Digital Garage: In this free module, you will learn to define the objective of your speech, organize content and even master important body language skills that can help you become a better public speaker. Plus, you’ll discover how to prepare and tailor a speech so that it’s perfect for each audience.
Public Speaking Pro Tips – YouTube: This youtube series is created by Women Techmakers. It shows you different techniques and warm up exercises for your public speaking. It’s also really fun to watch!
9 Places to Learn Public Speaking Skills for Free: If you’re one of those people who would rather curl up in a ball and simply die than speak in front of a crowd, you definitely need to check out these 9 places you can learn public speaking skills absolutely free.
Writing this article doesn’t make me an expert on public speaking. I am not a TED level kind of speaker and I’m still learning. I only write these tips based on my experiences and I hope it helps! If you have any other methods that work best for you then go for it, and share more with us too! Don’t limit yourself. Have more faith in you 🤩
Christian Villamin, Software Engineer
Usman Sheikh, Managing Director
Czarissa Navidad, Designer