Improve Your Public Speaking Skills in 20 Seconds

I promised 20 seconds, and I intend to deliver. If you only have 20 seconds —

Executive summay: keep your slides full of visual information, impart verbal information orally, get index cards to jog your memory.

Read on for more details…

This is a rant/advice for people who are new to public speaking. The commonly given advice is “don’t just read your bullets from the overhead”. It is true, but it is negative — it says what not to do, not what to do. So here is what you do.

Remove the bullets in the overhead. Anything which you say should not be there. You can keep:

  • Actual bulleted lists, enumerating stuff (ways stuff can go wrong, e.g.)
  • Graphs
  • Pictures of cute kittens, babies, etc.
  • formulae/code snippets
  • Title of the talk, your contacts, etc.

Yes, this means for a lot of talks the only thing you will have on the overhead is the talk title. That’s fine. If you really want to vary, have cute kitten/baby pictures, make them semi-relevant, and switch to a new picture every five minutes (for a talk about system recovery, you can put a kitten wrapped in wool for the “problems” part and a picture of a baby walking for the “recover” part).

Keep the bullets, though! Just not for the overhead. Put them on 5×3 index cards, and use them to jog your memory. Practice your talk.

Even if you are not a native speaker, this will force you to be more animated, as you stop staring at your screen. The less you’ll need your index cards, the better — use the time to look at the audience. In fact, try to achieve as much look-at-audience time as possible.

One last note: this means your slides, without your verbiage, will not be enough to understand the talk. If you give a handout, make actual class notes.

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