C.K.’s Ten Tips to Talking Good

Public speaking scares the heck out of many people, if you've found this page this might be your challenge. If you are facing a speaking event (whether large or small) and looking for help, hopefully this page can provide some reassurance.

Here are ten of the top things I think about before and while I give a presentation. These are based on a lot of years teaching, giving briefings, and classes on public speaking and teaching. People seem to think I give pretty good presentations, and these tips encapsulate the things I do. I've given them out frequently over the years, and it's helped some folks, hopefully you might find a gem you can use.

Not all apply for every circumstance, and not all will fit your personal style. But just thinking about them will help you prepare what you want to do. The first four cover getting ready, the rest are to help while your in the middle of the process.
And if this seems like a lot to think about while you’re giving a presentation, it is. You need to be in multitasking mode when you speak, your forebrain has to be putting out the information, while your backbrain has to be periodically checking how the session itself is going. And the only thing that helps you develop that is practice. Not in front of a mirror (though that can help) but in front of people. It’s only real with a crowd, and that’s the only way you can hone your skills.
So grab every chance to speak that you can. It may be painful, but it’ll help you in almost every situation where you deal with other people.
And the bottom line for all public speaking is this;
The audience wants to like you!
They’re willing to give you a chance, they’re not out for blood. So treat them as friends, not vultures, and things will be fine.
comments? mail C.K. Haun (ck@ravenware.com)

1) Practice what you don’t know, don’t practice what you know.
Practicing what you’re going to talk about is very important. But do it sensibly. Overpracticing is worse than underpracticing. The audience can sense your feelings about the subject your talking about through your body language and voice. If you’ve practiced and practiced a section of your talk, you’re going to be pretty bored with it yourself, and the audience will pick that up. If you’re bored with it why should they care?
So only practice what you need to. Subjects that you’re very familiar with, or subjects you feel passionately about, should not be practiced. Just go over the outline of what you’re going to say, structure your talk, but let your natural feeling guide the actual words you say.
It’s better to be enthused and make some mistakes than to be letter-perfect and bored.

2) Write a ton, say less.
Always prepare more material than you can ever use.
When you are speaking, time does funny things, like slows down a whole lot. What you thought would take you an hour to say gets blurted out in 20 minutes.
So prepare a lot of stuff, but not necessarily all new stuff.
A very useful technique is to repeat important ideas at various points in your presentation.

This helps three ways:
a. You hook the audience by repetition.
b. If you missed the topic the first time it came up, you’ll catch it on the repetition
c. Adds time to your talk.

3) Practice the things you have to do with your hands.
I don’t mean gestures. Those should never be practiced, they’ll look practiced. I mean things like slides, mice, turning equipment on and off. It may seem like the easiest thing in the world to flip a slide over, but it becomes a lot harder when you’re in front of a room full of people and you’re talking while you’re doing it. Just take the time to get some slides (or whatever you’re using) and practice talking and swapping slides at the same time.

4) Know that you’re going to be nervous.
You always should be nervous before a presentation. If you’re not, then you don’t care about what you’re talking about, and you shouldn’t be doing the talk.
I don’t necessarily mean sweaty-palmed about to throw up nervous, I just mean a normal apprehension before addressing a group of folks you don’t know.
It’s going to be there. So use it. Nervousness is energy, put it to use. If your a little jittery, let the physical discomfort out by making broader gestures. Turn the nervousness into excitement, get bouncier than you might normally be.
Take the nervousness you have right before you start as a focus alert, feel it and know that you’re ready to go, take a deep breath and go.

5) Enjoy your mistakes.
Something is going to go wrong when you give a presentation. Always. Period.
So know that from the start, and don’t get rattled when it happens. Use the mistake to your advantage, don’t get flustered by them.
Don’t try and make it all better. If you try and correct the mistake and make it perfect, you’ll often get bound up in a decreasing circle of mistake on mistake, until you melt into a puddle of embarrassment on the podium.
When the overhead projector falls over, or you say a sentence backwards, or some other disaster happens, Smile. Don’t try and fool the audience into thinking it didn’t happen, acknowledge the mistake with a smile and work it in to your presentation.
Often this is a very good time to get the audiences attention back on track. They’ve had a little break, maybe even a little laugh. Laugh with them, and take the time when their eyes are definitely on you to make a small summary, point out a particularly important idea, or move smoothly into a new subject.

6) Look ‘em in the eye.
Look at everyone in the room. Never stop on one person’s face for more than a minute.
This can be a major trap, you’ll see someone in the crowd who is nodding in agreement, and you focus on them because you know they’re sympathetic to you and you’re reaching them. When you do that, you’ve just lost any chance of reaching the ones who weren’t sure, because now they think you’re ignoring them.
Keep the eyes bouncing around, but not like you’ve got St. Vitus Dance. Rule of thumb is twenty seconds minimum for a personal focus, 50 seconds maximum.
And of course, rememeber the sides of the room and the very back, get everybody involved.
This is tougher when you’re on a lighted stage, but still doable. You know the folks are out there, even if you can’t see them. So aim your eyes where you think they are, and it’ll work.

7) Pause, don’t ahhhhhhhh.
It is much better to say nothing than to make a ‘filler’ sound. If you get lost, or forget what you were going to say next, don’t say ahhhh, just say nothing and stop and think.
This helps first by not ‘boring’ the audience with sounds they can’t get any meaning out of. If you ‘ahhhh’ they may miss the next important phrase (the one your searching for) because they knew the ‘ahhhh’ was just unimportant filler and they stopped paying attention.
And also silence shakes an audience up. We’re not used to periods of silence in our society, and when you blast them with dead silence, they will actually pay more attention to the next things you have to say. It also gives them a little time to think about what you’ve been saying.

8) Change the pace.
This goes along with silence, and expands on it.
Volume and speed are the two main weapons you have in your voice to keep the audience tuned in, work with both of them.
Start at a moderate volume, and vary it from there. Dropping the level of your voice can bring the audience back into what you’re saying because they have to strain a little to hear, so what they’re hearing becomes more important. There are some schools of public speaking that say the only way to deliver an important point is in a lowered tone of voice, since the audience will be listening harder then.
Bring the volume up for transitions, from point to point or subject to subject. Raised voice is a signal to the audience that a new thing is coming, they may be more interested in the next subject.
Pacing rules are a little less defined. Just change the speed every now and again, anything that changes how the audience has to listen makes them pay more attention.

Note: Warning: CAUTION: DON’T be a Shakespearian actor! Pacing and speed can also make you sound like someone playing a part, instead of someone passing along technical information. Don’t make any of these changes extreme, stay within a normal speaking range, there is enough room in that range to make all the changes you need.

9) Look at your notes!
Hey, that’s why you wrote them.
Don’t read from them, but don’t be afraid to use them. A major cause of stress for a speaker is when he or she knows that they are not getting the information out, but they’re afraid to look at their notes because they shouldn’t be look away from the audience.
Nah. The audience will respect what you’re saying more if they know that you’re not just making it up as you go, and again, it also gives them time to re-focus. So refer to your notes or slides.
And when you use the notes, think about what you’re doing. If you’re looking down to see what the next point is going to be, stop talking. Don’t talk to your notes, talk to the folks.

10) Give the audience full credit.
People think a lot faster than you can talk. That means that when you are emphasizing a point, they’ve thought it through while you’re stressing it the second time.
We all know that repetition helps retention, but constant repetition loses audiences. If you have a really good point, say it. Then go on to your next section, half way through restate the really good point as it relates to what you’re talking about now. This force the audience to remember the last point, and consider it in the context of the point your making now. One trap you need to avoid, do not repeat the things your audience reacts to! It's a temptation, when the audience reacts positively, to say the same thing again to re-enfoce teh positive feeling you got from getting applause or laughter. Don't do it! They already indicated that they are with you on that point, move on before they get bored.
Put your audiences brains to work for them. Challenge them, trust their intelligence and they’ll get more out of the session.